Whatever Works: How Does Woody Allen Work?

Actors who have worked with Woody Allen always say that his is a determined but quiet presence on the set. Sound like a contradiction in terms?  Not really.

 

“He is very focused, kind of reserved,” says Larry David, star of his new serio comedy. “But if you initiate it, you can strike up a conversation and he can be very funny. But it’s not like he’s trying to make someone laugh, it’s just his natural way of talking.”

 

“He can be funny on the set, but you know he’s usually quite quiet,” says Patricia Clarkson, who also co-starred in Allen's previous film, the romantic comedy, “Vicki Cristina Barcelona,” for which Penelope Cruz won the Supporting Actress Oscar. “It’s simple, and it either works for him or it doesn’t. He’s very kind too.”

How does Allen work these days?

 

He encouraged the cast to feel free to depart from his written script. “I always do that,” Allen says. “And the actors all say, ‘it’s wonderful to work for someone who wants me to improvise,’ but when the time comes they run right back into the lines.”

 

“He likes you to mix it up,” says Clarkson. “He’s the least precious writer I’ve ever worked with, but you want to say his words because they’re so funny.”

 

David didn’t make use of his celebrated talent for improv in “Whatever Works.” “I tried to do it,” says the actor, “but the character is so much smarter than me that it didn’t sound right. It sounded too much like me and not enough like Boris. The other actors looked at me like I was crazy, so I dropped the whole idea.”

The title of the film speaks for itself. The movie suggests a non-judgmental attitude towards the diverse choices people make to seek happiness. “As you go through life it’s a tough struggle and whatever works that doesn't hurt anybody is fine,” says Allen. “So however bizarre a romantic relationship may be: if it works, it works. And it doesn't have to be just about romantic relationships. It can be about one’s occupations, or one’s hobbies, or where one wants to live. If it works for you to be living by yourself on a desert island—then fine, it works. Nothing more need be said about it, and the same thing about any other aspect in life. If some utterly unconventional set-up works for you, then there’s nothing wrong with pursuing it. As long as you're not encroaching on someone or hurting anybody, whatever works for you to get through life.”