Wonder Wheel: Interview with Woody Allen

Woody Allen’s new movie, Wonder Wheel, was the closing night of the 2017 N.Y. Film Fest.  Amazon will release the movie, which features an Oscar caliber performance from Kate Winslet, on December 1.

Amusement Parks

Woody Allen: I grew up not immediately in an amusement park, but pretty near.  Coney Island, when I grew up, it was already on the downslide.  Before I was born, it was supposed to be magnificent and you were supposed to see the light of Coney Island miles from when you are in the Atlantic Ocean, and when I grew up, it was already going down.  And it seemed to be a very good atmosphere for a film, cause it had all that glitz and rides and fantasy world and fake thrills and things.  And they were right in your face there.  And when you go to Coney Island, it always amazed me that there were people who lived right in and amongst that stuff.  And they raised their children there, and it was totally honky-tonk. I mean the kids would run under the house and there would be thousand tourists and noise and guns and music from the Calliopes. So it seemed to me a very good atmosphere, a very colorful atmosphere to use in the movie. I always loved it and I always used to ask my father to take me there and he would take me, but he never liked it.  He always said that he would rather take me someplace else.


WA: I hire these people that are very good.  Jim Belushi and Kate, Justin, Juno, they are all good actors.  We are very careful before we hire and we look at many tapes, we speak to the people, it doesn’t take a great mind, a great casting director, to cast Kate Winslet or Justin Timberlake. So I hire them and then I try not to push too much of my own feeling and let them do what it is that they do that makes everybody like them all the time and makes them so exciting. I don’t want to be on top of them and say don’t do this and do it this way and this is what I was thinking of.  It doesn’t matter what I was thinking of, very, very often, they don’t do it the way I was thinking of it and it comes out much better, because it’s more natural for them and it’s just better.  So I give the stupidest directions, “faster,” “louder,” “better,” but you don’t have to direct these people, you just have to hire them and not supervise them too much and get in their way.  Once in awhile you do have to tell them can you speak a little faster or can you walk across the room a little more languidly?  But generally speaking, I keep to myself.

Who is the Boss at Home?

WA: In my case, it’s unequivocally my wife.  My wife has got a very domineering, strong personality, and she’s hyper competent, and I am hyper incompetent.  And I can’t work the television set without calling her into the room. So she clearly handles the staff in the house and runs the house and she handles the money.  I get a small allowance, 35 dollars, every couple of weeks.  And I have in my pocket now what’s left of it, and she’s the one that calls all the shots. And I’m fine with that.  I have never had any problem, as a matter of fact, it takes a huge amount of tedious responsibility off me and I can work and I can feel confident that she runs things very well.


WA: I’m not a collector at all.  I have no mementoes of my work, there are no pictures around the house of me with Kate Winslet or anyone, none of that.  I don’t have programs from the theater that I had or still shots from my movies, or anything.  I just feel that once a movie is over in any aspect, it’s gone. And so I never have nothing.


Writing Female Characters

WA: Well everybody does have a masculine and feminine component.  And I do as well I am sure.  But I never have told this story many times, but I never could write for women when I first started doing movies when I was the star.  And I wrote for men, always for men. And then I got into a relationship with Diane Keaton and we lived together for a couple of years and we remained close friends all our lives and I was so impressed with her, everything about her, that I started writing for her.  I started writing for females, because of Diane.  And I started seeing perspectives through her eyes, through a woman’s eyes.  And then I started to enjoy it.  And found that female characters were more interesting to me than male characters and there was more complexity and there was a great spectrum of emotions, and the male characters were more simplified on the screen and probably not in real life but on the screen they were more simplified.  But the women were more interesting to me, and I started writing for women. I have enjoyed it ever since.

Diane Keaton’s Best Lover

WA: I was passionately committed to Diane Keaton and so I always think it’s relational: the woman brings it out of you and the man brings it out of the woman.  I was crazy about Diane for the couple of years that we went out and then we lived together for a couple of years, and I was crazy about her. It was a labor of love to make love with her, to do anything with her, was always a treat.  Keaton is someone who lights up a room when she comes into it, lights up the whole block, the city block.  She has got an amazing, scintillating personality.  And she has become an icon over the years.  And every young actress I work with says oh you worked with Diane Keaton and I am always answering questions about her.  She was inspiring in every way.

It’s relational and it depends on the woman.  The same man with a different woman is not such a good lover and the same woman with a different man seems no good.  But with a different man, she is off the charts.

Survival of the Fittest?

WA: Well of course that pervades the human race to a large degree and we have to fight against that because once that gets out of control, it’s madness.  But when it comes to matters of the heart, people go to extremes all the time.  And Kate Winslet’s character was someone not looking for trouble and she got into a marriage that she screwed up, and because of that she got into another marriage that was not fulfilling to her and she gets into a love affair that she fantasizes will really change her life in some way. And when that gets threatened, you find that human beings are capable of some terrible things.  And so while she could at least make an attempt to save Juno’s life, or warn her that there’s trouble afoot, she chooses not to do that, kind of thinking well, my life would be better if Juno was not in it.  So she makes that moral choice.  And people make those moral choices all the time, particularly in matters of two areas, business, and matters of the heart.  They do things that they would not tolerate in other areas, but in those areas, everything’s fair in love and war. It’s really love and business, cause you are usually not at war.

Paying Homage to Tennessee Williams and O’Neill

WA: I never do homages.  But I think everything I write has always got some, seriously if it’s not a comedy, it’s always got some tie to Tennessee Williams, who was a great inspiration to me, and Eugene O’Neill. I see that all the time cropping up in my work and if you know Eugene O’Neill well, you can see that it’s a big influence.