You Will Meet Tall Dark Stranger: Interview with Woody Allen

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Woody Allen is the director of "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger." which stars Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts, and Anthony Hopkins. The film is being released by Sony Pictures Classics on September 22.

As is often the case with Woody Allen’s movies, YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER features a cast of prestigious and well-known actors as well as some talented newcomers. “It always surprises me how good they can be,” says Allen. “I don’t give them any rehearsal. Most of them ask me no questions about the character or about the script. They just come in and do it, sometimes on the first take or two, and then we move on.” 


Naomi Watts as Sally


In fact, Allen hadn’t even met Naomi Watts before she arrived on the set, and her first scene was one of the most emotional ones she had to play in the movie. “She came in that morning, said ‘Hello,’ and I said ‘Hello,’ and she started acting like a car that starts in third, without bothering to go to first or second,” says Allen. “She was great from the moment she opened her mouth. I’d never seen anything like it before: she walks in cold, and instantly calls upon her acting talent and does it great straightaway.” 


Josh Brolin as Roy


As Roy turns out one failed book after another, it eats into his confidence. “Roy doesn’t have sufficient talent to get beyond that first novel,” says Allen. “At first he didn’t mind trying, but it’s starting to occur to him that maybe he’s a one book phenomenon, a flash in the pan, and this is a very unpleasant thought.”


Stressing out in his room, straining to finish his novel, Roy becomes transfixed by a mysterious woman dressed in red who plays her guitar in the window across his courtyard. “He’s having a tough time,” says Allen, “and when he sees this breath of fresh air across the yard, he becomes intrigued with her and eventually she becomes a seductive fantasy for him.” Roy is by nature a “grass is always greener on the other side” type of person, perpetually dissatisfied with what he has, and drawn to what is beyond his reach; he becomes even more interested in the woman when he discovers that she’s involved with another man. 


While the characters in YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER don’t manage their problems in the most productive ways, Roy crosses a line that the others don’t. “Roy is the darkest, most complicated character,” says Allen. “He's dissatisfied with himself, he’s insecure, his relationship with Sally is deteriorating and he’s drawn to Dia, so he’s willing to make a bad moral choice, in the hopes that it will straighten his life out in some way.”


Says Allen: “Some actors have no questions, Josh has many, he really gets into it—he asked me about his haircut, how he should walk, dress, conduct himself, and that’s great, it works for him. I could only make one or two little suggestions here and there, but his answers were always better than mine. He thinks it emerged from a dialogue with me, but it's really him. What I did keep telling him was, ‘you’re a great actor, use your instinct, just trust it and it will make you great again.’”


Gemma Jones as Helena


When Allen was casting the role of Helena, Gemma Jones’ name kept coming up. “When I described the character, everyone said to me, ‘you mean Gemma Jones,’” he says. “We looked at many people for the role, and not only is she a wonderful actress, she just seemed a natural for this part, a part that really fit her like a glove.”


Allen has the highest praise for Jones’s work. “She came in and knew the character and what to do, and performed it immaculately, as beautifully as any author could want one of his characters played.”  


Antonio Banderas as Greg


Says Allen: “I needed someone who would be believable as an international art dealer, that was successful, and Antonio had everything I wanted—the stature, the elegance, the good looks that would make a woman fall for him, and he’s a wonderful actor.” While Greg might seem the one character in the film with his feet planted firmly on the ground, he also has some issues, albeit more subtle ones. “He married a woman who was bipolar, not a good choice, and he’s had a tough time with her, and he’s switched over now to a woman who has had a problem with dope and alcohol,” says Allen. “He’d probably be better off with Sally, but instead he picks her friend who has not had such a completely healthy past.” 


Quoting Macbeth


The film opens and closes with a line taken from “Macbeth”: “a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Allen explains: “All these characters are running around trying to find meaning in their lives, and find ambitions and successes and love. They’re all running around, bumping into each other, hurting each other, getting hurt, making mistakes—a constant chaos. But in the end, after a hundred years, everybody on earth along with them will be completely gone, and after another hundred years, there will be a new set of people. And after all of the ambitions, and aspirations, and the plagiarism and adultery, what once was so meaningful won’t mean a thing. Many years from now the sun burns out and the earth is gone, and many years after that the entire universe is gone. Even if you could find a pill that makes you live forever, that forever is still a finite number, because nothing is forever. It’s all sound and fury, and in the end it means nothing.” 


Considering the bleakness of his vision, why does Allen continue to make films?


“It’s a distraction that has its own little challenges and consequently keeps my mind off morbid thoughts.”