Woody Allen must be thanking his lucky stars that he hired Cate Blanchett as his latest muse in Blue Jasmine, because the articulate Australian actress has been talking up the movie while her director can go about his life as he pleases. He'd never met Blanchett though had long been singing the praises of our acting talents, having cast Judy Davis twice (in Husbands and Wives and Alice), Radha Mitchell in the underrated Melinda and Melinda, Naomi Watts in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, and even Hugh Jackman alongside another female muse, Scarlett Johansson in Scoop. He also made Match Point and Vicky Christina Barcelona with Johansson.
The best acting today is being done by women and there’s none better than Cate
He'd, of course, had his most famous collaborations with former partners, Diane Keaton (8 movies including the hugely influential Annie Hall) and Mia Farrow (13 movies), always coming up with something new. After two movies with Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona and To Rome with Love) and his success with Marion Cotillard in Midnight in Paris, he was looking to plough new turf in a new location. Blue Jasmine is set in San Francisco. Given his success with Blanchett, maybe he will consider filming here – though I doubt he could brave the elements, the blowflies and mozzies.
In a previous interview, he told me “I've never been to Australia. I'm always intimidated by the amount of time it takes to fly there.” He is now being courted by numerous nations including Brazil, however for his latest romantic comedy he has returned to France (his biggest market) and to the era of his previous hit. Set over 20 years in the '20s and '30s, the untitled film was recently filmed on the French Riviera. At least it features another Australian woman of the moment, the ever-jocular Jacki Weaver, who may well become another of his favourites.
Of late, Allen has also played a pimp in Fading Gigolo, alongside the film's director John Turturro. Turturro plays an aging Don Juan who becomes a prostitute as a favour to his friend. The two eccentric New Yorkers in one movie should be interesting. Fading Gigolo world premieres at the Toronto Film Festival just before Blue Jasmine releases here on September 12.
In the latter film, Blanchett plays Jasmine, an uppity, down-on-her luck, neurotic New Yorker who goes to stay with her sister (the ever-quirky Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco. They're both adopted so that explains their vastly different physicality. As usual, Allen (who cast John Cusack and Owen Wilson in possibly their best roles as Woody clones in Bullets over Broadway and Midnight in Paris, respectively) has also attracted some talented men, with Alec Baldwin returning for his second Allen movie in a row. Thankfully, he is more effectively cast here as Jasmine's affluent husband than he was as an older version of Jesse Eisenberg's architect in To Rome with Love.
Allen calls Baldwin (who also appeared alongside Farrow in Alice) his secret weapon. “If you want something serious, if you want something comic, he's the guy.”
Baldwin, of course, is a big talker, of late to his own detriment. In Cannes when promoting a wonderful documentary about the travails of moviemaking, Seduced and Abandoned, which he made with director James Toback, he held fort in a Cannes garden.
Why did you want to work with Woody again?
I love Woody and Blue Jasmine was a good screenplay. But this time I wanted to work with Cate. I hadn't done a dramatic film like that for a while. I'd been doing the TV show, 30 Rock, and I'd done To Rome with Love and both are light comedies. In Blue Jasmine, Cate plays a very, very troubled woman and I play her husband. They're not super-wealthy but they live very well and she's miserable and he's perhaps not the best husband in the world.
I hadn't been around the dramatic actresses at that level for quite a while. I had been on stage in A Streetcar Named Desire in 1992 with Jessica Lange. (Staged at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre – the same theatre that the original Marlon Brando production was staged in – the revival proved so successful that it was filmed for television.)
A lot of male actors these days disappoint me because they substitute intensity for acting. The best acting today is being done by women and there's none better than Cate. Cotillard, I worship her. There are some men I admire, not many. I love Colin Firth, Clive Owen and I love Leo [DiCaprio] when he gets to do a film that's worthy of him. So when the phone call comes, “Do you want to come work with Cate?” the only answer you can have is “Yes”. I mean, Woody doesn't pay [much], so you're not there for the money. You just want to be a part of something great. And Woody really put Cate through the machine, because she's so talented she could do it, take after take after take of very, very, exhaustive emotional scenes. I sat there at the end of the day and looked around at some of the people, and shit, she's unbelievable. We were all gobsmacked.
What do you think of Allen's resurgence?
I'm a believer that with some people you can't count them out. Woody, of course, proved that with Midnight in Paris. That was delightful and although To Rome with Love received more mixed reviews, it was successful for him at the box office. With his own signature style there will always be a place for Woody. Together with his sister Letty Aaronson, who is his producer, he cobbles together syndicates of investors to make his movies, whether they're British-based for Match Point or French-based for Midnight in Paris. There's a number he has to hit and he has succeeded in making movies for that number. So you can never really count him out.
Would you like to direct?
Never! I'd rather put my hand in a garbage disposal.
Would you like to do more drama?
We all have to live in the bed we make, of course. I'd like to be playing Lincoln. I want Steven Spielberg to ring me up, and say, “Alec, the day has arrived! I don't even want Daniel Day-Lewis, I want you.” But those days don't come. So you do the TV series and you have a good time. You spend time with your family.
Watch 'Blue Jasmine'
Thursday 21 January, 9:30pm on SBS World Movies (streaming after at SBS On Demand)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Alec Baldwin, Andrew Dice Clay