For someone who claims to be publicity shy, legendary filmmaker Woody Allen is everywhere these days talking up his latest movie, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (opening Friday). Turn on NBC's Today show, and there he is shooting the breeze with Katie Couric. Open up The New York Times, and presto — he's on the cover of the "Weekend" section. Heck, you might even run into the four-time Oscar winner at your local jazz club as he tours with his band in a cross-Curse promotion. (A classy and palatable marketing campaign designed by DreamWorks — the studio behind the pic — apparently coaxed Allen out of his celluloid closet.) Fearing that such an opportunity may never present itself again, TV Guide Online sat down with Allen and gave him a chance to clear up some longstanding misconceptions regarding his much-speculated-about work habits. It was an offer the reclusive auteur couldn't refuse.
Myth: Woody Allen forbids actors to stray from his scripts. False. "The first thing that I ever tell actors or actresses is that they're free to completely disregard the script. If they don't like what I've written, they don't have to say it. If they have embellishments that are good, they can use them — as long as they're in character and it's not absurd. People are always surprised that I let them improvise. They think for some reason that my scripts are written like the Bible, but just the opposite is true."Myth: Writing banter comes naturally to Woody Allen. False. "I sit there and agonize for the next joke and agonize for the one after that. It just takes a long time to sweat [it] out and make [it] escalate."Myth: Woody Allen doesn't believe in sending actors completed scripts. True. "Just like in real life, we don't know what's going on across town, [so] they don't [need to] know what's happening in the story. And that's good when they act, because they can't play the role falsely. They should be home packing not knowing that there's someone coming up the stairs. It's better that they don't know that; they give a truer performance. And I've never had an actor say to me, 'I have a 10-page part, but I want to read the whole script.' They always say, 'Just send me the 10 pages.'"Myth: Woody Allen is a slave to his craft. False. "I never work after 6 pm at night. I work to 5:30, 6 o'clock every night. I never work evenings. I hear about these [directors] working to 10 o'clock at night or midnight. The movie for me is never the first priority. I'm not a dedicated artist where I kill for the movie. I come in a little bit late in the morning. I have no idea what I'm going to shoot that day. If it's 6 o'clock and there's a basketball game that night, I stop no matter what I'm doing because I don't want to be late to the game."Myth: Woody Allen films are well-oiled machines. False. "I think people that work with me after a couple of weeks start to feel — and I don't say this facetiously — that we don't know what we're doing. They're like, 'Gee, there's no rehearsal. He doesn't care where we walk. He doesn't care how we change the dialogue. What's going on here? They don't seem to be taking the project very seriously.' But that's just the way I've always worked — with a relaxed atmosphere."Myth: Woody Allen doesn't like to socialize with his actors. True. "I don't speak to them much. I have very little to say to them."Myth: Woody Allen always wants to play the leading man. False. "I would have been very happy to cast someone other than myself in Jade Scorpion. I just couldn't find anybody available. I would have been thrilled if Tom Hanks or Tom Cruise or Dustin Hoffman or Robin Williams... [played the role]. Somebody else could have done this film — and done it better than I did it."Myth: Woody Allen has a history of clashing with his actors. False. "I've never had any personal problems with any actors in my life. I've fired some actors, but when I've usually fired them it's been my fault. I cast a person because I thought they could do the role, and then when they can't, I'm not skillful enough to get it out of them. So I fire them. All these legendary reports of directors who worked with an actor who can't do it, and [then] they come up with some trick. They tell the actor that his parents have died and the actor cries suddenly. I can't do it; I don't believe it. If the actor can do it, they can do it. If they can't do it, they can never do it."