Woody Allen signs up 'Slumdog' star

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Freida Pinto tipped to become the director's latest muse after Oscar success

His movie-making has cemented the careers of a host of actresses who have gone on to claim Oscar success after starring in his whimsical comedies. Now, Woody Allen has adopted the Indian actress and star of Slumdog Millionaire, as his latest ingenue.

Allen, who famously uses the same female muses over and over again, has cast Freida Pinto, 24, alongside established Hollywood alumni including Naomi Watts, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Josh Brolin, who recently starred in the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men. He starts filming for the unnamed comedy in London this summer.

Fresh from her red-carpet triumph at the Oscars ceremony, where she wowed the crowds and international media, Pinto appeared on the American morning news programme Today to speak about the role. "Yes, it's up in July. So thank you, Danny Boyle, for helping me take off," she said.

Boyle is the director of Slumdog Millionaire, which scooped eight Oscars at the ceremony in Los Angeles on Sunday night. Penelope Cruz had thanked Allen for giving her a role in his film Vicky Cristina Barcelona, for which she picked up an Oscar for best supporting actress. She also gave him credit for "having written over all these years some of the greatest characters for women".

Despite the controversy Allen has stirred with his own tangled love life – he left the actress Mia Farrow after falling in love with her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn in 1992 – the New York-based director has undoubtedly created some of the most memorable female characters in cinema.

The director, a triple Oscar winner himself who has been nominated 17 times over his long career, has propelled numerous actresses on to Oscar glory. Aside from Cruz, Mira Sorvino also won an Oscar for her role in Mighty Aphrodite. Dianne Wiest received an Academy Award for Hannah and Her Sisters and Bullets Over Broadway, while Diane Keaton, who starred in numerous films by Allen, won an Oscar for Annie Hall in 1977.

Scarlett Johansson looked likely to become Allen's next muse, being cast in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Match Point in 2005. Some in the industry are now speculating that Pinto may just have pipped her to that role, and that this collaboration may well lead to others for the Mumbai actress.

Just days ago, ahead of the Oscars ceremony, Pinto said she was incredibly nervous about her sudden fame. "It's kind of nerve-wracking to be thinking you are going to be walking down the red carpet and breathing the same air as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, so I'm just breathing and bracing myself for the big moment," she said.

She had not starred in a film before Boyle selected her for the role of Latika, a former slum child who falls in love with the lead character, played by Dev Patel. But Pinto has created a stir in Los Angeles, with reports that her acting abilities and striking looks make her an excellent candidate for breaking into Hollywood.

She started out on Indian television, featuring in adverts for chewing gum, and went on to anchor a travel show on Zee International Asia Pacific. She recently signed up with the celebrity agent Hylda Queally, who represents Cruz, Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett and Marion Cotillard.

Leading ladies: Woody's muses

* In 1966, Woody Allen married Louise Lasser. They divorced two years later but she still played the leading role in four more films.

* In 1970, Allen cast Diane Keaton in his Broadway play Play It Again, Sam. During this time, they became romantically involved, and even after it ended he continued to cast her in his movies. They remain good friends.

* Allen began a 12-year relationship with Mia Farrow from 1980, who he also cast in several leading roles.

* When Allen cast Dianne Wiest in 1986, she won a best supporting actress Academy Award. In 1994, she featured in Bullets Over Broadway.

* In 2005, Scarlett Johansson was cast by Allen in Match Point and then a year later in Scoop, as well as playing a central character in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

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