Woody Allen: But seriously, Woody...

Woody Allen's new film, Hollywood ...nding, will open here soon. In a rare interview he tells Enric Gonzales how he works, why he's more popular in Europe than the US, and what he thinks of George Bush
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The Independent Online

You've directed 32 films, you've written stories, scripts, essays, you are an actor and a humorist. Do you think you've created a school?

You've directed 32 films, you've written stories, scripts, essays, you are an actor and a humorist. Do you think you've created a school?

Not at all. Martin Scorsese is a great director and he has influenced nearly everyone, including guys with a lot of talent, like Spike Lee and Brian De Palma. I see traces of Scorsese in most of the films that I watch. In contrast, I don't think that I've influenced anyone.

What's the reason for that?

I don't know and it doesn't bother me. It's a reality and that's that.

What's happened between you and the American public? You've been more successful in Europe than in the US.

In the States I have a small following. My films go down well in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston, but not in the country as a whole, which is made up of suburbia. Perhaps that explains my relative success in Europe, which is a more urban continent, because the reality is that, even there, I go down better in Paris, London, Madrid and Barcelona. My American fans are loyal but few.

Who left who? Did the public leave you or did you leave the public?

I think it was me that left, because people would have loved it if I had repeated myself. When I did Annie Hall and Manhattan – my two biggest commercial successes – they told me to continue in the same vein. But before, when I talked about doing a romantic comedy like Annie Hall, they told me that it was a stupid idea and I ought to stick to my initial style in comedies such as Bananas and Take the Money and Run. The truth is that later films like Hannah and her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors made more money than my earlier films, which were just pure comedy. Take the Money cost just $1m to make, but took 10 years to recoup its costs. I mean, the public were delighted with the genre but didn't feel the need to go to the cinema and watch the film. I've never been obsessed with success, I'm more interested in developing my film-making technique and trying new genres, new ideas, and that hasn't always been to the liking of the American public.

When you made your first films, you were also keen to have a go at tragedy.

Absolutely. The genre of tragedy has always attracted me and I would have liked it to be my natural form of expression. Unfortunately, my inspiration tends to be comic. I would have liked to be like Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams or Ingmar Bergman. But it didn't turn out like that. If it had, I would imagine that I would be regretting it now and saying that I would have loved to have had a talent for comedy. As an actor, I've never had the interest or the ability to play Hamlet. But as a director, I would have preferred to have had a gift for tragedy.

What part of your work do you enjoy the most?

Writing is the best because it is pure fantasy. I'm at home, in bed, or with my kids, my records, a bit of food, the right temperature, and if I don't like what comes out I throw it away and start again. If I like it, I think, "Oh, this is the best script I've ever written. It's going to get a lot of laughs or tears." When I finish it, that's when the problems start. You have to get up at the crack of dawn, find locations, choose actors and confront the real world. The hardest bit is bumping up against reality. I begin every film thinking I'm going to win a Nobel, and then, when I get to the end, to the editing stage, I become used to the idea that it won't be such a humiliating disaster. Then, in the last few weeks, I begin to think that no one is going to see the film and I do everything to make sure that it won't turn out to be a terrible catastrophe: I put the first scene last, I cut out a character, change another one around...

Shooting must be a part of the fantasy. Don't you enjoy that?

Yes, of course, you spend six to eight months living in another world. If I'm doing something like Bullets Over Broadway, I'm surrounded by costumes, music, all from the 1920s. It's not just pleasure, it's a form of therapy. It's like when you give Plasticine or paints to a manic-depressive. Working is healthy. Otherwise, you begin to think that life is sad, you think about old age, death, and you end up with mental problems.

Is that why you work so much?

I don't work that much. Other directors take two years getting together the money for a film. In my case, when I finish the last page of the script, the production begins. I don't know if I can count on that sort of advantage all my life, but I hope so. I'm not an expensive director. I've had failures, which have been compensated for by my commercial successes. In general, producers make a reasonable investment with me. They won't make a lot but they won't be ruined either. On the other hand, I could do two pictures a year instead of one because I do have the time. But I could also play the clarinet, play with my children, go to see basketball matches, go to the movies, have dinner every night with friends in a good restaurant.

Has your pessimism moderated at all?

I think it's difficult to observe life and not be pessimistic. Life is cruel and lacks reason. You might think, as some religions argue, that we are put on this earth to suffer, to do penitence and it is only after death that things will start to make sense.

And politics. Do you still participate in the Democratic campaigns?

I do occasionally. But mostly my role is limited to being a good citizen.

You know that President Bush is not tremendously popular in Europe...

I didn't vote for him, I don't believe he is a good president, and so far he doesn't convince me when he talks about Iraq. And I think that many people, on the street and in government, think like me.

This interview first appeared in 'El País'