Cannes: Woody Allen on Aging, Fame and Being a ‘Romantic’

When it comes to fame, Woody Allen believes that celebrities should be grateful for the doors that it opens. “There are great upsides to it and great downsides to it,” Allen said at the opening press conference of the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday afternoon. “My opinion after years in the spotlight is that the perks far outweigh the downsides. Celebrities often kvetch about the lack of privacy and being bothered by the paparazzi, and these are not life-threatening problems. They get enormous advantages as they go through life.”

Allen held court in the South of France just before the evening premiere of his comedy “Café Society,” set in 1930s Hollywood. The stars of his movie — Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg and Blake Lively — sat by his side, but only occasionally interjected. Steve Carell, who plays an agent in the film, didn’t make the trek to Cannes this year.

“If this was years ago, I would have played this part in the movie that Jesse is playing,” Allen said of the young man who arrives to Hollywood and falls in love with an ordinary secretary (Stewart). “I would have played it much more narrow myself, because I’m a comedian — not an actor. I would have given it one dimension. Jesse is a fine actor and gave it much more complexity.”

Eisenberg said that his performance wasn’t an impersonation. “There was no emphasis from me to enact some kind of impression,” he said. The “Social Network” star revealed that when he was 16, he wrote a script about Woody Allen. “It got sent to agents who thought it was funny,” he said. “It got sent to his lawyers who didn’t think it was funny. They sent me cease and desist letters.”

“Café Society” is at its heart a love story about the secretary torn between two men. “I have always thought of myself as a romantic,” Allen said. “This is not necessarily shared by the women in my life.” He said that his ex-girlfriends would call him a “romantic fool.” “They think I romanticize New York City, that I romanticize the past, that I romanticize love relationships and I probably do. It probably is foolish.”

Allen discovered Stewart from 2009’s “Adventureland,” and had her audition for the lead role in “Café Society” — the first time she’s done that since “Twilight.” Stewart admitted that she was initially intimidated to star in a lighthearted comedy. “At first, I thought I would have to learn every line perfectly,” Stewart said. “I felt as though I needed to prepare. I’m really bad at that. Luckily, once we started going, the tonal quality happens intrinsically.”

Allen explained why his movie wasn’t playing in-competition at Cannes. “I don’t believe in competition for artistic things,” he said. “Look, a jury will award a film — they’ll call it the best film. I’ll find it the most boring film. Someone else finds my films boring. Someone else loves it. It’s all very subjective.” The director also talked about shooting a movie with digital cameras for the first time. “To me, it was exactly the same,” he said. “It’s the identical thing. Instead of celluloid, you’re working digitally.”

A journalist asked if Allen would ever reverse the conceits of many of his films and tell the story of a young man falling in love with an older woman. “I wouldn’t hesitate to do that if I had a good idea for a story,” Allen said. “It’s not a commonly seen thing. I don’t have a lot of experience to draw on for material.” But then he contradicted himself, saying: “When I was 30 years old, I had a big crush on a 50-year-old woman who was great looking and powerful, but she was married and wouldn’t go near me with a 10-foot-pole.”

Allen, who had trouble hearing some of the questions, revealed that he wears hearing aids. “I’m 80,” he said. “I can’t believe it. I’m so youthful, agile, nimble, spry, mentally alert, that it’s astonishing. I eat well. I exercise.” He attributes his good health to luck, saying that both his parents had lived long lives. “I don’t feel old,” he said. “I feel youthful. I’m sure one day I’ll wake up in the morning and I’ll have a stroke and be one of those people you see in the wheelchair.”

“Until that happens,” Allen added, “I’m just going to continue to make films as long as people are foolish enough to put up the money to support me.”

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