Woody Allen’s latest film, Irrational Man, is a dark comedy starring Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone in a May December romance, a common theme among the iconic director’s films (and one that reflects his own life – his wife, Soon-yi is 33 years old to his 79 years).
Today on this hot summer’s afternoon in New York City, Allen is in good spirits and chats to MiNDFOOD.
IN IRRATIONAL MAN, JOAQUIN PHOENIX’S CHARACTER MAKES A SEEMINGLY SMALL DECISION BUT IT HAS A HUGE IMPACT ON IS LIFE. DO YOU BELIEVE THAT’S TRUE IN OUR DAILY LIVES?
Yeah, I think that’s clear. You make these trivial decisions all the time. You walk down one block and you are fine and you go the other route and a piano that they’re hoisting falls on you. The slightest decisions can come back to reward you or haunt you in enormous and in disproportionate ways. It happens to everybody, everyday, all the time.
DOES THAT MAKE YOU SECOND GUESS YOUR DECISIONS?
Well if you think about it, you can become obsessionally indecisive and then it becomes a sickness. It’s better to just plow ahead, otherwise you will be thinking, ‘Should I go this way or should I go west and then downtown or should I go downtown and west? Should I walk on this side of the street and would I be better off leaving at eight o’clock?’ So you would go crazy. And you can’t think about it but it’s out there menacing you. But just look for the beyond.
THIS CHARACTER IN THE MOVIE FALLS INTO A CREATIVE RUT – WHEN YOU FALL INTO A RUT, WHAT DO YOU DO TO GET OUT OF IT?
I have been very lucky because I have never had a terrible block or creative problem and I am not talking about the quality of the work; I can certainly do bad work, but I have never had any problem working. Usually for me if things are down or depressing or if I am blue, work has the opposite effect on me; work has a healthful effect and it has a positive effect on me so I get out of that bad feeling. So I never had to deal with that. I have been very, very lucky since I was young.
THERE’S A BIG DISPARITY BETWEEN THE HAVES AND THE HAVE-NOTS AND LOTS OF CHANGES HAVE HAPPENED IN OUR SOCIETY RECENTLY – GAY MARRIAGE, TENSIONS IN RACE RELATIONS TO WHAT’S HAPPENING IN CUBA OR IRAN. WHAT INTERESTS YOU AS AN ARTIST?
Well, social and political issues have never interested me as an artist. As a citizen of course I am interested in my president and my government and how my city is being run. And of course, the difference in wealth equality or inequality and all of the same social issues that interest anybody, or let’s say anybody of political democratic liberal leanings of which I am, the same issues interest me. But to write about or make movies about it no, I never got interested in those things.
I was always interested in philosophical themes or psychological themes or human relations because what seems unsolvable and terrible, the problematic situations right now, if you do a movie, people may flock to it because it’s got a current relevance and they feel, ‘My God, this is so interesting.’ Let’s say we go back years – the question of – are they ever going to integrate schools? Will blacks and whites ever go to school together? Then time goes by and those issues become passe and the movies and the things you do about them that were very hot and very commercial and got a big audience at the time, now don’t interest people so much because now gay people can marry effortlessly, or almost effortlessly, and now certainly legally and years ago it was a real, real impossible struggle. So if I had done a movie about gay people and the tribulations of getting married, now it would look like old stuff. So, I try and do movies on subjects that have more enduring interests and just relegate the social issues to my private life. I am interested in the same things you are, certainly for gay marriage or freedom of choice for women closing the financial inequality gap and making the deal with Iran and all those things interest me on the predictable side of the liberal democrat.
DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF AS AN IRRATIONAL MAN OR A RATIONAL MAN?
Totally rational; too rational. That’s why I would make a better teacher than an artist. If I was a little bit more irrational, then I think I would be a better artist. But I am too middle class and too rational and too organised and too cowardly. So, I think I am very, very rational. And it’s good in one sense in that it keeps you sane but too much sanity is not good for an artist.
HAVE YOU CHANGED MUCH AS A DIRECTOR ON SET SINCE YOU BEGAN YOUR CAREER?
Well, on the set I am the same because my personality tends to be quiet and uninteresting. But everything ELSE has changed. I have made about 45 movies and even the dumbest student, which I am, does absorb a certain amount of technique and a certain amount of experiential knowledge. So I am a better filmmaker than I was. I don’t mean I am a great filmmaker by any means but I am better than the first couple of films I did when I did make Take the Money and Run. I think I have improved. That may not be everybody’s opinion but I do think that I have improved since then. And I still love a laugh and when I can get a laugh it’s great, but then not desperately needed as it was in a film like Bananas which floats on laughs only.
YOU’RE TURNING 80 THIS YEAR – DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING ON YOUR BUCKET LIST?
There’s nothing that I particularly want to do before I die. I would like to continue to work and I hope my health holds out. I hope I can work. Both my parents lived to 100. If I do have a long life, if there is anything in genetic rendering, hopefully I will be able to do more work, improve and make better movies which I would like to do.