To Rome With Love, Woody Allen's latest comedy, stars a host of talented actresses from all walks of life and film. Some have worked with the famed director before, whlie some are still in awe. Ellen Page (Juno, Inception), Alison Pill (Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, Midnight in Paris), Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Elegy), Greta Gerwig (Greenberg, Damsels in Distress), and Alessandra Mastronardi (Una piccola storia) recently held a press conference to detail the joys, expectations, and freedom that comes with a Woody Allen film.
Rachel Heine: Fame is a major theme in To Rome With Love. Woody Allen spoke about how fame doesn’t necessarily bring happiness, but it does have its perks. How has fame affected your lives?
Alessandra Mastronardi: I don’t know actually. I think that maybe in Italy we have a different kind of fame. If you are famous, if you are a very important person and you call a restaurant maybe they reserve a dinner – a table for you – maybe they do it. But just one time, not two times. So I don’t know. We have a different relationship with fame. Personally, I’m not really famous. I don’t feel like I’m famous. I’m just an actress and – well, I’m working in Woody Allen’s movie. Maybe I’m a really, really lucky actress. But I’m working on it. Maybe I have to think about fame. I have to think about it.
Alison Pill: I just consider myself to be a working actor. I have no idea what people would – I mean, I am not famous. I don’t get stopped in the street. I just sort of do my thing and live my life. I don’t like strangers, so I wouldn’t look forward to having to meet a lot of them at any one point. But that’s about it. I’m just waiting for the day when somebody sends me a pet pig. That’s it. That’s all I want from fame. When people send you free stuff, I’m like, I don’t know, what would I want? I want a pet pig. So if anybody knows anybody with a thing, then let them know. That I’m famous and I want a pig.
Penelope Cruz: We were talking about it this morning. The only good real thing that I’ve taken out of it is to experience it in first person, to really realize that there is not real happiness that comes out of it. Because you know the theory, but when you are going through this, there is really not real happiness added to your life because of that. And I agree with Woody that the advantages are very unfair and disgusting.
But I also think that some of the disadvantages are pretty tough and difficult to deal with to the point where sometimes I have questions if I want to continue this job because of that. Because I don’t care if they take pictures of me. But when they take pictures of your family, you know, and write about your family or especially when it’s about children – I can’t tolerate it.
And it depends on the country where you live. Children are more protected that way. In the States there’s no protection. You can show the faces of children. So I’m 100% against that. You know, all the magazines have these few pages in the magazine dedicated to the children of [celebrities] – and it’s not a handbag, you know. I don’t care if they take pictures of me, but that goes into a different territory that should not be allowed.
Ellen Page: Oh, God, I don’t know what to say. You know, I’m an actor because I love to act and first and foremost, that’s what I’m always thinking about. It’s not that I forget about it – it’s that, the transition occurred after Juno, I guess. So then there’s definitely a transition one goes through when nobody knows who the heck you are to a few more people knowing who you are, of course. And then it sort of balances itself out.
Sometimes it comes up if a movies coming out, but then it sort of fades away again. I just sort of go about my life and don’t tend to really have much of an issue. But I think that’s also because I’m just boring and don’t really do much and don’t experience things like in the way certain friends do or I imagine what Penelope has on her plate in that way. So I just kind of go about things.
Greta Gerwig: Well, I feel like I’m not famous at all, but I do like – in New York there’s a certain quality. Like, Alison, I knew who you were in New York and I saw you on the street.
PA: I know and it was just –
GG: I’d say, “Alison Pill just walked by me.” And I would be just like – oh, my gosh. Then I’d call someone and I’d tell them.
AP: So it’s just like we knew each other, too. I meditated in your house.
So that’s the other side of it.
GG: That’s true. I do think there’s a cool thing in New York where a lot of theater actors in New York, they’re not fancy people who get their pictures taken all the time, but I go to the theater all the time and I know who they are. Like comedians who do stuff at UCB [the Upright Citizens Brigade] or just like, around. And you feel so proud that you live in a city where there [are] all these artists and they’re under the radar in a way. Or seeing like New York City Ballet dancers on the subway and you’re like, “I saw you in the Firebird.” And you’re so excited. I think that level of artistic community and recognizing each other is really nice. But that’s a different thing that Roberto Benigni fame.
RH: This question goes out to Alison Pill and Penelope Cruz. You’ve both previously worked with Woody Allen. What is it about him that makes you want to work with him over and over again?
AP: I will work with this man anytime he asks. It’s a joy and a privilege and such a civilized filmmaking environment. I also appreciate the idea that films can be just because you want to do them and that people will want to see them and you’ll make them even if they don’t want to see them. And that’s how I feel as an actor. It’s I just like doing it. You know, I’ll act for anybody and I’m very lucky that I’ve gotten the chance to work with this amazing man more than once.
PC: Me, too. I feel extremely lucky. I’ve been a fan of his work since I was a little girl. I was very happy, first of all, to meet him, to be able to spend time with him. He makes me laugh all day long. So I feel like the luckiest girl, you know. I can spend time with him and also I get to be directed by him and he trusts me enough to give me these beautiful characters. The only thing is that it’s always too short because both times I worked with him I did it in three weeks, so I always want more.
RH: It’s also been said about Woody Allen that he encourages his actors to improvise with the script. Do you find it motivating or frightening to have that sort of freedom?
AM: In my case it’s different, I think, because my part was in Italian. So we could say anything we wanted to say. He put later the subtitles. So for us I don’t think it isn’t a good thing. I was glad because I really feel freed to act in a way that I feel the character. So I think it was a good thing for us. I don’t know. I’m not that kind of actress that I need to restrict to the lines. I don’t know. I’m pretty glad to be really free. And by the way he put the subtitles so I don’t know. [Laughs]
AP: It was absolutely terrifying to be like, “Yeah, I can just say something else that’s not on the page.” I don’t really like doing that. It’s a wonderful challenge and a totally exciting and terrifying thing to do, but, you know, I am not a gifted wordsmith most of the time. I do remember times, you know, staying up at night going, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.” But it is a joy as well.
PC: He gives all this freedom, which is very liberating. At the same time it feels like a big responsibility because you don’t want to ruin anything, especially when you are working in a different language. In Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Javier [Bardem] and I – he gave us the scene in English and asked for us to translate it however we wanted to the way our characters would speak. We didn’t know if he was going to be angry with that when he got the translation of what we were saying because we were swearing every three words. But apparently he was happy after, but he gives a lot of trust to the actors.
EP: I think I feel very similarly to Alison and Penelope. I think, you know, especially when you’re reading the script that Woody’s written, it’s so good and, like, there’s already such natural fluidity to what you’re saying and what you’re doing. I don’t think there are that many instances where you feel unnatural or necessarily that uncomfortable. But it is nice to have that sense of ability or flexibility or comfort in talking to him, I guess, when that moment arises. But, I mean, there’s always such fluidity with his words and how it comes across.
GG: I spent most of my life imitating characters in his movies, so I, from age 11, was trying to talk like them. So my entire identity is confused with other characters' identities. When he says, “Be yourself,” I’m like, “But it’s so fused with these characters that you’ve written!” For me I just was excited. It was hard for me to change the words, because I love them so much, but also because just his idea of humans and the characters he has written are so big in my mind.
RH: Penelope, when you play these quirky and provocative characters, do you create a back-story in your mind? What draws you to these sort of intense characters?
PC: I was looking around in some parties in Cannes, looking for inspiration. [Laughs] We didn’t talk about any particular woman. It was just there on the page and I created this anomaly that said everything. Everything she thinks comes out of her mouth. She doesn’t have a filter and I love that because she is the opposite of what I am. I want to be like that. But I am much more of a control freak. So I love playing characters that are so free, that do and say whatever they feel whatever they feel every day of their lives. It’s very refreshing to play someone like that.
RH: Ellen, I felt like I saw you do something in this character that we hadn’t really seen you do before. Can you talk a little bit about whether there was anything new that you found to explore in here as a performer or personally?
EP: I felt really like nervous and intimidated and partially, obviously, because of working with Woody. Even though I remember when Marion Cotillard was – when we were promoting Inception, when we were working together. I think she had just finished shooting a film or was shooting Midnight in Paris and just was completely beaming with how much she loved working with Woody. I recall her talking like so sincerely excited about working with him.
But I was grateful and also taken aback that he was asking me to perhaps put – and, I don’t know, I just was grateful for the opportunity to do something that felt different for me, you know, as I’m sure every actor at this table will say, is always a wonderful opportunity when someone is giving you that. I just sort of went with it and did my best. And, hopefully, it worked out okay.
RH: Even though you’re all promoting the film together, your characters don’t all interact. The script consists of discrete narratives and for the most part, you don’t read each other’s scripts. What were your ideas about the film while filming, and how have they changed now that you’ve seen everything come together?
GG: I did look at the other portions of the script. [Laughs.] I’m sorry. It was in the makeup trailer and I was like – it was like sitting on a goldmine and not looking – I was like, “Alright this is it.” I loved the script and I loved the movie. I thought it would be like it is. It’s romantic, it’s funny, it’s full of mistakes and mishaps, but it’s full of heart. There’s something about Rome that feels like this movie. It feels like epic and light at the same time. I love it there and I think the movie reflects it.
EP: That was good. What did I think it as about? Oh, Lord. I had just read mine. I did not sneak a peek like this girl over here. And by mine, I mean ours. I don’t know if I was even looking at it in that way at the time. That might sound absurd, but I think I was approaching this character I had to play in the situation that she finds herself and her dynamic within it. I was just doing my best to pull that off because I was nervous about it. I was so pleased to see the rest of the film. I mean, I think Greta is so wonderful and everybody – all this cast is so astounding. And watching the film was – I think I agree – I felt profound heart in it that I wasn’t not expecting, but I felt moved by each story. I feel very privileged and grateful to be a part of it.
PC: I love the movie. I’ve seen it twice now and I love it and it made me laugh so much and I can’t stop thinking about the guy that can only sing in the shower. I think it’s one of Woody’s best performances. He makes me laugh so much in this movie. His face when he is listening to him singing, is priceless. I can’t take that face out of my brain. It’s great.
AM: Last night was my third time, so I always enjoy the movie. Many times – every time that I saw the movie I discover something much more beautiful and funny and that’s so amazing. I know just my part and when I went on set I discovered that I was with Penelope Cruz in the same episode. So for me it was amazing. And the same time Alec Baldwin was on the movie. So every day was a big experience because I didn’t know anything about that.
I really enjoyed the movie even because two of my big dreams are together – Woody Allen and Rome – that’s my two big dreams. And in the Italian language, too, because I was so curious – because I never see a movie with an American language and Italian language together. That’s great for me because I know the Italian language maybe is the last language in the world. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just, you know, Spanish, French, maybe Chinese. The Italian one is one of the last ones. So it’s a great thing for us and it’s so amazing and magic, this movie.
AP: I saw it for the first time last night [at the Los Angeles Film Festival premiere] and it was – I mean, what a joy. You know, it’s so rare that you go into the cinemas now and you walk out happier and lighter than you did when you walked in. I had the sense there are all these brilliant kind of humorous short stories all kind of intertwined and they each are stand alone – you know, could be stand alone short films. So it’s sort of a wonderful thing where it doesn’t really kind of matter what everybody else is doing. You just sort of go like, “They got their stuff. I gotta focus on whatever the heck I’m trying to do.”
But to see it all come together in this amazing format of not knowing who’s going to come around a Roman corner – what actor – whether Roberto Benigni is going to jump out. [Laughs] You know, it’s just an exciting, wonderful film to watch. I couldn’t be more happy, grateful, honored to be in it also.
Woody Allen's 'To Rome With Love' is in theaters nationwide.