In the offbeat Woody Allen comedy Whatever Works, a crotchety misanthrope (Larry David) meets a naive, impressionable young runaway from the South (Evan Rachel Wood), and is confronted by her uptight parents (Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley, Jr.), who arrive to rescue her.
After the failure of his career, his marriage and his suicide attempt, Boris Yellnikoff (David) spends his days irritating his friends with his never-ending tirades about the worthlessness of absolutely everything. A self-proclaimed genius who came close to winning a Nobel Prize for Quantum Mechanics, Boris fancies himself the only one who fully comprehends the meaningless of all human aspirations.
One night, Boris is approached by a young runaway, Melody St. Ann Celestine (Wood), who begs to be let into his apartment. From that moment, Melody becomes such a part of Boris’ life that the unlikely pair end up getting married, only to later uncouple and realign as they seek to fulfill their emotional needs.
This film sees Woody Allen return to a New York setting in fine form, as he illustrates how everyone must learn to be flexible and realistic because it’s whatever works that will get you through life.
Co-stars Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood and Patricia Clarkson recently did a press conference to speak about working with a director like Woody Allen. While there to promote the film, Larry David gave some hints as to what fans can expect from the upcoming season of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Evan Rachel Wood revealed that she’d just been fitted for the fangs that will help her bring the 400-year-old, gay Vampire Queen of Louisiana to life in the new season of True Blood.
Read what was said after the jump:
Question: Larry, why were you so reticent about taking this project, when the script came to you?
Larry: First of all, I’m reticent about everything, so it’s not unusual for me to be reticent. But, I was reticent because it was something unusual for me. I hadn’t done anything like that before, where I was playing a character and memorizing a lot of material. And, I have a lot of self-doubt and negative feelings, and I thought that I should communicate that to Woody, which I did.
What did Woody say?
Larry: He said, “No, you’ll be fine.”
The first scene you have is a long monologue, in which you talk to the audience. Did that frighten you?
Larry: That was a very daunting prospect. I did have to memorize it. When I first saw it, I thought, “Maybe there’ll just be a tele-prompter.” So, I had to work on that. I memorized that, but after I memorized it, it actually was okay. I found it easier to talk into the camera than I did to talk to Evan and Patricia.
Did you get good at the memorization?
Larry: No, I really didn’t. I tried to use some of the tools that I had learned.
Did you have a relationship with Woody where you could give your input, or did you just go with what was on the page?
Larry: He was very open to us changing things.
Evan: I was too afraid so change anything. We really didn’t like to, though. We were like, “It’s so good. I don’t really want to change it.”
Larry: I tried to change it once, in a scene with Evan. I tried to improvise something and she looked at me like I was insane, and I was like, “I’m never doing that again.”
Evan: Yeah, I tried to do it once at Grant’s Tomb and just lost it completely. I didn’t know where I was. So, I didn’t do it again after that, either.
Evan, since you’re a bright young woman, how fun or frustrating was it to play someone this clueless?
Evan: I don’t want to sound pompous saying it, but it was really hard to play dumb. She was either going to be really annoying or really endearing. There’s a fine line there, and I didn’t want to cross that. But, I think she’s sweet. I had fun, actually. It was kind of nice to not have to come to set and cry every day.
Larry: It was interesting because she played someone who was much dumber than who she is, and I played someone who is much, much smarter than I am.
Did you look at any of Woody Allen’s leading ladies and what they might have had in common, over the years?
Evan: No. I just wanted to make her my own. I’m very honored to be in that group of women now. I never thought I’d be starring in a Woody Allen movie, having grown up with actor parents and my mother going, “This is Diane Keaton. Watch, learn, live it, love it!” Now, I’m one of the girls. That’s pretty cool.
Larry, how different is this from the Larry you play on Curb Your Enthusiasm and the real Larry?
Larry: Do I have to throw in the real Larry? The character on Curb is normal, compared to this guy, because the character on Curb actually wants relationships and sex, and things like that. This guy is way out there. This guy wears shorts! Never would the character on Curb wear shorts, nor would the person who is talking to you right now. That’s a very disturbing thing, right there.
How did Woody get you to wear shorts?
Larry: It was actually my idea.
Patricia, most men want two women, but you had two men. How did you feel about that?
Patricia: I’m thinking of trying it myself. I’ve never done it, but never say never. It was thrilling. I thought, “Oh, it’s exciting and sexy.” I had two delicious actors and men, and I was fortunate that Woody let my character have that.
Were you comfortable with that?
Evan: As comfortable as you can be.
Patricia: I got to kiss two very talented men, and I think they enjoyed it, too. It was a good time, but it is a set and it’s acting. It’s not like I laid in bed all day with these men, unfortunately. It was just scenes we would shoot. But, I loved the premise.
Patricia, being from the South yourself, is your character based on anyone you might have known?
Patricia: No. I certainly have known women like Marietta, but she is just a mix of many Southern women I have known, through my lifetime. I’ve met women from every spectrum in the South, and there’s a woman of every spectrum in my family. I have four older sisters and a mother, and we’re all very different Southern women. Woody wrote such a stunning character that I just showed up, in some ways. But, of course, I brought things of my past to play.
Is that true with your upcoming film Main Street as well, since that’s also set in the South?
Patricia: No. The character I play in the Horton Foote film is absolutely, 100% anti-thetical to Marietta. They are polar opposites, as you will see when you see Main Street, which is great. I play two very vastly different Southern women. One woman uses curlers, and the other woman does not. That’s a big, huge Southern distinction. Main Street is the last film that Horton Foote wrote before he died. We were very fortunate that he almost finished all the rewrites, when he passed away. But, it was a beautiful film experience. Ellen Burstyn, one of my dear friends, is the star. I’m honored to be a part of it. I’ve done films for Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Horton Foote. Come on, life is good.
Evan and Larry, can you talk about working together? Was there a scene that was particularly challenging or fun for you?
Larry: The break-up scene was kind of challenging.
Evan: Oh, that was so sad. I hated doing that. Grant’s Tomb was challenging, with the weather conditions.
Larry: We had planes going over us, when we were in Battery Park. That was very challenging. Woody Allen likes to do a lot of master shots. He likes to get the whole thing in one take, and so you could be going along doing a scene, and then the next to last line, all of a sudden, you stumble, and you have to go back to first base.
Evan: We’d get so close and then something crazy would happen. We had everything drive into our shot. I could never stop laughing at the scene, where Larry takes me in and says, “You’re a sweet kid. Stupid, beyond belief, but sweet.” I just could never get over that line, ever. And, the most challenging was eating the sardines, over and over and over. I went home and threw up.
Larry: I don’t know why you didn’t get a substitute for the sardines.
Evan: I did, remember. We had to reshoot it and I substituted it for tuna. But, I did get sick. I remember, with the first take, I looked down and saw a spine and an eyeball, and was grossed out. It was terrible.
Patricia: They’re pure. They’re really good for you. There’s nothing better.
What are your favorite Woody Allen films?
Patricia: Hannah and her Sisters. All of them. It’s hard to pick one. It’s like picking your favorite flavor of ice-cream.
Evan: They’re all so different.
Patricia: It’s impossible. There are way too many.
Woody works in a very quiet way, where he doesn’t interfere with what the actors are doing. As an actor, do you want more from him or do you like the way he works?
Evan: I almost had a panic attack, the first day. I was certain I was going to get fired because I just wasn’t used to it. You’d ask him, “Was that okay?,” and he’d say, “Yeah, that was fine.” And, I thought, “I don’t know what that means, but I guess it’s good.” I ended up liking it, and I get what he was going for, after watching the movie. I don’t think he wants to distract you, or make you think about it too much. He wants it to be as natural as possible. His favorite takes were when we messed up.
Patricia: I think his genius and craft is that he has such trust in you, as an actor. It’s a beautiful thing. You walk in and he doesn’t feel the need to say much, and I like that because he steps in at just the right moment.
Larry: Yeah, if you’re doing something wrong, he lets you know about it.
Patricia: He lets you know it, but he lets you go. And I also think, indirectly, you have to know your character so well with Woody. It’s like theatre. You have to be able to do very long takes, so you have to be prepared. You cannot be lazy. You have to know how to improv. So, it really prepares you, in this very deep, subtle way, for the journey.
Larry: I was waiting to get fired. I was expecting it, for a couple of days. I would go to the set and think, “I can’t believe I’m still here.” I just felt like, if I did something and he didn’t say anything to me, then it was okay.
Evan: You were much braver than I was. You would just walk right up to him and start talking. I couldn’t do that. I was too shy.
Patricia: He’ll say, “That was good,” and that’s huge praise.
Evan: And, every now and then, he’d say, “That was really funny,” and you’d breathe a sigh of relief.
Patricia, did you get to put your own stamp on this character?
Patricia: I was born and bred in the South, and I infused my southern manner, my demeanor and my tone into her. Woody let me put little things in, here and there. I know big hair, tight clothes and really bright colors. Woody is so specific about wardrobe. Our wardrobe fittings were a day in themselves. The camera test was another way of preparing because, as you’re doing all of these wardrobe fittings, things start to happen to you. It was thrilling, playing this character. She was alive, sexy and fun, and sometimes very nerve-wracking. Woody is a very northern man. He’s a big, old Yankee, but he got this character very right, in so many ways. I’m very sensitive about Southern characters. But, women like this do exist, and so you have to embrace it.
Is it liberating, as an actress, to play a woman who is experiencing a sexual awakening?
Patricia: Yes. Characters who undergo transformations are always yummy because you get to make a journey and have different looks.
Evan, can you talk about your real mom? Was she ever all up in your romantic life?
Evan: She made every boyfriend in my life miserable. And, absolutely, she gets up in my business. She’s a Jewish mother, too. A Jewish, Southern mother, so I definitely went through the ringer.
Larry, now that you’ve played a character and memorized lines, would you do it again?
Larry: Yeah, of course. Yeah, I would. I’d definitely do it with Woody Allen again. Would I do it with somebody else again? Yeah, if I liked it.
Evan, how are things going with the Spider-Man musical?
Evan: They’re going great. I just spoke with Julie Taymor. We’re still looking for our Spider-Man, but it’s going to be incredible. It’s going to be a crazy, rock ‘n roll circus show. Julie’s doing what she did for The Lion King with this. It’s just another whole level of stuff.
Haven’t you been rehearsing for a while?
Evan: No, we actually haven’t started rehearsing. I did the workshop, and then I worked with U2 and Julie and learned the songs, but we don’t start rehearsal until October. And, just wait until you hear who’s playing the villain. I know and I wish I could tell everyone, but it’s gonna be good.
And, you’re also doing True Blood?
Evan: Yeah, I just got fitted for my fangs. I’m playing the Vampire Queen of Louisiana. She’s 400 years old and gay, so it’s going to be a good one.
What was it like to put the fangs on?
Evan: They just take over. You can’t help but just snarl and be evil. It’s great.
Larry: Have we ever been through a period like this before, where we’ve been fascinated by vampires? Is this new?
Evan: No, it comes, every now and then. I have always been into the vampire craze, but not this whole Twilight thing.
Patricia, now that you’re so busy with films, where does theatre stand in your life now?
Patricia: I will do a play soon. I love the theatre, and I haven’t done a play in a very long time. I have very, very angry people at me, in New York. Pretty much every single friend of mine is angry at me that I haven’t done a play. But, I’m hoping to be doing a play, at some point. Within a year, I will absolutely be doing a play.
Curb is coming back in the Fall, after a long lay-off. Were you comfortable slipping back into that? Do you think audiences will respond?
Larry: I don’t see why not. Yeah, I was comfortable. It’s not a big stretch to do that part.
How is your character’s marriage, this coming season?
Larry: My marriage to Cheryl on the show? Well, we split up last season. I’m with Vivica Fox now.
Is there any chance he’ll get back together with his wife?
Larry: Well, I suppose you’ll have to watch the series.
Is Cheryl still on the show?
Larry: Yes, she’s still on the show.