The real revelation in the film, I think, is Evan Rachel Wood, who has been very strong in a number of movies but who hasn't had an opportunity to play this sort of 1930s screwball ingénue.

I had never heard of her, and my wife said you should look at this girl Evan Rachel Wood, because I saw her in one or two movies and she's just great. Then a few days after that, [production designer] Santo Loquasto was talking to me and he said the exact same thing. So I checked her out and saw that she was a remarkable actress — complicated and dark, really exceptional. I didn't know if she could do comedy or not. I thought she could, and she agreed to do it, so I assumed she wouldn't agree to do it if she didn't think she could. And so she did it and she was incredibly good. I said to her, "It's a Southern girl, you're going to have to do a Southern accent," and she wouldn't do it for me, wouldn't show me her Southern accent until we shot. Now, I can empathize with that. It's risky, because if she couldn't do it, I would have been in very serious trouble. But she did it, and she just did it great.

On the other hand, Ed Begley Jr. [who plays Wood's father] had no idea he was going to be required to do a Southern accent. He came to New York, got into costume, came to the set. The first shot we shot in the movie was with him, and he had no idea. I said, "You know you're going to have to play this with a Southern accent. You do do a Southern accent, right?" He said, "Well, I think I can." I said, "Okay, because I assumed you knew that when you read it." But he didn't, and he just simply did it. So much for all this meticulous preparing.

So much for the Method.

I was with a Japanese lady yesterday, who was in town doing interviews because Vicky Cristina Barcelona is opening in Japan. She asked me what pictures I've liked [recently] and I mentioned Rachel Getting Married, which was a picture I liked very much. She said she had interviewed Jonathan Demme and he had said it was the first time he shot a picture without rehearsals, and of course everyone in it was great and it was a wonderful picture. I, on the other hand, have never done rehearsals. I just don't think they're necessary. And yet, there are directors — great directors, like Ingmar Bergman — who would rehearse and rehearse. I wouldn't know what to do at a rehearsal. When I was in Paul Mazursky's Scenes from a Mall, he did extensive rehearsing, and he's a wonderful guy and a wonderful director, but I thought it was nuts at the time. I thought, "How do you have the patience for this?" But that's how he works. I just never put a minute's thought into it beforehand, to the point where an actor will come to the set not even knowing he's got to do a Southern accent. And yes, I could have been very traumatized if he had said, "Oh, I can't do a Southern accent. I just can't do one. If you need British, fine, but I can't do Southern." So I've been lucky that way, that I haven't run into a catastrophe. It's the same thing if there's a scene with a lot of physical action. I work it out with the cameraman and bring in the actor with no rehearsal and say, "Start over here and go over there and pick up a cigarette and then come over here," and 99 percent of the time that's exactly what they do and it looks fine. Once in a great while, someone will say, "I don't know what I'm doing over there. I'd feel better walking over to the window." And I always say, "So, walk to the window."

The film suggests that Boris is redeemed, humanized in a way by his encounter with this much younger woman, and you yourself have said that you've found a happiness with your wife, Soon-Yi, that you never imagined you would find with a younger Korean woman who has no connection to the film industry.

In fiction, that was even a theme as far back as Manhattan, that in this presumably more innocent, younger person — before they get spoiled by the world — that one can find a certain happiness. Mine was very good luck, personally, that way, but that has always been an idea of mine going back quite far. Even Annie Hall, when you think of it, was kind of a naive girl from Chippewa Falls, who was young and came to New York and knew nothing and was a real hick, a rube, with all her colloquial expressions but with the thought that she would become a mature woman. At that time, she represented for me the same kind of freshness.

When we spoke last year, you were just about to come to Los Angeles to direct your first opera, Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, and you joked that you were going to skip town quickly before anyone had the chance to tar and feather you for it.

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