In search of a new muse, the ‘old man’ director still wants to be the one who gets the girl
- Last Updated: 12:29 AM, June 19, 2012
- Posted: 9:32 PM, June 16, 2012
When Woody Allen was spotted leaving posh Upper East Side restaurant Philippe with Lindsay Lohan, tongues wagged. Was Lohan poised to become Allen’s new It girl?
“That was a social dinner,” he recently recalled. “But I wouldn’t hesitate to use her in a movie because she’s very talented.”
Some were surprised he’d even think about casting such a notorious train wreck, but nobody raised an eyebrow at the idea of 76-year-old Allen hanging out with a woman five decades younger. The director’s various connections to high-profile actresses have been a mainstay of his career, but — to paraphrase “Dazed and Confused” — while he gets older, they stay the same age.
His new film, Friday’s “To Rome With Love,” features a pair of choice Allen muses: Penelope Cruz, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for his 2008 movie “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” and Greta Gerwig, the indie-film darling who has publicly raved about her Allen worship, saying the director was one of the reasons she moved to New York.
“I’ve been in love with Woody Allen since I was 13,” Gerwig told Collider magazine. “It was some weird combination of Woody Allen, Steve Martin and Bill Murray. It’s like my dream man.”
From creative and romantic partnerships with Diane Keaton in the ’70s and Mia Farrow in the ’80s to palling around with Scarlett Johansson in recent years, Allen’s always had a gorgeous, intelligent muse or two in his orbit.
Aside from the obvious ego boost, what purpose do these friendships serve? Perhaps their youth and beauty help distract him from his well-documented issues with mortality. (“I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen. I want to live on in my apartment,” the 76-year-old once wrote.) Or do they indulge a paternalistic satisfaction for a guy who — let’s remember, if we ever could forget — married his longtime partner Farrow's adopted daughter?
Whatever the case, young Mariel Hemingway might have set the template for the mutual admiration societies he establishes with actresses.
“In real life, Woody and I didn’t have a romantic relationship, but he did make me feel incredibly intelligent,” the actress said recently about working with the director on 1979’s “Manhattan.” “He took me to museums and concerts. He gave me his wisdom, and you can see that in the character.”
Hemingway, who played Allen’s jailbait lover — she was 16, Allen was 42 — prefigured many younger women who’d claim Allen as a mentor in the years to come.
“Your principal motive on a movie set is to get the film made, but on a Woody Allen set, there’s an ulterior thing that goes on,” Rebecca Hall, who co-starred in “Vicky Cristina,” has said. “Which is: Did you have a conversation with Woody, how friendly have you been with him, am I liked by him?”
But her co-star in that film, Johansson, was the one who really basked in the glow of Allen’s admiration. Having already made “Match Point” and “Scoop” with him in 2005 and 2006, respectively, she led some to wonder if she was his new Keaton (with whom the director made seven movies, and for whom he wrote “Annie Hall”).
Allen was upfront about his infatuation with Johansson: “It’s very hard to be extra witty around a sexually overwhelming, beautiful young woman who is wittier than you are,” he said while promoting “Match Point.”
But the friendship is apparently based more on shared eccentricities, like hypochondria, than flirtation, as she recently revealed: “The only reason why Woody and I are still friends is because I’ve diagnosed all kinds of his skin tags, lesions, ailments.”
The malady-obsessed duo parted ways after “Vicky Cristina” because, as the director recently told Vanity Fair, “I have every intention of working with her again, but I just didn’t think it was a great idea for either one of us to work together too intensely, picture after picture. I didn’t want her to be burdened by, ‘Oh, she’s in all the Woody Allen pictures, it’s so predictable,’ and she’s my new muse, and all that silliness.”
Which begs the question: Who is the new muse?
Or, some ask, why doesn’t he revisit the old ones — Keaton, for example, with whom he is still close friends. (Farrow, not so much.)
As he has explained, “Nobody wants to see two septuagenarians get it on. They want to see Leonardo DiCaprio chasing after Scarlett Johansson. They don’t want me flirting with Diane Keaton.”
The self-effacing Allen also admits he’s not pleased about this development, which may explain why he continues to entertain Hollywood beauties — at least they’ll swoon over his genius off-screen.
“It’s no fun not playing the guy who gets the girl,” he has said. “You can imagine how frustrating it is when I do these movies with Scarlett Johansson and Naomi Watts, and the other guys get them. And I’m the director. I’m the, you know, that old guy over there is the director. I don’t like that. I like being the one that sits across from them in the restaurant and looks in their eyes and lies to them.”