Fait Un: This will be Allens fourth film set in London
You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger marks the continuation of Woody Allen’s love affair with England’s capital. Having set Match Point , Scoop and Cassandra’s Dream there, this will be his fourth tango with the city.
He’ll no doubt be hoping to re-spark the energy he captured in 2005’s critical success Match Point , while stepping over the pitfalls of Scoop and Cassandra .
He’ll also probably be hoping to banish memories of his last film, Whatever Works , which took a face-slappingly rubbish $21m in box office kerchings and received mixed reviews at best.
Fait Deux: Nicole Kidman almost starred in it
In a strange turn of events, Naomi Watts has swooped in to rescue two films at this year’s Cannes Film Festival that were supposed to star Nicole Kidman, who dropped out at the last minute.
The first is Doug Liman’s Fair Game , with Watts salvaging the role of real-life CIA agent Valerie Plame, which was left vacant by the departing Kidman.
The second, of course is You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger . Kidman left thanks to scheduling conflicts, having already committed to producing and starring in The Rabbit Hole . With that film shooting on the US East coast, and Stranger filming here in the UK, it proved an impossible task for her to star in both.
Fait Trois: Naomi Watts loves Woody Allen
Nicole Kidman’s loss became Naomi Watts’ gain, as she finally managed to secure a place in a Woody Allen film.
“I really wanted to work with Woody,” the actress reveals. “I’d actually been offered parts in two of his other films, but couldn’t take them because of scheduling.”
Those films were Melinda And Melinda and Cassandra’s Dream (no great losses there), though Watts admits she was gutted she couldn’t make the former.
“I so badly wanted to work with him but I figured, after turning down two offers, I wasn’t going to get invited back,” she says. “But he came back a third time! Someone brought over the script for me to read right away.
"His writing is just so good. I got to the set and loved it—talk about star-struck! There are projects here and there that I get kind of giddy over and that was definitely one of them."
Fait Quatre: Josh Brolin plays a struggling writer
According to Watts, “there’s no massive plot”. What plot there is has been kept tightly under wraps by Allen and his stars. What do we know?
“It centres on Josh Brolin’s character, my husband in the film,” Watts carefully tells us. “He is a writer and things aren’t going well for him and our relationship. I want a baby and he doesn’t. He’s written one [ book ] and he’s kind of scared of being a flash in the pan."
What happens next results in everybody "doing mean things to one another", while Watts' character has a New Age-y mother who can't stand Brolin because they're "living off her money".
Sounds like a typically Woody-esque web of intricate, complicated familial relationships.
Fait Cinq: We know hardly anything about it
Aside from Watts’ plot revelations, that’s about all we really know about You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger , a film that’s proving to be as mysterious as that foreboding title.
Allen doesn’t exactly seem too fussed about shedding more light on proceedings, saying: “Josh is playing a very frustrated writer who’s having problems with his family and gets into an extramarital relationship and hopefully it’s interesting to people as well as being amusing and also serious.
"It’s a delicate line that I try and hit and sometimes I can do it and sometimes I can’t.”
For Brolin, however, Allen is just another great filmmaker in a steady stream of great filmmakers that he’s had the privilege to work with.
“What’s great about [ acting ] is the filmmakers,” Brolin says. “The filmmakers can really make a difference and I love who these people are because what’s the throughline between Oliver and Gus and the Coens and Woody Allen and all these people is because they’re all nerds, man.
“They love filmmaking, they love storytelling, and I do too. They’re not about the ego, they’re not about the status of it, they just want final cut on their movies because they want to be totally – which I have so much respect for – they want to be totally responsible for the stories that they tell.”
Fait Six: Its typical Woody
One thing we can count on is that Woody Allen’s up to his usual tricks with his latest romantic drama. At least in terms of the process behind the filmmaking.
“People had told me that he doesn’t give you any direction,” says Watts. “But Sean [Penn] was telling me a different experience. Scarlett [Johansson] was telling me something different than that.
"But Woody and I talked all the time. I was like, ‘What is this thing about? This reputation you’ve got that you don’t speak to people? That you don’t direct?’
“He said, ‘Sometimes, I get nervous that I’m giving an actor too much to think about.’ And that’s true, because we did a single shot for almost each and every scene in the film—four or five pages of the script with almost every character.
“You had better not fuck up because it’s going to take an hour to re-set and do the whole thing again. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but if I mess up the last line on a six-page scene, everybody has to do it again because of me.
“Woody said, ‘I don’t like to break an actor’s concentration. There are certain actors I’ve never spoken a word to, but I’ve worked with them five times.’”
Fait Sept: Rain is important
Any true Woody Allen fan will have noticed a particularly bittersweet link between many of his films.
“If you go back through my films you find that it’s a tip-off that whenever the boy meets the girl and it’s a rain scene they always mean business,” explains the director.
When The Daily Telegraph caught up with the director on set in Notting Hill last year, they found him torturously contemplating the blinding sunshine.
“I hate sunshine,” he muttered. “It should be raining. The sun is a very, very big problem.” He was shooting a scene in which Slumdog Millionaire ’s Freida Pinto and Josh Brolin talk in a restaurant while sheltering from an unexpected downpour.
“I’m a big rain fan,” Woody concedes. “I think it’s beautiful in life and on the screen, so when Josh invites Freida to lunch and she says that it’s pouring with rain and he brings an umbrella, you know right away something serious is going to happen. If they had met on a sunny day, it could just be platonic.”
Fait Huit: The title came last
Another determinedly Woody ingredient was present and correct during the creative process on You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger – the diminutive multi-hyphenate didn’t bestow the film with a title until the film was finished.
He offers his own rationale for the procedure:
“I never title a movie until it’s finished because if I look at the film and it’s no good I don’t like to give it an aggressive title. I give it what I call one of my hiding titles – the kind of title that is low-key and promises nothing, so people are less disappointed by it.
“But if I feel the film is good, I give it an aggressive, confident title and then hope for the best.”
If the wordy You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is anything to go by, it seems Woody is very, very confident that this is a decent work.
Fait Neuf: Woody still hates directing
Most directors talk endlessly and excitedly about “getting behind the camera”, their eyes glinting brightly about how they spent years fussing around with a script in the expectation of finally getting to jump into the director’s chair.
Not so Woody Allen. In fact, the directing part is the part he really hates. “It’s a new thing each time so you never learn anything,” the director mopes. “When I’m making a film I never learn anything that will help me on the next one."
He goes on to add: “There’s not much pleasure in directing. I get up very early and come to the set and stand around all day while the cinematographer spends three hours lighting the set, then I get 30 seconds to do the scene and then we move on and he lights for another three hours and I get another 30 seconds.
“It’s tedious. I don’t do it in order; just a piece here and a piece there .The pleasure is when I get home and look at all the footage and sit down and put it together and put in the music and make it look like something.”
Fait Dix: Its opening at Cannes
Eight years after the Cannes Film Festival presented Allen with the Palmes des Palmes special lifetime achievement award, the filmmaker is returning to premiere You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger .
After a whopping 45 years in the filmmaking industry, and at least a film ever year, the director has learned to take things as they come. Though he’ll always strive for an unattainable perfection.
“One of the things that’s so fascinating about an art form is that it may be good, mediocre or terrible but it’s not perfect,” he says. “So when it’s over you’re constantly impelled to try another one because you suffer from the delusion that you can get perfection.
“Intellectually, I’ve given up and I’m happy that the picture is not an embarrassment. I start out thinking it’s going to be the greatest thing ever made and when I see what I’ve done I’m always saying, 'I’ll do anything to save this from being an embarrassment.’”