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Talking About The Relationships

Woody Allen Muses Over The Women in His Movies

Woody Allen (right) unsuccessfully brainstorms a better title with (from left) Javier Bardem, Pen?lope Cruz, and Scarlett Johansson.

By Cole Haddon | Posted 8/13/2008

Woody Allen has had nothing but complicated relationships with the women in his life, and while he's still getting along swimmingly with latest muse, Scarlett Johansson, history says that, like all good things, this, too, must come to an end. There's hope, of course, because Allen is not actually sleeping with Johansson as he was with famous off- and on-screen exes such as Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow, but one imagines that this, in some cockeyed way, only makes the legendary writer/director's relationship with the young actress all that more complicated. Johansson stars in Allen's latest ode to dysfunctional love, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, their third movie together in four years, but it turns out getting there was entirely an accident.

"I had Kate Winslet for Match Point to the last week in pre-production, when she said she couldn't do the picture because she had worked continually and had spent no time with her child," Allen says, sitting in a Beverly Hills hotel banquet room, eerily like every single character he's ever played--right down to animated gesticulation. "I was in a hole, I had to get somebody fairly quickly, and I knew that Scarlett was a great actress and a beauty. I didn't know if she was really what I had written, [though].

"I hired her and became totally captivated by her. I thought she could simply do anything. I'm very happy to work with her. Whenever there is a part that fits anything she could do, I would always call her and hope that she would be available for it, as I did with Keaton for years. I did that with Mia--I did many roles with her, thought she was a wonderful actress, and she never let me down. I think that the same will be true with Scarlett."

As Johansson is now, women have always been a major influence on Allen's work. Some of his most notorious characters belong to the fairer sex, most famously Annie Hall. "When I first started I could never write for women," Allen says. "And when I used to write my cabaret act, and I would write sketches for television, I could never write for women. I always wrote the male point of view. People even commented about it at the time.

"Then I got into [1972's] Play It Again, Sam with Diane Keaton onstage," he continues. "Keaton and I started dating, we started living together, and became very close. Through some kind of Socratic osmosis or something, I started writing for women. I started writing for Diane, and I found I could write for women. Then I sort of only wrote for women. I wrote more and more for women, and I wrote for them all the time. For some reason I find them interesting to write about, too--men occasionally--but really my heart is in it more when I'm writing for women. I don't know why, but I remember when that transformation took place from an inability to write a credible woman."

Many of Allen's male protagonists have struggled with their dependency on the women in their lives, so it's really no surprise to hear him, more or less, admit that, as a filmmaker, he has the same dependency. He even surrounds himself with them, from his publicists, to his producer, to his editor. "A bonus [of writing women] is that there are so many wonderful actresses out there, it's much easier to get a woman for a role than it is a man," he adds. "If you write a role, there are always a couple of women you can get for it, whereas with a guy, if you don't get the one or two guys you want, it's not so easy. There is a scarcity of guys, really, on that level. There are so many gifted women out there that are just waiting for an opportunity to work."

Considering that Allen has spent so much time exploring relationships and their often dysfunctional dynamics--Vicky Cristina Barcelona is yet another hilarious relationship meditation--it's only reasonable to wonder if he has finally come to some conclusions on the subject. "All the advice, planning, self-help books, anything you do, dating services, you've got to get lucky," he says. "If you do, it's great. Some people do, but you can see by the divorce rate, the amount of relationships people go through, and the amount of people in unhappy relationships but stay together because of inertia, because of children, fear of loneliness . . . there are very few really wonderful ones. You have to get lucky."

He smiles. "I hope I haven't depressed you."

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