Page last updated at 19:11 GMT, Saturday, 15 May 2010 20:11 UK

Woody Allen's woes over ageing and death

By Fiona Pryor
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, Cannes

Woody Allen at Cannes film festival
Woody Allen says his latest movie has a deliberately ambiguous title

Woody Allen admits he hates the idea of growing older, the theme of his latest film You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger.

"My relationship with death remains the same - I'm strongly against it," the director jokes.

"All I can do is wait for it," he says, raising a laugh with his attentive audience of journalists at a news conference at the Cannes Film Festival.

The film-maker, who is speaking after the first screening of his film, which was shown out of competition, says he chose the title because of its ambiguous meanings.

"In the United States when someone says 'you're going to meet a tall dark stranger' the woman feels thrilled. She thinks she's going to meet Antonio Banderas or Warren Beatty."

Allen says the other meaning refers to the "tall dark stranger that we'll all eventually meet" - the Grim Reaper himself.

Getting older

His latest offering, which is quirky and funny in parts, stars Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts and Sir Anthony Hopkins - who was absent from the news conference.

One must have one's delusions to live. If you look at life too honestly and too clearly life does become unbearable because it's a pretty grim enterprise
Woody Allen

"There are some great scenes between Sir Anthony, who has a mid-life crisis in the film, and Lucy Punch in the role of his much younger new girlfriend," Allen says.

Sir Anthony's role focuses on the fear of getting older and Allen sympathises.

"I find it a lousy deal. There is no advantage to getting older," he says, raising more laughs.

"I'm 74 now and you don't get smarter, you don't get wiser, you don't get more mellow, you don't get more kindly - nothing happens.

"But your back hurts more, you get more indigestion, your eyesight isn't as good and you need a hearing aid. It's a bad business getting older and I would advise you not to do it if you can avoid it."

Cue more laughter.

Throughout the film each of the characters is forced to make big decisions about their lives.

"One must have one's delusions to live. If you look at life too honestly and too clearly life does become unbearable because it's a pretty grim enterprise," Allen says.

"This is my perspective and has always been my perspective on life - I have a very grim, pessimistic view of it.

"I do feel that it is a grim, painful, nightmarish, meaningless experience and that the only way that you can be happy is if you tell yourself some lies and deceive yourself."

Two characters in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger share a belief in fortune-telling and the afterlife but Allen is quick to dismiss such beliefs.

Naomi Watts
Naomi Watts plays Sally - Sir Anthony's daughter - in the film

"I do not believe in any of it. I find it all quackery, humbug and charlatanism," he says.

"They take your money and they promise you that they can predict your future. It's all silly and nonsense. In a movie it might be funny but in real life it's a billion dollar industry and takes advantage of people when they're vulnerable."

It is not uncommon for Allen to appear in some of his own films, but he is absent from this one.

In fact, he says he has no plans to cast himself in any future projects because he is "too old".

"It's no fun not playing the guy who gets the girl," he says.

"You can imagine how frustrating it is when I do these movies with Scarlett Johansson and Naomi Watts and the younger guys get them, and I'm just the old guy, the director."


Allen, who also wrote the screenplay, admits he does not normally write parts with specific actors in mind, but with this film had wanted Brolin and Sir Anthony right from the start.

Josh Brolin
He's a wonderful director, who creates electricity on the set where anything can happen. And he leaves it up to you to take full responsibility for your character

Brolin, who had previously worked with Allen in 2004's Melinda and Melinda, revealed he received a humorous note from the film-maker asking him to participate in his latest film.

"After he'd seen me in W, he got a note to me which said: 'you may remember me from Melinda And Melinda, I was the director'.

"He then went on to compliment me very sweetly and then offered me the part. He seduced me well," he laughs.

Brolin heaps praise on Allen, and says his approach is very different to any other film-maker he has worked with.

"He's a wonderful director, who creates electricity on the set where anything can happen. And he leaves it up to you to take full responsibility for your character," Brolin says.

"I think what people perceive as being so terrifying about working with Woody is the fact that he doesn't say a lot. The disappointment is there if you don't reach a level that is organic in his film and that disappointment can manifest, which is really unnerving.

"You know you'd rather have someone screaming at you - it's much easier and much more familiar - but you do feel like you do have to live up to something."

Allen, however, believes the making of a good film is simply down to casting the right people.

"The trick to directing these films is to be a good hirer. You're hiring these wonderful international actors and so how much direction do you have to give these people? Hardly any at all," he says.

"If you hire the right people you can give them the responsibility and then keep your mouth shut and get your pay cheque."

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