Woody Allen's Paris Adventure

Woody Allen guides actor Owen Wilson on the set of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, Woody Allen’s latest film starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, and Marion Cotillard, opened in the U.S. on Friday May 20th.  The film, a romantic comedy set in Paris, is Allen’s forty-first feature film and his sixth film shot in Europe since 2005.

In MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, Gil (played by Owen Wilson) is on vacation in Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents.  From the outset, their polar opposite views on Paris are apparent: Gil, a successful Hollywood screenwriter, has a romantic view of the city while Inez, more comfortable with her California lifestyle, sees it as just another place in the world.  After dinner with Inez’s overbearing friends Paul (Michael Sheen) and Carol (Nina Arianda), Gil calls it a night as they hit a club.  Lost and a little drunk, Gil finds himself on a quiet street as the bells strike midnight.  When a car pulls up filled with English speaking revelers, Gil is pulled into their party and circumstances that he never could have imagined.

This is Allen’s second film in Paris, the first “Everyone Says I Love You,” included Paris in only a portion of the film, but MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is Allen’s cinematic love note to the city.

From the film’s press kit, “Of course I’m partial to New York because I was born there and grew up there,” he says, “but if I didn’t live in New York, Paris is the place I would live.”  This feeling echoes the sentiments of the film’s main character, Gil, who looks back with regret on an opportunity he had to move to Paris twenty years earlier but didn’t take.  Allen himself had a similar opportunity during the filming of WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT in the 60’s.  “It was an adventure that was too bold for me at the time.  In retrospect I could have stayed, or at the very minimum taken an apartment and divided my time – but I didn’t and I regret that.”

Allen sat down with reporters to discuss MIDNIGHT IN PARIS at a press conference for the film on May 17th in New York.

Woody Allen guides actors Rachel McAdams and Owen Wilson on the set of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS.

When asked about how the idea for MIDNIGHT IN PARIS came to him, Allen responded:

… interestingly enough I was going to make a film in Paris because it was being financed (but) I had no idea for a film in Paris.  I was just thinking and thinking, and I thought it would be a romantic film because…we all grew up on Paris in the movies as romantic.  And I thought of the title MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, and I thought “Gee that’s a very romantic title.  It’s a great title for a movie.”  And for a long time, for six weeks or so I didn’t have an idea, I didn’t know what happened at midnight in Paris.  I figured so what goes on at midnight in Paris?  Two people meet?  Are they having an affair?  And then one day it occurred to me the protagonist would be walking along in the street and a car would pull up, and there would be some exciting people, and they say “get in” and take him on an adventure.  And that’s the way it happened.  It was very unpredictable and capricious.

Originally I had thought to myself, okay he gets in and …goes to this party, they take him to this party, and meets Marion (Cotillard) – it wasn’t Marion at the time, it was a French woman.

Gil meets a beautiful fashion designer, Adriana, played by Academy Award winning actress Marion Cotillard.  Unlike Inez, Adriana admires both the writer and the man, which ignites a passion in Gil that has been missing with Inez.

When asked about working with actors who are also writers, as in the case of Owen Wilson:

…the screenplay is not written in stone…as soon as they’re hired for the movie I tell them that they’re free.  If there are any speeches they don’t want to do, if there’s anything they want to add or subtract or change go right ahead and do it.

They can say it in their own words.  If they see a scene and they feel more comfortable doing it their way… they don’t want to walk where I tell them to walk and would rather walk someplace else…that’s fine, I don’t really care as long as the thing gets done believably on the screen.

Michael Sheen and Nina Arianda play Paul and Carol, Inez’s friends from the U.S.  To Gil, their presence on their trip is as subtle as nails on a chalkboard.  The know-it-all Paul, in Paris to lecture at the Sorbonne, hijacks their cultural excursions with long, pseudo-intellectual descriptions of the art and culture of the city.  They are book-ended in the film by Inez’s Conservative parents John (Kurt Fuller) and Helen (Mimi Kennedy).  But Gil’s calm is restored by a charming museum guide played by Carla Bruni, France’s First Lady and wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.  Upon their first meeting, Allen offered her the role.

Carla Bruni and Owen Wilson in MIDNIGHT IN PARIS.

From the press kit:

“I told her, ‘I won’t take much of your time, you won’t have to rehearse – just come in for a couple of days and shoot.”  Allen added, “She did all the scenes very well, and I think if I had cast her in a larger part, she would have been just as good…”

Allen was asked about his view of both European and American lifestyles, particularly if he had a disdain for American culture:

No, not at all.  Actually a number of the significant artists in the picture are Americans.  America’s a huge country and there’s an enormous amount of culture, positive culture that has always come out of it.  Great writers, certainly some fabulous painters in recent decades and great jazz musicians.  So no, I don’t feel that way at all.  There’s plenty of, you know, cultural deserts in the United States as well, but I’m sure if you went in any country you’d find sections of them and periods of time that were very fertile and exciting and others that weren’t.  But I don’t feel America is at all uncultured.  I feel there’s quite a bit of remarkable culture that’s come out of America.

One of the main plot points in the film involves Gil’s face to face meetings with his cultural icons, Ernest (Cory Stoll) and Gert (Kathy Bates), and how they affect his outlook on his writing career.  Allen touched on this:

My cultural icons were S.J. Perelman, Groucho Marx, when I got a little older Ingmar Bergman was a big hero of mine.  I would say those were the main ones, and it’s an odd combination because I started out as a television writer and became a cabaret comedian, and a television comedian, and my influences were Groucho Marx and Ingmar Bergman.  And you couldn’t get more disparate kinds of personalities.

When asked if he would time travel to Paris in the 1920’s if given the opportunity:

You know time travel is a tricky thing because you only extrapolate the best.  If you go back in time, you know, the women were dying in childbirth, and people had tuberculosis, and you go to the dentist and they drilled and it killed you.  It was not so pleasant really.  But when you think of it, you go back and you think of Gigi, and horse and carriage, champagne, Maxim’s…  I would like to be able to travel back, you know, for the day.  Go back to the Belle Epoque, have lunch and come home.  That would be the great trip for me.  If we could do that, that would be a wonderful thing.  And I would go to the Belle Epoque Paris, the same thing as Marion Cotillard said.  1920s Paris would be someplace I’d like to go to also, but Belle Epoque Paris, Paris before all the stores were on the Champs Elysees and those terrible T-shirt and postcard joints…

… where it was just the way it was conceived had to be astonishingly beautiful, I mean you can’t fathom how beautiful it must have been because it’s drop dead beautiful now and its full of these commercial stores that have opened up there.  So it would have been great but I would not like to have been trapped there and not be able to get back.  That would be not a good thing.