CELEBRITY press conference transcript

Kenneth Branagh and Woody Allen
The Ritz Hotel, Paris
December 22, 1998
transcribed by Sarah Hatchuel

Question to Ken: Did Woody allow you any freedom with your character? Did he give you any precise directions?

Ken's answer: Woody not only allowed me but the other actors a great deal of freedom. And, in fact, he invited that, really. And at the same time as being very very helpful with the... and especially, which I think is an important thing in directing, especially when something needed fixing or something was wrong... I think that he allowed me to follow my instinct about what I thought was creating the character of Lee Simon. I thought Lee Simon was very multi-layered, a character who sometimes was desperate and sometimes sad and sometimes manic, but I thought came out of me. But great freedom and great help was what my experience was.

Question to Woody: Kenneth does sound like you a lot in the movie. How did this come about?

Woody's answer: Kenneth was playing a very complicated part. I wanted someone who could capture the comic New-York-City-Manhattan-nervous-anxious tension that I usually write about. I also needed someone that could get all the laughs that I'd put into the part. And also someone who could portray a character who had very desperate desires that could also be sympathetic. So, I brought this all on Kenneth and he started to play it, and we would look at it at night, the staff and myself, and we were so delighted because he had captured this kind of New York quality, this sort of nervous celebrity-haunted anguish, anxiety, so perfectly, that we were thrilled. I was seeing the part exactly as I had dreamed.

Question to Ken: Is it possible to play in a Woody movie and forget all Woody has done before as an actor?

Ken's answer: Honestly, it didn't occur to me to try and be Woody. Lee Simon, I thought, was a brillantly written, very layered character who was both sad and funny and frustrated and restless and sometimes very immature and sometimes stupid, but, for my research if you like, I spoke to writers, I talked to magazine writers, to travel writers and try to picture a sort of history for this man that was very specific. One of the issues sometimes in Woody's films perhaps is that because the cinematic landscape that he presents is so distinct that almost anybody who's playing the *guy* is somehow interpreted as being Woody when, in fact, in my research, my way of approaching, was to look at where the substance was, which is in this very extraordinary writing, which, you know, encouraged by Woody, led me to... I was trying to observe this brilliant comic mind, look for the interior life of the man which I think is presented very movingly in some of the scenes; however frustrating some people may find the character, I think sometimes he is tremendously human and flawed. That was what I enjoyed working on and it was a pleasure to play.

Woody: Even twenty-five years ago, I could not have played the role. I would have been funny but you would have had a much less rich character. I can't do that kind of acting. I can't give that level of acting. So, you know, I consider myself very lucky to have the part played by Kenneth. I could never have done it. I could have done some of it. But by no means the complexity of all.

Question to Ken: What have you learned from Woody as a film director?

[...] *long pause*, Ken thinks and says nothing. Everybody begins to laugh ! Ken smiles and says "No, no, no" In a way, it's hard to describe. I think lots of things. But watching Woody on the set is like seeing, it's rather embarrassing, but it's like seeing a sort of painter at work, is what I found. So that... clearly, he had the plan in someways of what he might shoot. But on the day his response to the set and what the actors were bringing I felt was like someone with a, you know, a palette of colours, and his concentration was remarkable and his sort of sense of freedom in how to move the camera, to do that very specifically for each scene, for each set, very aware of..., immensely detailed awareness of composition and very subtle rapport with the D.P., they are typical inspiring ways of intuitively approaching visually what was right with the scene. His notes are very... economic. He doesn't say too much but he says enough and he's very generous and free with his time, but in a way watching was... mysterious because one could watch and not know how to do it, but watching him was compelling, it was like watching a master at work. I'll stop the blushes there. [Ken laughs]

Question to Woody: Now that you've found Kenneth who can be such an alter-ego for you, will you ask Ken to play in all your future movies?

Woody's answer: No, but I would be thrilled to work with Kenneth again because he plays the character in a way, as I said before, I could never play myself.

Question to Ken: Was it easy to play this character as opposed to the parts you played on stage?

Ken's answer: Hummm... Not particularly easy... because of the accent. And I had to have a sense of that culture, you know,... when you are playing away from your own natural thing you can sometimes make the sounds of the accent but you don't necessarily get that under-the-skin quality. So I found that difficult and try to make it challenging. And it has always been a dream to be in a Woody Allen film. So it was a real honour and a dream-come-true. I've been watching his films for, you know, a long time, and my own films have been heavily influenced by Woody: Peter's Friends, which did very well here, and a black-and-white comedy In The Bleak Midwinter. And... so, it was fascinating to do. It was a fascinating challenge, yes.

Question to Woody and Ken: One of the guy in the movie says that society is judged by the celebrity it chooses. So, how do you judge a society that has chosen Woody Allen and Kenneth Branagh as celebrities?

Woody's answer: In Kenneth's case, it's completely justified. [Hooray !!!] In my case, it's a cultural need of help. [Gets a big laugh] [Then he develops on what he thinks a genuine artistic celebrity is, and the people who accidently and without any particular reasons become famous, like the hostage guy]

Ken's answer: Well, I agree with what Woody's said. What I think is very interesting in the film is the way he talks about the all-abasive nature, now, of the appetite for stories or gossip about people often famous for being famous. And that appetite has intensified and has become more voracious, suddenly different media competing for the same kind of audience. So, I think the film looks at that in a very very interesting way, that intensification of media appetite, fame gained by, you know, circumstances Woody described.

Question to Ken: [Actually, originally, the question asked in French was: "Est-ce que ce role vous a aide a vous refaire une virginite en tant qu'acteur?", which means ""Did this role help you restore your image as an actor?". But it was *very* badly and funnily translated into : "has this role helped you to get back your virginity as an actor ?" !!!!!

Ken's answer: Well... I don't understand the question [smiles]. My experience is that you don't get back your virginity on the whole. But--perhaps I'll know when I lose mine [he laughs]. But it was very nice to, if that was what the question was about [he laughs], it was very nice to be simply acting in a movie with someone I revere and to be devoid from all the responsibilities.

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