By Danny Peary
It’s a welcome annual tradition that new Woody Allen movies play in our village, so expect to see the acclaimed Blue Jasmine at the Sag Harbor Cinema following its run in East Hampton. Allen’s merry tragedy, which is populated by an assortment of non-role models who lie, cheat, criticize, deceive themselves and others, and make horrendous life choices, is already generating Best Actress chatter for Cate Blanchett. Confirming her place in the actress pantheon beside Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet, Blanchett gives a tour-de-force performance as Jasmine, a combination of Blanche Dubois and Ruth Madoff, a brittle, selfish, self-delusional New York socialite who loses everything but her knack for pretense after her unfaithful, unscrupulous financier husband (Alec Baldwin) is arrested. Jasmine comes to stay with her down-to-earth sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins, also on an Oscar track).
Prior to the film’s New York City release, Blanchett took part in the following press conference with Peter Sarsgaard (who plays a rich politician who falls for the dishonest Jasmine), Louis C.K. (Ginger’s suitor), and Andrew Dice Clay (Ginger’s unsophisticated ex-husband). The full press conference will be posted on sagharboronline.com when Blue Jasmine arrives in Sag Harbor, but here’s a small sampling in which the cast members recall being cast by and acting for Allen.
Q: Cate, Woody Allen says Jasmine is the rare case when he wrote a part with a specific actor in mind.
Cate Blanchett: Is that true? He never told me. I just got a call from my agent saying that Woody had a script he’d like me to read. I read it straight away and it was brilliant. Then Woody and I spoke for about forty-five seconds and I agreed to do the film and met with him in San Francisco.
Peter Sarsgaard: It was a similar experience for me. I got this call saying Woody wants to meet me and there was a sense of urgency. So I went and talked to him for about forty-five seconds. He asked what I was doing over the summer, and I said I my wife [Maggie Gyllenhaal] was about to give birth…
CB: So you wanted to get out of the house?
PS (laughing): Yeah, pretty much. And he said, “Would you like to do a movie?” And I said, sure, without even knowing what the movie was. He sent me my scenes and a formal letter, and I saw him the first day on set. I think Woody picks up on something that’s in you when he casts you for a part. I have no idea what it was with me.
Q: Louis, were you looking to play a dramatic role?
Louis C.K: I never go out for movies anymore, so this came out of nowhere. I got a call saying Woody wanted to meet me. I had very low expectations but I just thought, “I’m going to get to meet Woody! And before he dies!”. So I went to his very nice little office and while I waited I noticed that the hat he wears to work was sitting on a table. I’m looking at Woody’s hat, and thinking that even if he tells me he’s too busy and I don’t meet him, it was worth it! Then I went into another room and there he was, and I remember thinking, “He looks just like Woody Allen!” He was so nice to me. I knew I didn’t get the part of a tough guy I read for, but soon a young woman came to my house, gave me an envelope and said, “I have to take this back with me, so you can have it for only forty minutes.” Inside was a letter from Woody, saying, “You couldn’t do that guy, but here’s another guy you can do.” There were also three scenes and they made me laugh. I thought, “My guy’s a jerk-off and I could totally play him!”
Q: Andrew, Woody remembered seeing you do stand-up about twenty years ago and thought that you could play a dramatic role in a movie.
Andrew Dice Clay: Well, originally I went into stand-up in order to act. I didn’t want to go to acting school and figured I’d develop my own method of acting. But not every comic can act like Robin Williams, so when I was offered this part I was no longer trying to get movies. I was just focused on my stand-up. My manager called and said, “Woody Allen wants to meet you tomorrow,” and I was like, “You’re kidding, right?” He obviously liked the bizarre character I play on stage and thought I was right to play Augie after Louis had failed his audition. [Laughter]
Q: What was it like for all of you to work with Allen?
CB: That first day was just awful. For the first week Sally and I cried in our beers together because we thought we were really screwing this up. But it bonded all of us and made us want to do better. Much of Woody’s direction is in the script itself, which allows him to get out of the way on the set—which he likes to do. But I actually found him to be really forthcoming, and when we set up that dialogue it became really enjoyable. Then he felt free to say, “That was awful,” and I felt free to say, “Okay, what are you after?” He might then say, “We will try that.” So he was forced to direct me.
PS: Having only read my own scenes in the script, I wondered, “Why is Jasmine behaving this way?” My lack of information made me play Dwight as if he is not interested in reality. Because the reality is that Jasmine needs medical help. I had to play my character in kind of reverse order for things to start adding up.
LCK: I knew Cate and these guys were making a movie and I was in it. [Laughter] I had a sense of proportion and thought Woody was trying not to have the focus be on me at all. That means that I was basically doing what I was hired to do and trying not to cause any trouble. But it was fun and Woody was really humble and humane. He tried to help us do it right for the audience.
CB: Woody would always say to me, “The audience has already left the theater.”
PS: Or, “You sound like an actor saying his lines.” That was another good one.
ADC: On the set, he was very open to our ideas. He didn’t give a lot of direction, and I think that’s because he gets actors who are close to their parts on the page and then really trusts them. I changed words to fit the way I speak, and he was just great about it. He gave me the opportunity to challenge myself a little and do something I hadn’t done yet. I could do nothing but sit here and thank him.