You’ve taken us to London, Barcelona and Paris- and now Rome. Is this to be your last ‘European’ film?
I’m filming my next project in San Francisco, so it is for now. But I may do another film abroad in the future. When I was offered to work film ‘Match Point’ in London, I thought it would be a nice experience for my family and I. London is a city that’s full of charm. And it’s much cheaper to shoot in film in Europe! I have been tempted by other European cities. But I’ve also thought about going to South America or China. Whatever I choose, I need two things: local producers that can finance the film and an original idea that is linked to that particular city. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t.
To Rome With Love, has half a dozen stories that run in parallel. Did you find the city of Rome most inspiring?
I had a ton of ideas for Rome, more than I could include in the film.
Rome is a vibrant city full of intrigue. Everything is happening right before your eyes: in cafes, in shops, on church steps… It’s always sunny so the people are generally in a good mood. They love life, going to the cinema, opera and food. It’s not a formal society.
Are the Italians nicer than the French?
Not nicer, just different. The French have been so kind to me. They’ve always made me feel very welcome. Italian people are just as warm, but in a different way. They are more like the Spanish. In Barcelona, I was fascinated by the fact people went out for dinner at 10.30 pm and strolling through the streets until four o’clock in the morning. I tend to work in places where the people are nice to me. I’m not sure it would work so well if I chose to film in the desert or in the jungle.
How did you actually come up with ideas for To ‘Rome With Love’? Did you just sit at café terraces and people watch?
No, I always write at home. But once I knew I would be filming there, I went through my personal notes and picked out the ideas that I thought best suited the city. For example, I wanted to film a man who can only sing when he’s in the shower. In Italy, people love going to the opera, it’s practically in their blood so, I knew I could make it work. It’s all about having a good idea and pairing it up with a good situation.
Some of the scenes are in Italian. Did you write these yourself?
I wrote them in English and had them translated. On set, some of the actors spoke just about enough English to make our working relationship possible. If the actor is good, then you know you can trust them. When we were filming ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona, I let Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz improvise their fight scenes. Up to this day, I have no idea what they were arguing about!”
Do you ever worry about getting writers block?
I never run out of ideas. I have several ideas for each of my films, and even more tucked away in my drawers. Ideas come in a constant flow. One morning, you can be reading the paper and find out that a man has killed his wife in an original way, or that someone won the lottery one day, and lost all their money in 24 hours. I write all of these ideas down, and then I go back to them later on. Some aren’t of interest whilst others are very good.
Not everyone has the ability to turn a small idea into a film…
Let’s just say that I have the ability to imagine stories that make sense. I think I manage rather well when it comes to taking an idea and seeing how far it can go. Some people know how to fix a TV, or drive a fast car. I know how to tell a story.
Does it require a certain amount of discipline?
I think so. I’m naturally very disciplined. I started working very young, writing live shows for TV. We’d show up to work on the Monday and the show had to be ready for the following Saturday. There was no time to wait around for inspiration. You HAD to write. Today, once I’ve finished one film, I look back at my notes to see if I can find something that can be used for the next. If I can’t find anything of interest, then I go for a walk in the neighborhood, relax in my chair or go for a shower. Sooner or later, something comes up.
Would you say your career path has exceeded your expectations?
Let’s just say I haven’t done too badly. I was a very bad student. All my friends were going off to college to study law or medicine. Me, I would do something for six months and then the teachers would kick me out. So I’ve been very lucky. If it hadn’t been for the film industry, I’m not sure what I would have done with myself. I would have had a normal job, like my father who worked as a barman, taxi driver, salesman...
'To Rome With Love’ makes fun of fame and celebrities. Do you think celebrity culture is getting worse these days?
Fame is an interesting phenomenon. There are more advantages to being famous than there are disadvantages. Being chased by the paparazzi night and day, reading about your personal life in the press, these things aren’t pleasant. But it’s nothing life threatening. The problem now is that some people are famous for the wrong reasons. Not because they have accomplished great things.
Has living in New York kept you away from the throes of Hollywood’s celebrity culture?
New York is a pretty normal city where I lead a very ‘middle class’ life. I wake up in the morning, take the kids to school, workout, write, play the clarinet, go out for a walk with my wife, watch basketball games… It’s a very European way of life. In Los Angeles, everyone works in show business whereas in New York, when I walk in the streets I’ll cross journalists, people that work in fashion, publishing, politics, banks…
Is that why you weren’t in LA to pick up your Oscar for ‘Midnight in Paris’?
I didn’t go for a number of reasons. Firstly, I don’t like flying. Also, you could very well cross America, sit in a suit for hours and end up going home empty handed. If only I were told in advance who the winner was…
I don’t really like the idea of awards ceremonies. Who has the right to say that a Picasso is more beautiful than a Matisse? Most of the time the people that do the voting, they vote for their friends. Or they vote against those they hate. And let’s not even talk about the ones that haven’t even seen the film they’re voting for!