British actress Lucy Punch is having a great year. She starred alongside of Steve Carell and Paul Rudd in the recent comedy Dinner for Schmucks, and has shot two movies, a dramedy, Earthbound, with Kate Hudson and the comedy Bad Teacher with Cameron Diaz, which will open next year.
Her latest movie is Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. In it she portrays a free-spirited call girl named Charmaine who has hooked up with a wealthy older man, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), who has just left his wife.
I spoke with Lucy at the Four Seasons Hotel, in Beverly Hills, about the film, and working with movie greats Woody Allen and Sir Anthony Hopkins.
Were you intimidated at all to go in and audition for Woody Allen?
Yes, that’s an understatement. I didn’t actually audition in front of him. I just went on tape I auditioned a lot for the part and did many scenes. For my last audition I spoke to him on the phone and he gave me some notes, which was a surreal experience. I was in my messy kitchen in West Hollywood and I’m on the phone with Woody Allen. (He said) ‘sexy’ about four hundred times and I was like, ‘Okay, I get the message.’
I went to the audition pretty much dressed as character, a skirt that was just barely covering my ass and top down and a padded bra; the whole shebang.
How difficult was it to play a sexy young woman that’s sleazy and funny?
One of the things that Woody said was that he really didn’t want her to be unlikable or too annoying. So I think he was looking, in the writing as well and in my performance, to find some sweetness there and some likeability. It was interesting when I knew I got the part because it was like Mighty Aphrodite, and I was like, ‘I don’t even want to think about it.’
I did watch Mira Sorvino’s first scene on youtube.com and we shared one of our first lines. In explaining our profession we say, ‘Well, you know, I do this but basically I’m an actress,’ which I thought was interesting. I don’t know what that says.
Did you know that Nicole Kidman was supposed to do your role?
Yes, I did. That also added to the crazy intimidation nausea before I started shooting. I don’t know what to say about that. I was replacing this fabulous Oscar winning actress and then he went with me. Yes, it was very flattering.
I’m a little trashier naturally. I can access that. She’s too pale and her patrician looks. I can rough up a bit more.
Do you have to like a character you’re playing?
I don’t know about liking her. I did want to make sure that it wasn’t this sort of caricature of this gold digger and that she wasn’t so manipulative and devious. I always thought that as much as wanting all the furs and the diamonds that she just wants to have fun. She’s very sensual and she wants to drink and to eat and have sex and is just very much in the moment.
I sort of took that angle which I thought was more interesting and sympathetic and less of a caricature of the archetypal money grubbing gold digger.
What about working with Anthony Hopkins?
I knew that he was who I would be working with and so that added to the desperation for the part. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t begin to imagine working with him.’
What did you expect and what was he really like?
I didn’t know what to expect. I kind of had a sense of working with Woody. I have a few friends that have worked with him before and so I knew that his process was very different, and that you really have to be pretty prepared when you’re working with him and know what you’re doing. But I had no idea what Anthony was going to be like and I was nervous.
Fortunately, he’s charming and sweet and kind and very low key. For this, the dynamic that we have, his character’s more passive and reserved and my character had to be very confident. I think if I had been intimidated too much that wouldn’t have worked.
The physical comedy that you do in this, you did some of that in Dinner for Schmucks too, do you think that helps to make her more endearing?
Someone said, ‘Oh, you’re a physical comedian.’ I don’t think that. I wasn’t planning on being physically funny. Maybe I’m just gangly and it just comes out. So I don’t really know. That wasn’t a conscious thing.
Certainly I thought about the fact that she’s very free with her body and very unself-conscious and really lets it all hang out and that even in these tiny little outfits she’s completely uninhibited; if she’s showing part of her left buttock, who cares. That was quite a challenge because I’m the opposite. I’m always pulling everything down. I really just had to be free and let it just hang out. So I did.
I understand that on the set Woody doesn’t really give direction, that he just lets you do what you’re going to do. Did you find that weird?
Yes. It’s a little unnerving, not so much the directing but that you don’t get feedback. So it’s hard to tell if he’s happy or not. But because I did have a very strong idea of who she was, and how I wanted to play her, he just let me do it. He let me improvise and I love to improvise. It’s nice that when I watched the movie there was so much of that, some jokes and things that I had come up with stayed in the film.
What do you think the message about love and relationships is in this film?
It’s pretty cynical I think and pretty dark. But I also think it’s honest. I’m not idealist or a complete romantic and so I think it’s a pretty honest view of love and relationships.