Midnight in Paris is the 43rd movie that Woody Allen has written and directed, and it is perhaps his most unusual.
The story centers on a Hollywood screenwriter, Gil (Owen Wilson) and his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams), who are visiting Paris with Inez’s parents.
One evening, when Gil is out walking alone, he is transported back to a time in Paris where his idols Ernest Hemmingway and F Scott Fitzgerald are writing in cafes and attending parties, and Gil gets to experience it with them.
Do you consider Paris equal to New York as one of the great cities of the world?
Woody Allen: Of course I’m partial to New York because I was born there and grew up there, but if I didn’t live in New York, Paris is the place I would live.
I get great enjoyment out of presenting Paris to the cinema audience the way I see it. Just as with New York, where I present it one way, and other directors present it other ways, somebody else could come and shoot Paris in a completely different way.
I want to present it my way, projecting my own feelings about it.
What was it like working with Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams?
Woody: Owen is a natural actor. He doesn’t sound like he’s acting, he sounds like a human being speaking in a situation, and that’s very appealing to me. He’s got a wonderful funny bone, a wonderful comic instinct that’s quite unlike my own, but wonderful of its kind.
He’s a blonde Texan kind of Everyman’s hero, the kind of hero of the regiment in the old war pictures, with a great flair for being amusing. It’s a rare combination and I thought he’d be great.
Rachel just gets it. She’s funny when she has to be funny; she’s serious when she has to be serious. She’s unfailingly real, she doesn’t do anything too big or too under-acted, and she’s totally alive on the screen.
You and Rachel worked together in the movie Wedding Crashers, what was it like to work with her again?
Owen Wilson: I loved working with Rachel again. She came in during the second half of filming, and I think she brought this burst of energy and got everybody renewed, got us charged up for the final push.
What is your take on Gil’s relationship with Inez?
Owen: While Gil’s very smitten with Inez, he also sees there’s a disconnect about where they want to live their lives, what he would like to do, and even if she’s the right person for him.
You cast Carla Bruni, the wife of Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of France, in the role of a tour guide – was it difficult to persuade her to do the part?
Woody: 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.’ And she said, ‘Yes, it would be fun. I’d like to be able to tell my grandchildren I was in a movie, just for the experience.’
She did all the scenes very well, and I think if I cast her in a larger part, she would have been just as good, but I don’t think it would have been practical for her to take seven weeks off to shoot a movie.
Owen: She was so gracious and nice to me and to all the crew. She’s a great ambassador for the country.
How much direction did you get from Woody on this?
Owen: I felt he very much had a point-of-view about the way the scenes should go, which isn’t to say that he was fussy or too exacting with the words in the script – you could change things and make it more how you might say it.
Doesn’t he shoot three minute scenes at a time?
Owen: It gives you that feeling of adrenaline like when you’re playing a sport, you know that you have to get it right and you won’t have all these different chances. It makes you concentrated a little bit more.
How do you both see Gil?
Owen: Gil lived in Paris when he was in his twenties and he has this romantic attachment to it. It represents the time when his professional life was just beginning, when he thought about what he was going to do with is life.
That was when he came to the fork in the road.
So of course being there again makes him think about that time and the road he didn’t take. [But] I think he has to find a way to be happy just where he is.
Woody: He found himself to be a victim of that old Hollywood joke, ‘I lay down at the pool … and when I got up it was ten years later.’ If he’s going to take himself seriously, not just as an artist, but as a human being, he’s better off facing reality and recognizing that the contentment and happiness and spiritual peace that is required to get through life is something that’s inside you.
So the movie is hopefully in that Gil comes to that conclusion, that it’s better not to delude yourself – even though it’s more pleasant and less painful, it’s still better not to.
Owen: I think this film couldn’t be more hopeful. It couldn’t be more hopeful with the sense of endless possibility that exists in a place like Paris. It’s a celebration of that.