When she was being courted to play the disgraced Manhattan socialite lead in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” Cate Blanchett talked to the filmmaking legend for, by her calculations, three minutes. Then she read the script. Then they talked for 45 more seconds. The third time they spoke was when shooting started.
With Peter Sarsgaard, who plays a minor role in the film, Allen was even more concise. They talked for 45 seconds. Then they saw each other on set.
Louis C.K. auditioned for one role: a tough guy for which he was, to say the least, not appropriate. (“I just wanted to meet him,” C.K. admits. “I thought he wouldn’t pick me. But I’d get to meet him — before he dies.”) He was instead offered another, smaller one. The news came not from Allen himself, but from an envelope delivered to his house. Inside were his three scenes — and no others. He had 40 minutes to read them before they were sent back.
None of this is surprising. Allen is infamous for his ultra-secretive production methods. He never allows anyone to see the full scripts (unless, like Blanchett, they’re in nearly every scene). And he never tells his actors why he cast them.
“When I got the call that Louis had failed,” jokes Andrew Dice Clay, who won C.K.’s original role, “I actually thought my manager was kidding. I never thought he could see past the persona I play on stage as a comic.” But Allen put his trust in the dirty, ‘80s standup king, even if he rarely gave him specific comments. “I think the direction comes in his casting. He gets as close to the part on the page with the person, then he lets you really work with it.”
Only knowing what happens to their characters, but not the entire film, can confuse actors, but perhaps for good. “In some ways the lack of information made me play the character a certain way,” Sarsgaard says. “I was in my own little world. I interacted with almost no one else, and the person I was interacting with [Blanchett’s character] might have been unreliable.”
Of course, the myth of Woody Allen, the impenetrable and mysterious artist who doesn’t tell his actors anything, is a bit overstated. “Sometimes he would say to me, ‘You kind of dumped that one, let’s try something better,’” C.K. remembers. “One thing he said that stuck with me was, ‘That pause was too long for the audience.’ That told me the audience was with him. He’s already in the seats, watching the film with a crowd. Because he’s a comedian.”
He wasn’t the only one who got brutally honest comments. “The thing he would say to me was, ‘The audience has already left the theater,’” says Blanchett, with a wounded smile.
“Or, ‘You sound like an actor saying lines,’” adds Sarsgaard, laughing. “That’s awful.”