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Woody Allen Reveals How He Conjured Up His Biggest Hit 'Midnight in Paris'

from The Hollywood Reporter / by Gregg Kilday

Out of a lifelong love affair with Paris, the director opens up to THR on the motivation behind the award contending film, why he was smitten with Owen Wilson’s West Coast vibe and his blissful defiance of his sister’s concerns.

If the making of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris were itself a Woody Allen movie, it would start something like this: After a tastefully understated title card — simple white lettering on black — and against a jazz arrangement of, say, Cole Porter’s “I Love Paris,” the camera slowly zooms in on a window at the Hotel Ritz Paris, where Allen is looking out over the Place Vendome. In voiceover, we hear his thoughts: “I have a tendency to romanticize Paris,” the writer-director confesses. “When the lights come up and it’s almost midnight, everything looks so pretty.” Somewhere here, he knows, there has to be a movie.

Cut to: Back in New York, Letty Aronson, Allen’s younger sister and his primary producer since 2001, has just finished reading his latest screenplay, the fanciful tale of a modern-day Hollywood screenwriter who finds himself, suddenly, magically, wandering through the Paris of the 1920s, brushing shoulders with Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. “Who is going to come to see this film?” she asks her brother. “I don’t think a lot of people even know Gertrude Stein and certainly not Man Ray. I just feel it’s for a real niche audience.”

Cut to a sunny day in Los Angeles: Owen Wilson is closing the script that Allen has sent over for him to read. In an accompanying letter, the director explains the movie he is planning is going to be very romantic, and he wants Wilson for the lead. Wilson is puzzled, though. He isn’t quite sure how all the time-travel stuff works and wonders who Allen is going to find to play iconic figures like Fitzgerald and Hemingway. “It all just seems sort of far-fetched,” he says to himself, yet he’s intrigued.

Cut to: Marion Cotillard at her apartment in Paris as she takes a call from Allen, whom she’s never met. He has a part for her in his new movie, he explains, that of a woman in the Parisian demimonde who’s romanced by both Hemingway and Picasso. They talk for more than an hour, and when the call ends, she turns to some friends who are visiting and exclaims, “Oh, my God, I’ve been talking to Woody Allen — that was Woody Allen’s voice!”

Cut to: Several weeks later. Allen is now back in the City of Lights. Production on the film is due to start in a few days, but first he and his cinematographer Darius Khondji, accompanied by a couple of camera assistants, are wandering the streets, capturing shots of the city that will be used in the opening montage. Allen is delighted by the overcast sky and the wet pavement — it’s just the look he wants. But then a fresh wave of rain pours down. Both men are drenched, but Khondji realizes, “Woody didn’t care at all that we were wet. He was just completely happy because it was the right feeling for the film.”

Serendipitously, so. Allen has perfected an almost clockwork approach to filmmaking — since 1969, when he directed his first feature, Take the Money and Run, he’s completed 41 more films at a remarkably consistent rate of almost one a year. But his latest film has broken out of the pack. Having brought in $56.3 million domestically and $145.2 million worldwide, it’s his top-grossing movie ever. (The 1977 Oscar-winning Annie Hall collected $38.3 million domestically, the equivalent of about $143 million today.) Midnight — an enchanting fantasy in which Wilson finds himself transported back to the movable feast that was Paris in the ’20s, only to learn that nostalgia for the past isn’t all it’s cracked up to be — has given Allen new currency.

Allen fell in love with a title, Midnight in Paris. But for the longest time, he couldn’t decide what exactly would happen at midnight, until he stumbled upon the idea that a car could pull up and whisk him into the past.

“To me, the torture is getting the idea, working the idea out — its general plot, structure and story,” Allen says of his process. “But once I know that, I can write a screenplay in two, three weeks. It’s the difference between writing it and writing it down. It becomes pleasurable for me and flows easily because I’ve done all the spade work beforehand.”

Even though, in this particular story, his protagonist would be encountering some of the artistic giants of the 20th century, Allen didn’t need to research the period. “I didn’t have to. I did read them when I was younger,” he says. “Characters like Hemingway, Picasso, Salvador Dali. They are so vivid and have such pronounced styles, I didn’t have to do any research at all. I could write it off the top of my head.”

As for his sister’s doubts that there was an audience ready to make their acquaintance, Allen wasn’t concerned. “I knew that I knew Gertrude Stein, and I’m not the most literate person,” he says. “The movie would be for those people who do know her. I never think about the audience. If Letty had been correct and only a minuscule amount of people would have been interested in Paris in the ’20s, that would have been fine with me too.”

But first there was another problem. Since the movie was, in part, a period piece, Aronson couldn’t see how it could be filmed under the modest budgets with which Allen comfortably works. And so the script was set aside for several years, until France introduced a tax rebate for international productions in 2009. That allowed Aronson to bring the budget down to $18 million, and with funding from Spain’s MediaPro, which had struck a deal to finance three of Allen’s pictures, beginning with 2010’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, the movie was ready to move forward as the filmmaker’s summer 2010 project.

As it took shape, Allen’s longtime casting director Juliet Taylor suggested offering the Texas-born Wilson the lead role. Although he would be a departure from the director’s usual choice of onscreen alter ego — typically an actor playing an East Coast neurotic — Allen liked the idea and even reworked the character of Gil for a better fit. “Owen’s persona, his sound, is so much more rooted out West or in California. He looks like he’d be at home surfing. So I had to change it,” Allen says. “But I think that was a help to me because I made him a successful California character, a guy with a house and swimming pool. It sharpened the poignancy of wanting, in the face of all that commercial success, to really do something that was comparable to what those bohemians in Paris had accomplished.”

Wilson himself was somewhat bemused by Allen’s fascination with his West Coast lifestyle. “He talks about me always being at the beach. I think he thinks I live at SeaWorld,” Wilson cracks.

For Gil’s difficult and demanding fiancee, Inez, Allen says he had Rachel McAdams in mind as he was writing. And when he pitched her the part, he told her, “It would be much more interesting for you to play this kind of character. You don’t want to go your whole life playing these beautiful girls. You want to play some bitchy parts. It’s much more interesting for you.” When it came time to cast Adriana, the muse who bewitches Hemingway, Picasso and Gil, he says, “I did need a French actress, and Marion came to mind very quickly. With great good luck, she was willing to do it.”

While at the theater in New York, where he’d gone to see his friend and sometimes leading lady Scarlett Johansson in A View From the Bridge, Allen discovered Corey Stoll, who was also appearing in that play, and invited him to read for Hemingway. The actor, who has since gone on to be nominated for a Spirit Award for his performance, relates, “He handed me a couple of pages of Hemingway dialogue. It burned through my fingers, I was so excited to see Hemingway on the page. I had no idea what it was for, but he gave me some direction and that was easy.”

By now, the project was moving forward in the efficient, businesslike way that characterizes Allen’s productions.

Even though half the movie takes place in the past and includes added forays into the Belle Epoque and Versailles, production designer Anne Seibel knew she was operating under tight limits. “The challenge was to find locations and transform them,” she says. Since the famous Moulin Rouge has been extensively modernized, she found an old ballroom that could be retrofitted with a minimum of effort. And for Stein’s salon, she copied the original, down to the famous paintings on the walls, but notes, “It was more creating the mood of the period than reproducing the exact chair.”

Meanwhile, Khondji had discussions with Allen about shooting the 1920s sequences in black-and-white, but they eventually decided to go with color, giving the past a warmer, richer glow than the contemporary scenes. “Normally, Woody likes images that are very, very red, on the warm side,” he says. “And I like gold very much. So I colored it during the shooting, I gelled the lights and used old lenses for the period pieces.”

Allen, who doesn’t indulge in long rehearsal periods, called his actors together for the first time just a few days before filming began. (Wilson, who’d just recorded some of his voice work for Pixar’s Cars 2, arrived in Paris with restaurant recommendations from the Pixar staff who had worked on Ratatouille.) They all brought along a certain set of expectations about what it would be like to work on a Woody Allen movie.

“I thought he would be different, but he was actually very talkative on the set,” Cotillard says. By contrast, Wilson found that “maybe I was a little shy myself. And he’s a reserved person, so for the first couple of weeks we didn’t talk a great deal, but as I got more comfortable, we started to kid around more.” He was particularly amused watching Allen play with his iPhone. “His daughter told me all he knows how to do is check the weather,” the actor relates. “And he’d been saying stuff like, ‘It’s 100 degrees in Cairo today.’ ”

When it came time to work, Allen didn’t stand on ceremony. Moving briskly along — the shoot took just 35 days over seven weeks — he’d frequently tell the actors to use their own words, to “make it more natural.” And, says Stoll, “for the big group scenes, he’d figure out the traffic patterns, but then he’d want it to be messy. That was his most common direction: ‘Make it messier, make it more like life.’ ”

Through it all, Wilson was just about the only actor on the set who knew everything about how the two halves of the movie — the period scenes that were shot first, followed by the contemporary section — fit together.

Allen and Wilson may have made for unlikely collaborators, but, says Cotillard, “Woody Allen in a way found in Owen his kind of spiritual son. It was like it was meant to be. Owen fits so perfectly in Woody’s universe, it was really organic and made total sense.”

And any doubts that audiences wouldn’t get the movie’s conceits began to melt away as soon as Midnight was unveiled as the opening-night film of the Cannes Film Festival in May. By then, Sony Pictures Classics already had acquired North American rights and quickly moved to open the film to take advantage of the momentum. It’s been playing in theaters, entertaining audiences, ever since.

Cut to the present: “It’s always nice,” Allen, who resolutely maintains his distance from all the awards hoopla that now surrounds the film, says of its rapturous reception. “I make them for the fun of making them. I work at a comparatively low budget and make the films for my own enjoyment and hope that other people like them, and so it’s always nice when they do. And in this case, people have embraced the movie. I must say, I’m now well beyond it. I’ve finished another movie already, and I’m preparing a movie for next summer. So for me, Midnight in Paris was something I did a few years ago. But nothing pleases me more than knowing people have gotten pleasure out of it. That’s always a nice bonus.”

♦♦♦♦♦

ECHOES OF EARLIER ALLEN FILMS: Having directed 43 movies, the prolific filmmaker can be forgiven if he sometimes repeats himself.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) The tempestuous relationship between artists and their muses — Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz are a recent example — is a subject to which Allen has repeatedly returned.

Everyone Says I Love You (1996) Allen and Goldie Hawn dance together along the banks of the Seine in this casual musical — the first time the director shot part of one of his features in Paris.

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) Blending fantasy and comedy has resulted in some of Allen’s most heartfelt work. Here, Jeff Daniels plays a matinee idol who steps out of the screen and into the arms of Mia Farrow.

Annie Hall (1977) Allen loves targeting insufferable know-it-alls, like the guy he and Diane Keaton encounter in a movie line. Michael Sheen’s character gets the same treatment in Midnight.

What’s New Pussycat? (1965) On his first visit to Paris, Allen wrote and c0-starred in this sex comedy. Unhappy with directors Clive Donner and Richard Talmadge, he vowed to direct his future scripts.

Contagion: Production Notes

An international traveler reaches into the snack bowl at an airport bar before passing her credit card to a waiter. A business meeting begins with a round of handshakes. A man coughs on a crowded bus…

One contact. One instant. And a lethal virus is transmitted.

When Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns to Minneapolis from business in Hong Kong, what she thought was jet lag takes a virulent turn. Two days later, she’s dead in the ER and the doctors tell her shocked and grieving husband (Matt Damon) they have no idea why.

Soon, others exhibit the same mysterious symptoms: hacking coughs and fever, followed by seizure, brain hemorrhage…and ultimately, death. In Minneapolis, Chicago, London, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong, the numbers quickly multiply: one case becomes four, then sixteen, then hundreds, thousands, as the contagion sweeps across all borders, fueled by the countless human interactions that make up the course of an average day.

A global pandemic explodes.

At the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers mobilize to break the code of a unique biological pathogen as it continues to mutate. Deputy Director Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) tries to allay the growing panic despite his own personal concerns, and must send a brave young doctor (Kate Winslet) into harm’s way. At the same time, amid a rising tide of suspicion over a potential vaccine—and who gets it first—Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) of the World Health Organization works through the network of connections that could lead back to the source of what they’re dealing with.

As the death toll escalates and people struggle to protect themselves and their loved ones in a society breaking down, one activist blogger (Jude Law) claims the public isn’t getting the truth about what’s really going on, and sets off an epidemic of paranoia and fear as infectious as the virus itself.
Academy Award® winner Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”) directs the global thriller “Contagion,” bringing together a stellar international ensemble cast led by Academy Award® winner Marion Cotillard (“La Vie en Rose,” “Inception”); Academy Award® winner Matt Damon (“Good Will Hunting,” the “Bourne” films); Academy Award® nominee Laurence Fishburne (“What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “The Matrix”); Academy Award® nominee Jude Law (“Cold Mountain,” “Sherlock Holmes”); Academy Award® winner Gwyneth Paltrow (“Shakespeare in Love,” “Iron Man”); and Academy Award® winner Kate Winslet (“The Reader,” “Titanic”).

Directed by Steven Soderbergh from an original screenplay by Scott Z. Burns (“The Bourne Ultimatum,” “The Informant!”), the film also stars Bryan Cranston (AMC’s “Breaking Bad”), Jennifer Ehle (“The King’s Speech”) and Sanaa Lathan (“Alien Vs. Predator”). It is produced by Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher and Gregory Jacobs, with Jeff Skoll, Michael Polaire, Jonathan King and Ricky Strauss serving as executive producers. The creative filmmaking team includes production designer Howard Cummings, Oscar®-winning editor Stephen Mirrione, costume designer Louise Frogley and composer Cliff Martinez.

A Warner Bros. Pictures presentation, in association with Participant Media and Imagenation Abu Dhabi, a Double Feature Films/Gregory Jacobs Production, “Contagion” will be distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment company.

Concurrently with its nationwide theatrical distribution, the film will be released in select IMAX® theatres worldwide.

“Contagion” is rated PG-13 for disturbing content and some language.
www.contagionmovie.com
PRODUCTION INFORMATION

Don’t talk to anyone. Don’t touch anyone.
Stay away from other people.

“I think it’s always compelling to watch people struggling with a real-world problem, especially one with a ticking clock, where the stakes couldn’t be any higher,” states director Seven Soderbergh, whose new film, “Contagion,” raises questions about what might happen—on a personal, national and global level—if an unknown and quickly replicating deadly disease was able to spread unchecked. How would it start? How would it move? And how would we deal with it?

The inspiration for “Contagion” was sparked by a conversation, he believes, “anyone can relate to.” While working together on their previous project, “The Informant!,” Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns did a fair amount of traveling. Burns recalls, “Steven and I spent a lot of time on planes, and we talked about how often it seems people get sick when they travel. So the idea began as an exploration of the vulnerability of human beings in public places. I think all of us, when we come down with something, tend to think back over the past few days and who we spoke to, sat next to, or touched. It’s human nature.”

Sharing airspace with a contagious passenger or handling objects that harbor bacteria and then unconsciously rubbing our eyes can result in an annoying cold, but, the two began to speculate, what if these common, innocent interactions were circulating something much worse? And what if it rapidly expanded to worldwide proportions?

People could be dead before they knew what hit them.

Even more insidious, in the hours between contact and the onset of symptoms, it would be impossible to tell who had it…or who would get it next.

Matt Damon, who stars as one of the film’s central characters, marks his latest of multiple creative collaborations with Soderbergh on “Contagion” and says, “Steven’s movies don’t leave any fat on the bone. They’re lean and fast. For a subject like this, that pace mirrors the progression of the infection itself and how things spiral very quickly out of control, so you want that sense of acceleration. He knows exactly how to keep multiple threads alive and cut back to each one at the right time. The story really moves.”

“It’s not often you get the opportunity to make a movie that touches on themes that resonate with everyone, and can also be an entertaining thriller,” says Soderbergh.
“When Scott and I talked about doing a serious film about a pandemic, I thought that because of what’s been happening in the world, plus all the advances in medicine and technology, we had to approach it in an ultra-realistic manner.” He admits, “Having been through the research now, I will never again think the same way about how we interact with one another. You cannot immerse yourself in this world and not be forever altered by your awareness of it.”

That awareness, one of the film’s themes, is amplified as the virus spreads.

What makes “Contagion” so frightening on both an intellectual and a visceral level is that, while fictional, it is grounded in real science and real possibilities—and seen through the drama of individual lives and relationships that could soon be lost or forever changed. “It’s important that these characters feel like real people and not just medical experts or professionals in their field,” says Kate Winslet, who stars as a doctor working in one of the disease’s first identified hot-spots. “You’re accessing the world of this epidemic through human channels.”

Amid recent warnings of antibiotic-resistant superbugs and the ever-present concern over potential weaponization of biological agents, “we didn’t have to make anything up that wasn’t true, in a sense, to make it a more terrifying ride,” says Gregory Jacobs, Soderbergh’s longtime producing partner. “I love a good zombie movie, but we know that’s not real. The impact here comes from dealing with a horror set in our own backyards that manifests, at first, like the common cold. People look normal, they’re functional, so they move around and spread it without being aware. No one realizes there’s cause for concern until they’re critical. And by then it’s too late.”

Producers Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher were equally intrigued by how the story taps into our most primal fears and survival instincts. “It shows not only how a virus could infiltrate the population in staggering numbers but how that could affect day-to-day life, when the familiar suddenly becomes unfamiliar and you’re afraid to go back into your own house or see your friends,” Shamberg observes.

Experts assign a tipping point to such scenarios: measured in days, it’s the point at which society begins to break down. Stores run out of food; banks, schools and gas stations close; borders are locked down. And though a crisis can inspire touching acts of compassion, the reality is more often panic, paranoia, and a lawlessness that quickly becomes a threat in itself.

“I think it’s going to be shocking and dramatic and a little upsetting,” says Jude Law of the film’s potential impact on audiences. “Also relevant in ways you don’t necessarily think about every day. Not touching door handles, and coughing into your hand as opposed to your elbow….suddenly all these little things start fizzing at the forefront of your consciousness.”

Says Sher, “Steven always asks ‘What’s real here, what would actually happen and what would they be saying?,’ because what’s real is often more chilling and smarter than anything you can make up.” With that in mind, the filmmakers drew upon information they received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other infectious disease experts who served as technical advisors on the project—and which ultimately led her to conclude, “I think the question raised by ‘Contagion’ is not whether or not this could happen. It’s more a case of when.”

Burns agrees, citing, “The 1918 Spanish Flu wiped out 50 million people, one-fifth of the world’s population at the time and more than the total killed in World War I. Diseases spread exponentially. It just takes 30 steps to jump from one to one billion. Factoring in the incubation period, we could reach that number in 120 days.”

Burns also learned that a new virus is discovered nearly every week. “That’s 52 fresh bullets loaded into a gun and aimed at the human race every year,” he says.

“Everything that happens in this movie could happen, or is already happening, which is the truly scary part,” adds Ricky Strauss, an executive producer on the film and president of Participant Media, the company created by Jeff Skoll to back movies that illuminate important social issues. “After working with Soderbergh and Burns on “The Informant!,” Participant came aboard to support the development of “Contagion” and put at the filmmakers’ disposal their relationships with scientists at the Skoll Global Threats Fund, who are working on pandemic research.

But science and statistics tell only part of the story. Striving to paint a picture he calls “epic in scale and ambition but also intimate,” Soderbergh tracks the pandemic’s progress from several deeply personal points of view, along lines that run concurrently and influence one another but don’t necessarily intersect. In this way, “Contagion” reveals not only acts of bravery and sacrifice from average people and the professionals committed to protecting them, but the sometimes flawed and emotionally driven choices that make them who they are. In the process, he notes, “Each character confronts some aspect of his life that would have remained unexpressed or unchallenged if this disease hadn’t shown up.”

At the heart of the story is Damon’s character, Mitch Emhoff, a family man who sees a homecoming turn into a nightmare when his wife Beth, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, returns from a business trip and becomes the first known fatality of a mystery illness—so suddenly that he has no time to say goodbye.

When Beth’s autopsy stuns the local pathologist, he alerts the CDC. There, the hunt begins for answers, as researchers compare her symptoms with other recent deaths, analyze samples, and try to determine the extent of the threat even as it continues to evolve. Meanwhile, CDC Deputy Director Dr. Ellis Cheever, portrayed by Laurence Fishburne, weighs the consequences of full disclosure against a wait-and-see approach that might save more lives in the long run.

Under Cheever’s direction, Dr. Erin Mears, played by Kate Winslet, eagerly accepts her first prestigious assignment as a CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officer, alongside first responders in the field. But the parameters of the job—and its risks—prove far beyond what either of them expected. Simultaneously, at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, clusters of new cases light up sectors on a world map as epidemiologist Leonora Orantes, played by Marion Cotillard, works urgently to reconstruct the final days of Beth’s itinerary and connect the seemingly random dots that lead back to ground zero. And patient zero.

As the virus rapidly advances—invisible, relentless and indiscriminate—a different kind of contagion appears, introduced by outsider journalist Alan Krumwiede, played by Jude Law as a man convinced the government is withholding the truth and maybe even a possible cure. Although many of the issues Krumwiede raises are valid, his methods fan the grassfire of alarm and, says Jacobs, “contribute to the film’s atmosphere of shifting tones and levels, at once a drama, a mystery and a thriller.”

“Part of the story is the way in which information spreads along similar pathways to that of a virus: who gets it and how it moves forward, how it’s altered as it moves from one host to another or one organization to the next. And Krumwiede is the face of that idea,” says Soderbergh. “That was our focus throughout the movie, treating information like a baton that gets passed from one scene to the next. There are so many interesting tributaries. In this situation, it’s a lethal problem because misinformation can kill.”

THE FIRST PATIENT IS IDENTIFIED

MITCH EMHOFF:
We need an ambulance. My wife…

“Steven sent me the script with a note that said, ‘Read this and then go wash your hands,’” says Matt Damon, with a laugh. “After seeing this movie in a theater filled with strangers, I’m sure that thought will definitely cross peoples’ minds.”

The actor describes his character, Mitch Emhoff, as “an everyman, one of the human faces of the epidemic. In very short order he loses his wife and stepson to this supervirus, leaving him with only one surviving family member, his 15-year-old daughter, Jory. For him, it then becomes all about keeping her safe.”

Soderbergh explains, “Mitch isn’t from the medical or scientific world and so doesn’t know what’s happening, and in that respect he represents most of us. The challenge was to keep his situation dynamic so that he isn’t simply being acted upon, and Matt was a great collaborator. He understood what we were trying to accomplish in each moment. You never catch him acting. There’s no vanity, no self-consciousness in his performance; it’s as if the cameras aren’t there.”

“Mitch is the audience’s proxy and their way into the story,” says Sher. “Watching him do things that, days earlier, he didn’t think possible, makes you wonder what you would do to protect your family and survive, and if you could do it with the same degree of grace and courage.”

The movie’s themes of fear and unpredictability hit home in the relationship between Emhoff and his daughter, played by Anna Jacoby-Heron in her feature film debut. Damon says, “It was very easy for me to relate, being a dad myself. Even though they’re going through this extraordinary experience, they’re still dealing with typical issues of parents and teenagers. She wants to see her boyfriend, and Mitch keeps trying to impress upon her the severity of the situation and why even the slightest contact with him, if he’s infected, could kill her. It leads to some highly charged moments.”

Mitch is also left to deal with emerging truths about his wife.

Gwyneth Paltrow stars in the role that reunites her onscreen with Damon for the first time since “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” She says, “Beth Emhoff is a working mom who audiences meet as she’s wrapping up a business trip to Hong Kong and on her way home. She’s already sick, but it doesn’t seem serious enough yet to worry her.”

Though Beth succumbs early, she remains a vital thread running through the movie as research teams at home and abroad work to pinpoint her part in the epidemic. Says Soderbergh, “Beth’s story is revealed gradually. She’s the center of the detective aspect of the movie, the mystery of how it all started, and audiences learn more about her character as the action progresses.”

Ultimately, a series of snapshots Beth takes while visiting Asia helps, later, to retrace her steps and uncover the source of her infection. Soderbergh suggested that Paltrow take those photos herself, while on location. A first-time visitor to the city, she says, “I was just another tourist in Hong Kong, taking pictures. At the same time, I did feel a little pressure. When Steven Soderbergh gives you a photo assignment, you had better come back with something decent.”

Paltrow acknowledges her character could be considered lucky, in a way, to be among the burgeoning plague’s first casualties, because it’s the survivors who face the thorniest challenges: “You start to wonder what you would do in that scenario, and where you’d go for clean water and food. You ask yourself how prepared you would be for a crisis of this scale. We rely so heavily on the infrastructure of society, I think the answer is that we’d all be in quite a lot of trouble.”

THE RESPONSE

CHEEVER:
So we have a virus, no treatment protocol and no vaccine.

Representing a cornerstone of that infrastructure is CDC Deputy Director Ellis Cheever, leading the effort to protect, inform and set public policy in the U.S. amid the fast-moving crisis. Cast as Cheever, Laurence Fishburne says, “He’s a smart, competent guy, the voice of reason. He’s the one people look to for reassurance that everything is under control, that we have the best people working on the problem and it’s going to be fine.”

“Laurence is immensely credible as an authority figure, so commanding,” Soderbergh declares.

Cheever works closely with his boss, Lyle Haggerty, but though they’re both physicians and friends, and united toward a common goal, they don’t always see eye-to-eye. Haggerty’s military background affects the concerns uppermost on his mind, bringing another nuance to the situation. Bryan Cranston, starring as Haggerty, says, “There are highly sensitive issues here, with global implications. You have to be very careful with the dissemination of information and its ripple effect toward countries around the world. Everything has to be very specific and triple-checked.”

Under their aegis, researchers work around the clock to isolate, analyze and try to produce a vaccine for the deadly pathogen that’s always a few steps ahead of them. Chief among them, in both drive and expertise, is the maverick Dr. Ally Hextall, portrayed by Jennifer Ehle, who describes the facility’s high-security labs as “the place to go when you have no idea how a virus is transmitted from one person to another, you have no idea where it comes from, how it travels, how it grows, or how to stop it.”

While Hextall and her team race to find the answers to these questions, Cheever addresses the media from the eye of this hurricane. Under pressure from all quarters and with no solid news to impart, he must constantly decide what to say versus strategically holding back details that could do more harm than good.

Cheever has been following protocol for years, never revealing confidential intel outside the bounds of his office. But when he becomes privy to information that could mean life or death for the woman he loves, Aubrey, he faces a deeply personal and potentially damning choice: does he tell her—and her, alone—what he knows before it’s public knowledge? Aubrey, portrayed by Sanaa Lathan, is the world to him. Surely he can trust her not to tell anyone else. But, screenwriter Burns concedes, “In the same way a virus cannot be contained, it’s very hard to keep a secret.”

“This dilemma really is the measure of his character,” says Fishburne. “In his official capacity, he has a responsibility to protect the public and he takes that very seriously. But as a man, he has an obligation to his family. So he’s conflicted and has to make a tough choice.”

“We made that Cheever’s Achilles’ heel because it’s everyone’s Achilles’ heel,” states Soderbergh. “In the same situation, would I tell my daughter?”

Cheever is further torn about having handpicked Dr. Erin Mears as the Epidemic Intelligence Service officer to lead the charge among first responders in the field. By granting her the assignment she earnestly wanted and deserved, he may have unwittingly sealed her fate.

Cast as Mears, Kate Winslet feels it would not have deterred the novice officer one iota had she known the true risk at the outset. Researching the role, Winslet spent time at the CDC and met with past and present EIS officers who offered her a real sense of not only the job but also the kind of person who fills it. “I was told by some that they feel most alive when they’re on a mission,” she relates. “You have to be incredibly determined to do this work. It means sacrificing a lot of sleep, a social life, and your own safety, but it’s an honor to be chosen. It’s what they all train for and want to do. These are people who can be sent into war zones where there’s been an outbreak of a new virus. Fear is not an option. If they feel it, they learn to push it aside.”

“Mears serves as another gateway for the audience,” says Soderbergh. “It’s part of her job to explain the macro and micro of the situation simply and accurately, right down to the ways in which social distancing can prevent the infection spreading. But she’s confronting people in panic mode who are not always rational.”

Most importantly, “She brings it down to the layman’s level so we understand the impact without being bogged down by the science,” Winslet adds.

Starring as Mears’ counterpart in Geneva is Marion Cotillard as Dr. Leonora Orantes. As clusters of illness appear in London, Hong Kong, Tokyo and other cities around the world, simultaneously with cases in the U.S., Orantes begins to trace the sequence of transmission. “While everything else in the movie is hurtling forward, Orantes is effectively working backwards in time to unravel the mystery of where this thing came from, which is the key to figuring out where it might strike next.” says Shamberg.

Says Cotillard,” She starts with Beth Emhoff. Beth was the first person known to have died from the virus so Dr. Orantes tracks her itinerary. Fortunately for her, we now have video cameras everywhere so the first thing she does is study the footage from the cameras in the hotel, the elevator and the casino.” But even that can only take her so far. “You can discover a point of contact between two people, and you know both of them became ill, but it could have gone either way—the question is, which one of them infected the other?

“Meanwhile,” she adds, “Time is the enemy. As quickly as Orantes and the others work, the virus is moving even faster. People are dying and desperation is growing. When there is no more water and you need to drink, you will fight for water.”

Additionally, Orantes must always be aware of how events and investigations, and their potential consequences, might play out diplomatically on the world stage. “She gets dropped into situations and has to deal with cultural as well as scientific issues that are sometimes at odds,” says Soderbergh. Perhaps because of that, he further explains, “Orantes is a somewhat locked-in character, very professional but also remote and dispassionate. But something happens to her in the course of the story that causes a significant emotional shift… something that would not have happened if not for her pursuing the origins of this virus.”

Joining the principal cast in Orantes’ sphere of the investigation are veteran German actor Armin Rohde as Orantes’ supervisor Damian Leopold; and Chin Han (“The Dark Knight”) as Sun Feng, her official liaison to Hong Kong and Macau.

THE EPIDEMIC OF FEAR

KRUMWIEDE:
First there were two people, then four, then 16. In three months it’s a billion.
That’s where we’re headed. The truth is being kept from the world.

While the international medical community searches for a cure, confrontational freelance journalist Alan Krumwiede pursues an agenda of his own. Combining a genuine reporter’s instinct with a pathological distrust of all things official and a flair for the dramatic, he commits his popular blog to exposing the truth about the growing epidemic…as he sees it.

“His demand for the truth could be seen as heroic,” says Jude Law, starring as the man who claims—among other things—that there are more deaths than are being reported, and possibly an alternative cure being suppressed. “He believes people have a right to know and that information should be shared, especially when it’s something on this scale, and he was the first to break the story of a man dying on a Tokyo bus, who turned out to be one of the virus’ first victims. He has the courage of his convictions but his pride and ego often get in the way. He casts too broad a net for his stories and doesn’t always care about the repercussions of what he puts out there.”

“Krumwiede is not always wrong,” Soderbergh points out.

But neither is he always right. And what he broadcasts takes on a life of its own as people desperate for answers turn to his blog. As the disease continues to proliferate, so does his subscriber base, from modest beginnings to 2 million, then 12 million people. “There are always conspiracy theories that percolate around significant events,” says Burns. “And just as a virus begins with one person and spreads, Krumwiede becomes the ‘index patient’ for what becomes a parallel epidemic of fear and panic.”

In developing the complex and undeniably charismatic character, Soderbergh recounts, “Jude and I talked about bloggers who take an anti-government, conspiracy-theory approach—what they sound like, what they look like, and how they behave. We definitely wanted him to have a messianic streak.”

“What’s interesting is that you’re not really sure about him,” says Jacobs. “Is the government really hiding something and does the herbal remedy he’s talking about really work? I think we all suspect at one time or another that we’re not getting the whole truth, and in that sense Krumwiede represents the audience’s point of view.”

“But,” Law confirms, “ultimately, he crosses the line.”

Representing one of Krumwiede’s prime targets is Elliott Gould, re-teaming with Soderbergh and his three-time “Ocean’s” co-star Matt Damon, as Dr. Ian Sussman, a San Francisco-based medical researcher working independently on a possible vaccine—against CDC orders. Monique Gabriela Curnen (“The Dark Knight”) also appears as a newspaper editor, Lorraine Vasquez, who dismisses Krumwiede’s bid for an exclusive just before the contagion breaks.

THE GLOBAL STAGE

ORANTES:
Look at this. It’s transmission.
We just need to know which direction.

Production on “Contagion” began with principal photography in Hong Kong in September 2010 and continued in Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco, with stops in London and Geneva. Production designer Howard Cummings, working with Soderbergh for the third time, used Skype to communicate with his teams across the globe. Additionally, he says, “We created a huge research website that anyone on the movie could access if they needed to know what kind of uniforms the police wear in Kowloon or what an N100 mask is.”

Renowned for his streamlined process, Soderbergh once again functioned simultaneously as director and cinematographer on “Contagion,” using the latest version RED digital camera that utilizes available light. “He also cuts every night so you can see what you’ve just worked on,” adds Sher. “As much as Hong Kong is known for guerilla filmmaking, the crew joked that Steven out-guerilla’d the guerilla filmmakers.”

One of the film’s key scenes takes place in a Macau casino, but, since filming around the gaming tables is prohibited, the production re-created the room at the landmark Jumbo Floating Restaurant in Hong Kong’s Aberdeen Harbor. “When Steven walked into the room, I thought, ‘Oh no,’ because I could tell he loved it and I could see my future held multiple trips with my crew carting everything over to the restaurant on sampans,” Cummings laughs. That proved to be the case, but, luckily, the designer discovered that the local crews were accustomed to using sampans like trucks.

Additional practical locations included the Hong Kong International Airport; the Intercontinental Hotel; the Princess Margaret Hospital; and a scene shot aboard the Star Ferry, crossing from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island.

The production then used Chicago and its environs to double for both Minneapolis, where the Emhoffs live, and Atlanta. Throughout, snow was an essential element. Whether real or recreated with effects, it lent a persistent coldness to Mitch Emhoff’s world as well as what Cummings describes as “a hypersensitive kind of glare.”

Filming took place at Elgin’s Sherman Hospital; O’Hare and Midway Airports; Central Elementary School in Wilmette, where Matt Damon later offered an interview and photo-op for the 3rd and 4th Grade students’ newspaper; and Chicago’s Henry Ford Bridge, shot at night in a genuine freezing downpour that set the stage for a volatile border confrontation.

The largest and most ambitious set was Chicago’s National Guard General Jones Armory, transformed into an infirmary, and, in Waukegan, a portion of the Amstutz Expressway was closed for a day to stand in for Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway, in a scene that dramatically featured a convoy of military trucks escorted by two Black Hawk helicopters, all on loan from the Illinois National Guard.

The Guard’s contribution included Humvees, FMTV Troop Carriers, jeeps and two UH 60 Black Hawk Helicopters, as well as upward of 100 uniformed personnel from California, Illinois and Georgia. “The Department of Defense gave us approval to include National Guard soldiers and equipment in the film,” says Jacobs. “We also had access to many of their vehicles. Vince Ogilvie [Deputy Director, Entertainment Media, OASD-PA] was on the set with us. He was a terrific technical advisor and helped us keep it looking realistic, which was very important to us.”

In Krumwiede’s home base of San Francisco, Cummings depicted the utter collapse of services, months into the siege, by littering North Beach and Potrero Hill neighborhoods with piles of trash and laundry—as if tossed from windows by people trying to get rid of anything contaminated. Also seen on screen were the San Francisco Chronicle and television station KPIX, Golden Gate Park, and the University of San Francisco at Mission Creek, where Krumwiede confronts Dr. Sussman.

The designer’s biggest challenge was recreating the BSL-4 (Biosafety Lab, Level 4) for scenes in which Jennifer Ehle and Demetri Martin, as doctors Ally Hextall and David Eisenberg, experiment with dangerous biohazards. BLS-4 rooms are pressurized so that no air escapes, with steel doors, inflatable gaskets and an air-lock exit with disinfectant shower sprays. “It was a tough job for Howard to authentically reproduce these labs and their equipment,” Soderbergh attests. “Plus, there are pressurized oxygen hazmat suits fed by tubing that needed to be hooked up properly so they appear to really work. He had to design an enormous grid of pipes over the entire set.”

Costume designer Louise Frogley, another regular on Soderbergh’s creative team, had the suits custom-made for Ehle and Martin to BLS-4 specs, designed to encapsulate the wearer in an impenetrable bubble of air.

Says Ehle, “If people want to move from one area to another in the lab they have to unhook the air hose and then they have about two minutes to connect to the next one so they can continue breathing because the suit is continuously expelling air to create a barrier between them and potential toxins in the room. The tiniest rip could be fatal.”

THE REAL SCIENCE

Before Burns began work on the screenplay for “Contagion,” he met with world-class experts in the field of infectious diseases and committed himself to months of research to ensure the veracity of the story he and Soderbergh wanted to tell. “These people,” he marvels, “get excited at the point most of us would be terrified.”

Among those who contributed their time and expertise were W. Ian Lipkin, MD, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University and a professor of epidemiology, neurology and pathology; Larry Brilliant, MD, MPH, board-certified in preventive medicine and president of the Skoll Global Threats Fund; CDC-trained epidemiologist Mark Smolinski, MD, MPH, also of Skoll Global Threats; Nathan Wolfe, MA, DSc, director of The Global Viral Forecasting Initiative and a member of the team that discovered the Hantavirus; and science writer Laurie Garrett, Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of The Coming Plague.

Not only did they share their own knowledge as technical advisors, they opened doors for the filmmakers and cast to sources of additional research that would inform their work both in front of and behind the camera. Lipkin was also a regular presence on the set. Says Shamberg, “When you invite audiences into a high-level lab in a film like this, you want the equipment to look right, you want the procedures and the language to be credible and the actors to be fully in control of that environment.”

Based on the film’s proposed storyline, Lipkin designed the pathogen that runs rampant in “Contagion,” a fictional virus he deems “biologically possible,” with a reality-based scientific lineage akin to the existing Coronavirus, but with a more aggressive impact. He even created a 3D model of it for the film.

“Over the past 10 to 20 years, the frequency with which we are seeing reports of emerging infectious diseases has increased dramatically,” he says. “There are a number of factors which have contributed to this, including the movement of people into areas where they’re coming into contact with animals they didn’t previously see and changes in climate that can redistribute biting insects and change their range, giving them the capacity to bring viruses into areas that are more temperate. In addition to people, we also have the movement of products all over the world. So it’s a combination of things.”

The knowledge gained while working on “Contagion” leads Soderbergh to now say, “I came away both more worried and more secure. More worried in the sense that everyone we talked to felt there will be a virus at some point that tips over, but more secure in seeing the intelligence and skill level of the people who are the first line of defense if that happens. Although we were never conscious of making them heroic, they are. When something erupts they get on a plane and fly right into the belly of it.

“When we started working on this project, our understanding of the work they do was superficial,” the director continues. “We understood there was science involved but I don’t think any of us expected the complexity of the political, practical and human issues they face every time they’re combating an infectious disease. To be in their crisis room and see the degree to which they are tracking every tiny, potentially suspicious thing in remote villages around the world…it’s incredible. I hope the next time people hear something from the CDC or the WHO they realize that there are literally thousands of dedicated, passionate people behind those soundbites, working tirelessly to keep us safe.”

“One thing I’ve learned is that our relationship with viruses is not going away; it’s part of life on this planet,” says Burns. “Science, medicine and communication have improved, but with that has come a greater amount of risk because of how quickly we travel from continent to continent. That’s what Steven and I wanted to capture with this film—how connected we are. There are infrastructures in place to help us, but in the end a lot depends upon our protecting each other.”

“It’s also a reminder of how tenuous our civility is,” notes Matt Damon. “I heard a report recently about the big influenza disaster of a hundred years ago and how they estimated the population then was a week away from what they called the end of the world, not because of the deaths but because that’s how long they gave it before social structures broke down. And this movie skates along that same timeline.”

During production, almost none among the cast and crew were immune to the anxiety “Contagion” stirred up about their everyday interactions, and it undeniably altered their behavior in subtle ways. It also resulted in a lot of humor as fist bumps—then elbow bumps—became the new standard greeting. But underneath it all was a surprising new degree of awareness.

“I’m much more conscious of everything I touch and what people around me touch. I’m not turning into a germaphobe, but you really begin to see things differently,” Soderbergh says. “This film could do for elevator buttons and doorknobs what ‘Jaws’ did for going to the beach.”

ABOUT THE CAST

MARION COTILLARD (Dr. Leonora Orantes) won a Best Actress Academy Award® for her performance in the 2007 film “La Vie en Rose,” making her the first actress to earn an Oscar® for a performance in the French language. For her captivating portrayal of legendary French chanteuse Edith Piaf in that film, Cotillard also won a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe and a César Award, and received Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award® and Critics’ Choice Award nominations. In addition, she was named Best Actress by critics’ organizations worldwide, including the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the London Film Critics Circle. Earlier this year, Cotillard appeared in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” starring opposite Rachel McAdams and Owen Wilson in a romantic comedy that explores the illusion people have that a life different from their own is better. Prior to that, she was seen in Christopher Nolan’s hit “Inception,” opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, and ”Little White Lies,” written and directed by Guillaume Canet, released in France.

Currently, Cotillard is in production on Nolan’s action drama “The Dark Knight Rises,” starring opposite Christian Bale.

Her other credits include the successful French “Taxi” film series, written by Luc Besson; Yann Samuell’s “Love Me If You Dare”; and Tim Burton’s “Big Fish.” She garnered her first César Award, for Best Supporting Actress, for her performance in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “A Very Long Engagement.” She went on to star in Ridley Scott’s “A Good Year”; Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies”; and Rob Marshall’s “Nine,” the screen adaptation of the hit musical. Her performance in the last brought her Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Award nominations, and she also shared in a SAG Award® nomination for Outstanding Motion Picture Cast Performance.

In 2010, Cotillard was named a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters, for her contribution to the enrichment of French culture. Born in Paris, she studied drama at Conservatoire d’Art Dramatique in Orléans.

Midnight in Paris: About the Production

From Production Notes

Even for people who have never been to Paris, the name of the city is more than a metaphor for magic—it’s almost a synonym. Certainly there’s no better place on earth that Woody Allen could have chosen for his new romantic comedy than Paris. It is a city with a unique mythology and heritage, celebrated for the extraordinary beauty of its streets, boulevards and gardens, as well as the splendor found inside so many of the greatest museums in the world. The resonance of its history, from major political and cultural events to the aura of its legendary restaurants and cafes, is felt everywhere. The past endures and shines brightly in Paris, which makes it wellsuited for a story of a man reinvigorating his feelings and finding inspiration to reflect on his life.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is Woody Allen’s valentine to the City of Light, which he considers equal to New York as the great city of the world. “Of course I’m partial to New York because I was born there and grew up there,” he says, “but if I didn’t live in New York, Paris is the place I would live.” The film is the second time Allen has filmed there, after a small bit of EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU. “I get great enjoyment out of presenting Paris to the cinema audience the way I see it,” he says. “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.”

Allen fell in love with Paris during the shooting of WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT, his debut film as an actor and writer. Much like Gil, the protagonist of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, he’s rueful about not staying there after the filming, as others on the film did. “It was an adventure that was too bold for me at the time,” he says. “In retrospect I could have stayed, or at the very minimum taken an apartment and divided my time—but I didn’t, and I regret that.”

Gil (played by Owen Wilson) is a Hollywood screenwriter who had aspirations to be a serious writer when he was a younger man. He idolized American novelists like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and wanted to be a novelist in their tradition. But somewhere along the way, Gil left that path, discovered he had a talent for writing screenplays, and fell into a well-paid routine of work that didn’t satisfy him and affluence that he wasn’t entirely comfortable with. “He found himself to be a victim of that old Hollywood joke,” says Allen. “I laid down at the pool… and when I got up it was ten years later.”

As the story begins, Gil and his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) are tagging along on a trip to Paris with her father, John (Kurt Fuller), and mother, Helen (Mimi Kennedy). John, a conservative businessman who has come to Paris to finalize a high-level deal, makes no attempt to disguise his disapproval of Gil, who he sees as an unreliable lightweight unworthy of his daughter. Gil’s absorption with the novel he’s writing, rather than the more lucrative profession waiting for him at home, makes him seem even more frivolous in John’s eyes.

Being in Paris triggers Gil’s memories of his one-time literary ambitions. “Gil lived in Paris when he was in his twenties and he has this romantic attachment to it,” says Wilson. “It represents the time when his professional life was just beginning, when he thought about what he was going to do with his 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.”

Allen originally conceived of Gil as an east coast intellectual, but he rethought it when he and casting director Juliet Taylor began talking about Owen Wilson for the role. “I thought Owen would be charming and funny but my fear was that he was not so eastern at all in his persona,” says Allen. Realizing that not only could Gil come from California, it would actually make the character richer, so he rewrote the part and submitted it to Wilson, who readily agreed to do it. “Owen is a natural actor,” says Allen. “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 McAdams joins the cast as Gil’s fiancée, Inez. “Inez is used to having her way,” says McAdams. “She’s very sure of what she wants. She’s in love with Gil or she thinks she is and is maybe not too inquisitive about the state of their relationship or the health of their relationship.

She thinks Gil’s a good guy, a good catch, and he’s stable provided that he keeps writing screenplays and they can have a comfortable life in the States. She’s supportive of his dabbling with a novel, provided that it’s a slight preoccupation, but I don’t think she’s encouraging it as a life-long dream, something he should spend too much of his time on.” Says Allen: “Inez just wants Gil to make enough money so they can go to parties and raise children. There’s nothing wrong with her aspirations; they’re just not Gil’s.”

Allen has high praise for McAdams’s work on the film. “Rachel just gets it,” he says. “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.” Says Wilson: “What I saw even more from Rachel’s performance was how Inez is kind of funny in the way she uses her sexuality to manipulate Gil. Rachel has a very good sense of humor and knew exactly how to play those scenes.”

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is the second occasion when McAdams and Wilson co-starred as a couple, after “Wedding Crashers” in 2005. “I was so excited to work with Owen again because we had so much fun when we worked together a few years ago,” says McAdams. “As this was a much more antagonistic relationship than the one we had in the other film, I was curious about how that would play out. So our characters aren’t getting along this time around—but we did again.” Says 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.”

While in Paris, Gil encounters Adriana (Marion Cotillard), an exquisitely beautiful aspiring fashion designer who has been the lover and muse to a series of famous artists. “Adriana doesn’t know where she belongs, she is searching for her place,” says Cotillard. “She admires artists because their world is wide and their imagination takes them to some marvelous places. She needs to dream.” Says Allen: “There are always special women that artists painted a number of times, women that lived with the artists and provided an enormous amount of support for them. Adriana is not only lovely, she’s also very intelligent, someone who can provide a very strong artistic force for them to bounce things off, to support them when they’re down, to encourage them when they need it, and to tell them when they’re wrong. In many cases this can provide a rich partnership with the artist.”

The role of Adriana fits Cotillard, an Academy Award® winner for LA VIE EN ROSE, like a lace glove; one look at her leaves little doubt about Adriana’s ability to become an object of desire for so many formidable men. “Marion has got a built-in charisma,” say Allen. “She makes the most ordinary kind of moments and dialogue sound interesting because she herself is such an interesting movie actress. And she’s got a very lovely and interesting face to look at; I never get tired of looking at it. I also noticed that she’s able to call up any kind of emotion she wants quickly and easily.”

When Adriana hears the first sentences of Gil’s novel-in-progress, she is almost instantly drawn to him. “She has always felt she didn’t belong to the era she lives in and she feels Gil is the same kind of person,” says Cotillard. “She recognizes herself in him.” Despite his almost-married status, Gil is amazed at his good luck in having attracted the attention of such a beautiful woman, and flattered that someone who has been the muse for so many virtuosic artists would admire his writing.

But as Gil’s interest in Adriana deepens, his doubts about his relationship with Inez increases. “While Gils’s very smitten with Inez,” says Wilson, “he also sees that 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.” In a way, Gil and Inez are both caught up in illusions: he dreams of being somewhere else, and she expects a status quo that might not exist. “I don’t think they’re seeing each other anymore,” says McAdams. “They’re both just going through the motions, and carrying on— nobody wants to rock the boat. But I don’t think they could be any further apart than they are at the moment.”

While Gil is otherwise engaged, Inez spends time with Paul (Michael Sheen), a handsome intellectual visiting Paris with his wife Carol (Nina Arianda), while he lectures at the Sorbonne. While Inez sees Paul, who she has had a crush on since college, to be as charming as he is cerebral, Gil finds Paul to be an insufferable know-it-all, and can’t stand to be around him. As Gil is increasingly absent, both with his novel and with Adriana, Paul makes a move and starts flirting with Inez. While Gil sees Paul as an annoying stuffed-shirt, he does possess a substantial body of knowledge, which presented a balancing act for Sheen. “Michael had to do the pseudointellectual, the genuine intellectual, the pedant, and he came in and nailed it from the start,” says Allen.

Perhaps the height of Paul’s pompous actions is when he argues with the tour guide at the Rodin Museum, played by none other than France’s First Lady, Carla Bruni. Allen offered Bruni the role almost as a lark when he and his wife and sister were invited for breakfast with Bruni and her husband Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the French Republic. While chatting with Bruni, Allen found her so charming and beautiful, and knowing that she is a celebrated singer/songwriter and performer, he decided at the spur of the moment to offer her the part. “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,’” says Allen. “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.” Allen adds: “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 Wilson was impressed by how down-to-earth First Lady Bruni-Sarkozy was. “She was so gracious and nice to me and to all the crew,” he says. “She’s a great ambassador for the country.” As is typical for a Woody Allen film, a group of superlative actors fill out the supporting cast, ranging from stars like Adrien Brody and Kathy Bates to talented newcomers like Corey Stoll, Nina Arianda, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill, and Léa Seydoux.

The film’s locations include some of Paris’s most cherished sites, including: the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, the grounds and Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, Monet’s Gardens at Giverny, Musée de l’Orangerie (Monet’s Water Lilies paintings), Musée Rodin, Musée des Arts Forains, Marché Paul Bert (flea market), Rue Montagne St. Genevieve (where Gil goes at midnight), Notre Dame Garden Square – Jean XXXIII (where the museum guide translates for Gil), Place Dauphin, Maxim’s, Quai de la Tournelle (book stalls), Pont Alexandre III, as well as the restaurants Le Grand Véfour, Les Lyonnais, and Lapérouse. “It was such a treat to spend time in these places which are usually swarming with tourists and be completely alone, with a really small camera crew, and a few actors wandering around as though it belonged to us,” says McAdams. “It was really magical.”

Woody Allen has often stated that he prefers to give his actors as much freedom as possible on the set. Speaking, of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, perhaps with a degree of overstatement, he says: “I didn’t have to give any direction to anybody.” While Owen Wilson says he’d heard reports from other actors that Allen was “pretty quiet,” he didn’t have that experience himself: “I felt he very much had a point of view about the way the scenes should go,” he says, “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.” Wilson discovered that Allen likes to shoot three-minute scenes in a single take, rather than the typical way of breaking up scenes into numerous shots. “It gives you that feeling of adrenaline like when you’re playing a sport,” says Wilson, “you know that you have to get it right and you won’t have all these different chances. It makes you concentrate a little bit more.” Says McAdams: “It was very relaxed, and I love that he knows what he wants—that really gives me a sense of confidence and direction. And yet he’s so open and collaborative at the same time, which I think is the ideal combination for an actor.” Cotillard simply considered herself “lucky” to be invited into Allen’s world. “Woody Allen is a brilliant man in the way he observes life, people, things,” she says. “You feel a lot of wit, tenderness, and humor.”

While there are always dark themes underneath all of Woody Allen’s comedies, the tone of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is more upbeat. “I guess there will always be dark themes in my movies, because they’re underlying in my life, or anything I’ve ever thought about” says Allen, “but in this particular film, they’re not really addressed, they’re just minor themes. The tone and emphasis of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is more romantic and light.”

The story of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is about unusual journey that Gil takes. He makes a lot of mistakes and missteps along the way, and his behavior isn’t always admirable, but in the bigger picture he’s making progress. “Gil is a character who is digging himself out rather than digging himself in,” says McAdams. “He’s upsetting the balance, he’s pulling himself up by his bootstraps, and he’s making changes.” Through his relationship with Adriana, Gil rethinks his idea that he’d be better off somewhere else, and recognizes that being somewhere else carries with it its own issues and problems. “I think he has to find a way to be happy just where he is,” says Wilson. Allen adds: “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 hopeful 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.”

“I think this film couldn’t be more hopeful,” says Wilson. “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.”

Midnight in Paris: Woody Allen heads to Cannes with Paris homage

from Reuters / by Gregg Kilday

LOS ANGELES – Nine years after Woody Allen’s “Hollywood Ending” raised the curtain on the Cannes Film Festival, the director returns to the French resort for Wednesday’s opening-night festivities with “Midnight in Paris,” starring Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams.

Allen recently talked about searching for a storyline that would do justice to the City of Lights, why he cast French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, and his expectations — and trepidations — about opening night.

DID YOU COME UP WITH A SCREENPLAY SET IN PARIS, OR DID YOU DECIDE TO FILM IN PARIS AND THEN COME UP WITH A SCREENPLAY? WHICH CAME FIRST?

Woody Allen: It was suggested I do a film in Paris. This goes back about five years now. Of course, it was something I wanted very much to do because I love Paris, but I didn’t have any ideas for Paris off the top of my head. So I thought about Paris, I thought about what’s outstanding about it. When you think of Paris, you think of romance, so I came up with the title “Midnight in Paris,” which seemed to me very romantic, but I couldn’t think of what happens at midnight. I went for a couple of months without being able to come up with anything. Then one day it occurred to me — if I had my protagonist walking around Paris at midnight and a car pulled up and they said get in and they took him on an interesting adventure. So that’s how it formed.

THE TRAILER HINTS THAT WHILE VISITING PARIS, OWEN WILSON’S CHARACTER SOMEHOW FINDS HIMSELF BACK IN THE PARIS OF THE ’20S?

Allen: I can’t talk about the plot of the movie, but I can tell you I tried to develop the most romantic story I could for Paris, because that’s all that came to mind to me. If someone had said to me make a film about Berlin, I would have thought of a spy story. But Paris is just a romantic place, so I was trying to come up with as good a love story as I could come up with.

THE MOVIE HAS A VERY ECLECTIC CAST — HOW DID IT FALL INTO PLACE?

Allen: I was certain I wanted Rachel McAdams. I knew that. She had always been what I conceived of for her part. The lead was a more East Coast character in the original script (casting director) Juliet Taylor suggested Owen Wilson. I had always been a fan of his, but always felt that has a very West Coast persona. He belongs very much at home on a beach or with a surfboard. So I rewrote the script, making the character a West Coast character. I sent it to Owen and I was very lucky he wanted to do it. Once I had them, I thought about Marion Cotillard. I guess she is the first person you think of when you think of France and getting an actress who is great in the same sense that when I was making Barcelona, I thought of Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem because they are the internationally known giants of that country. The same thing here. Marion is not just a local French actress, she’s a great, internationally known movie actress. And she was available and willing to do it.

IS THAT UNUSUAL FOR YOU, TO REWRITE A CHARACTER TO SUIT AN ACTOR?

Allen: That does happen, and I’m happy to do it if I can get an actor like Owen, who is a strong person to play something. Then I am perfectly willing to rewrite a character if I can rewrite it. Of course, there are some characters that you could never change. That would ruin the story. But very often you can adjust a character. If you have a strong personality, sometimes it requires an adjustment.

WHAT LED TO YOUR CASTING CARLA BRUNI?

Allen: With Carla, my wife and I were having brunch with the Sarkozkys about a year and a half ago. I had never met them before. He was very charming, very nice, and then she walked into the room. She was so beautiful, so charming and charismatic, I said, ‘Would ever think of being in a movie? Just a small thing, for fun, for your own amusement. I knew she wouldn’t be available for three months of shooting, but I knew she had been before audiences before, playing the guitar, singing, making recordings. She said, ‘Yes, just once in my life I’d like to do it, so I could tell my grandchildren I was in a movie.’ So I said, ‘I’ll make it very simple, just a couple of days work. Something I know you can do, not something we have to work six weeks on. If you can relax and enjoy yourself, you will be fine.’ And she said, sure, she’d love that. And so she came in. She was no problem, she was very natural. The tabloids kept printing that I was doing a million takes with her, but I wasn’t at all. I was doing the normal amount of takes. I certainly don’t do a million takes with anybody, and I was only doing a normal amount with her. Her husband came to watch her work one night and thought she was just great, beautiful and a natural actress. All of the scenes that I wrote for her are in the picture and she did them well. It was a very pleasant experience doing the picture and very pleasant working with her.

DID YOU REALIZE WHEN YOU CAST HER, SHE’D BE A MAGNET FOR THE PAPARAZZI?

Allen: We have that all the time, whenever we are working in the street. When I was working in England with Scarlett Johansson, the tabloids were all over the place. When I was working in Barcelona with Javier and Penelope, the tabloids were out en masse. And when I work in New York, and there is someone in the movie of interest, they just come flocking. Here, interestingly, her first scene was in the Rodin Museum, so we had that privately to ourselves. So the paparazzi couldn’t get in there. Of course, then when we were working on the street, they were there, but that does happen. It happened with Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson just as much.

YOU DID SHOOT A BIT IN PARIS BEFORE WHEN YOU FILMED EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU. HOW DID YOU DECIDE ON LOCATIONS FOR THIS MOVIE. DID YOU AVOID SETTINGS YOU USED BEFORE?

Allen: I tried to let the art director go and find as much of Paris as she could for me, because I had only filmed there in a very limited way in the past. I used a couple of the places that I had filmed at before, because they are irresistible — it would be very hard to film Paris and not do some material down by the river, because the river runs right through the center of town and is so beautiful. But there are so many locations in the movie that aren’t so well known.

HAVING ALREADY BEEN THROUGH OPENING NIGHT AT CANNES ONCE BEFORE, WHAT ARE YOU ANTICIPATING?

Allen: It’s always an unreal experience. If you’ve ever seen it up close, there are a million flashbulbs going off in your face. People clap when you walk in to take your seat. You have to sit through the movie, that’s the worst part. And after the movie, you have to stand up and people clap. There’s no connection to real life, to the real world. It’s a heightened, euphoric experience. I’m always embarrassed. I live a more quiet life. I don’t go to a lot of openings or events. But I’m required to go to some for the opening of the picture, so I do. I land in Cannes Wednesday morning, and then will be hustled off to photo shoots and interviews and then that night the opening and the opening party, which I would normally not go to but it’s obligatory. And then the next day I do interviews with France, with Germany, with Italy, with Spain. And then you go home. It’s a frantic kind of promotion of the movie. You have to keep telling people how wonderful the movie is, how great everybody is. I never think anybody goes to the movies based on that. I think they get a smell of the movie in some way — they get it from reviews or they get it from other people. Me sitting on a TV show or talking to a journalist saying I had a great time making the movie, doesn’t mean a thing, really.

Little White Lies: Interview with Guillaume

from EFE / by Florencia Maldjian

In which way is this film more personal that what you’ve done before?
Because there is a lot of myself into the characters. I put a lot of myself because some of the scenes in the film are some of the scenes that I’ve lived as a human being, or I saw those scenes in my friends’ life and so it’s, yeah, it’s quite close to me, very personal to me.

I’ve heard it’s a very good film but some people say that it’s very long. Why did you make the decision of not cutting more?
Because the film is like this and it was really difficult to cut more than this. It needed this time. When you see it, you’ll understand.

How do you feel directing your best friends?
It’s complicated. Sometimes it’s really nice because it helps you to be understood, to say exactly what you want and because they know me very well and they know exactly what I wanted to say, what I wanted to express. But at the same time it’s really difficult because it has allowed them to say things that they won’t say to a director and the same for me. If they joke around on the set and have fun I want them to be focused. I would tell Gilles “shut up!” and he would be like “What? How are you talking to me? I’m your actor!”. So it changed a little bit the relationship.

So you got mad at them for being playful…
Yeah, exactly.

It must be very hard, actually, you can’t be playful…
No, I can’t. I can’t be part of it, I have to get the bad role.

How do you handle working with yuor partner as well? It’s spending all the time with the same person, at work and at home.
Yeah (he smiles). For me that was good, for me that was ok, because I was really focused on my films. But for her, I’m sure it was more complicated because when you come back home from work. I mean, for her, I imagine that she wants a break and to be able to talk about something else, but for me I was still focused on my film, on the dailies, watching the dailies, thinking about the scene of the day after so there was no pause.

But I suppose that at least she could be some kind of help to you.
Yes, but it’s difficult for her. When you wanna get some rest at night, you know, you don’t wanna have all the problems of the director.

So basically it’s easier to act with her than to direct her. Because I’ve seen you joking around in the footage of ‘Le Dernier Vol’.
Yeah, that’s easier for sure.

What do you like best? To direct or to act?
I really like both. I think that now that time is passing I prefer directing but I really need to work as an actor too because if I were only a director it would be too frustrating for me. I need to express myself phisically and not only being a director, psichologically, you know.

So, do you have any…? Apart from parenthood – he smiles, bows his head, I think this is super nice – which… I think you are gonna be great parents, the both of you… (N/A: I seriously needed to say this)
(Smiles) Thank you.

What other projects have you got?
I have a film that I wrote with James Grey that I wannadirect next year. And I have a film that I’m gonna shoot in september about Jappeloup. I don’t know if you know, It’s about a horse and a horse rider that won the Olympic games in 88 so it’s a story about horses. And I have some other project that I’m working on as a director.

Any international projects?
Well, I have “Last Night”.

I’ve seen you in Last Night.

Did you like it?

Yes, I thought it was quite good.

We speak a bit more, nothing important. He eats his chips, we laugh, we take a picture and that’s that. A nice guy, Guillaume Canet.

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