Casting is always important in any Woody Allen film, as you can tell by the number of actors who have gotten Oscars from the roles he’s written.
“Irrational Man” is Emma Stone’s second straight Allen film after the romantic comedy “Magic in the Moonlight.” The new one is among his “amusing serious pictures,” a term the writer-director used to describe “Hannah and Her Sisters” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” in an interview a few years ago.
The film also stars Joaquin Phoenix and Parker Posey. On the surface it is a love triangle, with Stone’s university student and Posey’s college science teacher both vying for the interest of Phoenix’s philosophy professor. The film soon moves into darker territory, though, and becomes something of a thriller that delves into moral questions.
Here’s what the three stars of the film had to say about “Irrational Man.”
As a young kid, Emma Stone had “The Jerk” — “still one of my favorite movies” — on a loop, but in her early teens she discovered the films of Charlie Chaplin, Hal Ashby and Woody Allen.
“They all have that marriage of comedy and drama, which I believe life is — or at least is my perspective on what life is,” says the 26-year-old actress, who received an Oscar nomination for her role in “Birdman.”
Stone is poised and thoughtful in her answers, and it’s easy to see how at 15 the Arizona native convinced her parents with a PowerPoint presentation to take her to Los Angeles to try for a film career.
While “Magic in the Moonlight” has a much lighter tone than “Irrational Man,” the sets of the two films were similar. “Joaquin and Woody are hysterical, so we laughed a lot,” she says. “There was lightness amid the heaviness that’s the subject of the movie.”
Phoenix says he was impressed by the risks Stone would take as an actor. “My goal is to always run through naked, but it takes me a while to slowly disrobe,” he says. “She just drops her dress and goes.”
Quoting a joke from Allen’s “Love and Death,” the actress says what she likes about the filmmaker’s movies is his combination of the romantic and cynical.
“I think his stories offer that up to audiences. The contradiction is always present,” she says. “There is always kind of hopefulness wrapped up in this bleakness.”
As to her own outlook, “I probably err more on the side of hopeful. I err more on the side of magic than he would ever say he does.”
After having done a run on Broadway as Sally Bowles in “Cabaret” earlier this year, Stone is prepping for her third film with Ryan Gosling, “La La Land,” directed by Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”), a musical in which she will sing and dance.
Stone says she admires actresses like Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett, who have had “challenging and beautiful and expansive careers that have only gotten richer and more exciting as they have gotten older.”
“I don’t compare myself to them, but I look up to them in that they followed what challenged them,” she says. “It is more and more exciting to me to do something that truly scares the (expletive) out of me. That maybe wasn’t as true a couple of years ago.”
She then apologizes for using the expletive.
“I never know exactly why I choose the movies I choose. I just felt like I wanted to know more about this,” explains Phoenix about wanting to play a brilliant philosophy professor named Abe who is doing a summer residency at a small Rhode Island liberal arts school. Depressed by what he believes is his ineffectual life, Abe takes matters into his own hands, setting off a chain of unforeseen events and crossing moral boundaries.
But before turning to “Irrational Man,” the three-time Oscar nominee talked about how interviews can be uncomfortable, and music. (One of his nominations was for playing Johnny Cash.)
The actor says he’s recently rediscovered jazz, and his current favorite is Miles Davis’ classic “Kind of Blue.” When he was young he was into jazz. “I probably thought I was being cool sitting at some cafe having coffee and listening to jazz,” he says with self-deprecating humor.
As for “Irrational Man,” Phoenix says he got a call from his agent telling him Allen wanted him to read the script, which was then delivered by a friend of the filmmaker.
“I was supposed to give the script back, but I just got so caught up in reading it that I began making notes,” says the actor. He asked to keep the script, which he got to do as well as being offered the role.
“By the way, my notes are meaningless,” he admits with a smile, although you have to wonder about that since Phoenix has a pretty good track record for picking interesting roles in movies like “Her” and “The Master.”
“This movie constantly made turns I didn’t expect and yet I found satisfying,” he says.
His co-stars both have high praise for him. “Joaquin is very much in his own waters when acting,” says Posey. “It’s so real. He demands a lot of himself.” Stone calls him “a fantastic actor. I don’t even think that’s arguable.”
To get into character for “Irrational Man,” Phoenix met with some philosophy professors. “They get into ideas most of us fundamentally scratch around, but these men and women are digging deep into them, and there is something really exciting about that.”
Posey plays the other woman in “Irrational Man,” a lonely, married college professor who has an affair with another professor.
“I love playing a woman suffering, thinking about the choices that she’s made and obviously wanting more. It’s classic,” says the New York-based actress.
It seems that Posey, who was dubbed in 1997 by Time magazine as “queen of the indies,” is suddenly back in the picture because of her role in Allen’s film, but she has never been out of the picture.
Over the years she has had a steady career in film and television. She drew lots of praise for the 2007 indie film “Broken English,” and she says a stint on FX’s “Louie” a few years ago “made me popular again.”
Posey was on the jury of a film festival in Krakow, Poland, when she met Allen’s longtime casting director, Juliet Taylor. A while later she got a call to meet with Allen, and a day later had the part.
Allen only gave her the parts of the script that were for her role of Rita, so Posey didn’t know what kind of film she was in until she got on the set in Newport, R.I., where “Irrational Man” was shot.
Shortly before, however, she broke her wrist and was worried she would be fired, but that didn’t happen. Posey says she used the pain of the break to focus on the pain of her character.
She calls Allen “the last man standing” when it comes to independent film. “He’s got such a subtle ear that I wonder if he listens more than he watches,” says Posey. “There’s a musicality to what he writes. If you take a pause in the wrong place, he’ll ask” — she slips into an Allen impression — “?‘Why did you pause?’ and, I’ll say, ‘I was feeling something.’ And he’ll say, ‘Feel it faster.’?”
You would have thought the actress with her indie credits would have been in an Allen film long before, but she’s glad she is now.
“Being in a Woody Allen film. I cherish it.”
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