Arriving on the Parisian set of Woody Allen's 44th film, Midnight in Paris, in the summer of 2010, veteran TV actor Corey Stoll milled around with such well-established big-screen actors as Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard and Rachel McAdams, not really knowing what we were doing.
In fact, at that point, Only Owen had even read the entire script, Stoll, who played Ernest Hemingway in the Allen hit, told a Q&A following a showing of the film at the Landmark Theater Thursday night, part of TheWrap's Awards Screening Series.
Signs that the septuagenarian Allen had begun to lose it?
Hardly. It was merely well-established method for a legendary comic filmmaker about to direct his biggest box office success.
Interviewed alongside Allen's younger sister and longtime producing partner, Letty Aronson, by TheWrap founder and CEO Sharon Waxman, Stoll said Allen works to imbue a sort of theatrical energy among his actors.
He moves way too fast for you to try to perfect your performance, said Stoll, who played Det. Tomas T.J. Jaruszalski on NBC's Law & Order: Los Angeles. But Woody doesn't want you to be perfect, he added. He wants this rough, spontaneous human reaction.
Receiving his role, Stoll said he was summoned to Allen's New York headquarters and given a two-page scene -- one in which Wilson's time-traveling American tourist is riding in a car with Stoll's Hemingway, on a short drive to visit Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates).
Owen had the real script, but the rest of us had only our scenes, Stoll said. We didn't know what the movie was about.
Aronson chimed in: Woody feels it's more spontaneous if the actors don't know the entire story -- it's a way of getting a more spontaneous reaction from them.
Stoll, however, said that during his initial casting meeting with Allen, he was given some guidance: the filmmaker wanted him to play almost a caricature of the legendarily macho Hemingway, as opposed to a more realistic approach to what he might really have been like.
I had a few months of free time, and I just read and read and read, Stoll explained. I got addicted to the muscularity of Hemingway's prose. I just sort of brewed in that manly stew for a few months.
While Stoll discussed actor's method issues, Aronson gave details about the film's financing: the $18 million project was funded as part of a three-picture deal with Spain's Mediapro. (The next film under the deal is the Jesse Eisenberg-led Nero Fiddled, which just wrapped filming in Rome and is in the editing bay.)
Allen had wanted to make Midnight in Paris earlier, but shooting the project on location in Paris was cost-prohibitive until France enacted tax rebates that discounted the budget of the film by about 15 percent.
Aronson -- a former school teacher who got her first showbiz break as a researcher for Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update segment -- was also pried about growing up with Allen in Brooklyn.
What was he like?
Interesting and funny, she said, getting a bit laconic at that point. Confident but quiet.
Pressed further by an obviously curious audience, she opened up a little more.
Very early on, he did write jokes that appeared in local newspapers under celebrity's names. He was only 16 when he did that. ... And he was very interested in magic -- he always was doing magic shows. He was always interested in entertainment. He went to all the movies.
Also addressed by Aronson: The tendency by the audience to believe that Allen's leading men, including Owen Wilson, are playing younger versions of the filmmaker.
They're not always him, she explained. When he writes, he writes the way he speaks so everyone just thinks it's him.