PM: What’s it like being a part of a strong, mainly female cast, as opposed to a strong male-dominated cast? Freida, perhaps you can illuminate this because with Slumdog Millionaire you were basically the only prominent woman in the cast.
FP: I think it was kind of equal [in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger]. I never really felt at any time it was stronger. Naomi Watts, who isn’t here, her character, and Gemma’s character, like Woody said, are both “sufferers”, you know? I didn’t think that here the female energy was stronger than the male, because you also have Josh’s character who is also pretty strong in the film. I can say that it does feel good to be in a film that has a lot of strong female characters because the film that I did right before You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger [Julian Schnabel’s Miral] was all about four women, four Palestinian women. And I just thought it felt so great to finally have a male director direct all women who were these really brave kind of go-getters. So it does feel good, actually. I think things are changing and we’re coming to the forefront as well.
PM: I like that feeling of optimism! Gemma, a few minutes ago in the press conference you were speaking about optimism as well, in terms of the kinds of roles being offered to women who are more mature and seasoned. Do you find that you are getting better parts as you age?
GJ: Well, I certainly am keeping busy, yes. I feel incredibly lucky because many of my friends who are my contemporaries are not working. There aren’t quite enough roles for mature women, but I am very lucky to get the ones that I do. There are quite juicy roles for older women now.
PM: What are the qualities that you look for in the characters you play?
GJ: I don’t like to repeat myself. I always like to play something that’s different from the thing I did before. I loved this because it was comedic, essentially, although she suffers a lot (laughing). I probably, in the spectrum of my career, played more dramatic roles, but I love doing comedy.
PM: There’s not a lot of direct working on the character with Woody Allen. What about that is intimidating or freeing?
LP: I knew, I had been prepared that one gets very little direction from Woody and he works very, very fast and that you get very few takes. I also did a lot of work on my character and spent time developing that accent – an accent I am not that familiar with. Also, again, Woody gives you the freedom to improvise, which I love doing, and putting in and making the tweaks, because there is a certain way of talking, certain words she would use in expressing herself. Something you’d only know if you were from London, it was very specific. But, yeah, there’s a lot of preparation.
FP: Well, as far as I was concerned, I had no discussion of my character at all. I just knew that he allowed me to change her name, and that was pretty much it. The original name was ‘Lolita’ and I found it very similar to ‘Latika’ which was my character in Slumdog Millionaire. He changed it to ‘Neela’ which actually means ‘blue’. I just thought it would be so nice to have a name that could be pronounced easily. The name ‘Dia’ actually means ‘light’ or ‘a lamp that gives light’, and I felt that was so contrary to my state of mind (laughing). So I just said ‘let’s call her ‘Dia’ and Woody liked it. It was quite a happy feeling, that he liked that name. As far as I was concerned, there was very little discussion.
GJ: Yes, there is very little discussion. I think that essentially, he casts for something that we’re probably not even aware of, some idiosyncracies of our personalities. He casts it so that he knows what he’s got, and that is very complementary, really. It gives you confidence that you can deliver what he wants without needing to be nursed.
PM: That sounds exciting. What is your usual process like for creating a character, is it intense?
GJ: Well, I do do quite a bit of homework and preparation ahead of time so that I have a base, but then I like to throw all of that out the window each day and just be free to take chances.
PM: Something that Tilda Swinton once told me was that the costume is everything for her. How does the costume help you with your character in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger?
GJ: It was the defining moment when we actually found the right costume, because that took trial and error. The designer and I initially met up and didn’t really come up with quite what it was. We took these costumes to Woody and he didn’t like the costumes that we chose. He took us aside and said ‘I like hats and I like gloves. And I like Blanche Dubois.’ That actually really helped me to get into the character.
PM: When you’re on set with Woody, what’s the mood like? Do you get little zingers every now and then or is it very serious?
GJ: It‘s very concentrated, and maybe, I imagined that because Woody is such a fantasic comedian, that there might be a bit more levity on the set. It actually was very concentrated, he watches very closely and doesn’t say a huge amount, but when he does, it is very pertinent.
PM: I couldn’t believe I was even in the same room as Woody Allen a few minutes ago, let alone talking to him. How do you get over the nerves when you are working opposite a legend?
GJ: Initially, that is really disconcerting, because he is such an idol. So, I’d like to be re-warned and do the first three days over again!
FP: Oh my God! I said the same thing!
GJ: I feel like even when I was acting I was thinking ‘I’m in a Woody Allen movie!’ (laughing)
FP: For the first three days, I spent the whole time just being nervous, rather than just enjoying the experience. If I could turn back time, I would take those three days back as well and just enjoy it. But there’s not much you can do, I mean, it feels so good that Gemma just said that because now I don’t feel completely out of place! I thought that because this was my third film, there was no way I could not be nervous.