You auditioned for the Bogart role in the play. Do you remember first reading the script? What did you think?
I had not read the script when I first auditioned but I was pretty sure I was right for the part. I do not actually remember seeing the script for the first time, but I did immediately like it. I was already a big fan of Woody's, so I was expecting a very funny script.
Do you remember first meeting Woody? And do you remember getting the part?
I got the part before I met Woody, after auditioning, which I recall went very well, so I was pretty sure I had a good shot at getting the part. I got a call from my agent who informed me that I was cast. I did not meet Woody until the first day of rehearsal. He was very reserved, gentlemanly and about the only thing I remember him saying was that he didn't expect to get someone so good for the part.
So you were you a fan of his work before hand?
Yes, for years. His films and his appearances on the Tonight Show.
What were rehearsals like? Was it fun getting to grips with the piece with Woody?
It is always a lot of work putting a new play together as there has been no precedent set yet. Some things have to be changed to make them funnier, or to make more sense, etc. At the same time it is a lot of fun, especially in a comedy where everyone is encouraged to bring their comedic talents to bear on the material. The director is the final judge of what stays and what goes. I was impressed by how well Woody worked with and trusted the director (Joe Hardy). No ego intrusions.
You've said that Woody was very open to the director during the run, with decisions and so forth. This must make him unique considering he was the writer.
I don't think Woody had developed his directorial abilities yet at that point, and was therefore smart enough to know that an outside point of view was only a good thing for a writer. A play production, especially of a new play, is a collaborative effort and the actors, director and writer all work together to bring it to its fullest potential. When Joe Hardy asked for changes in the script, or found a place where an added line might be needed, I never saw Woody argue. During the two month out-of-town tryouts before we opened in New York, there were daily changes in the script, fine tuning it with changes in dialogue and blocking.
It took Woody only a few days to adapt it for the screen. Did you feel any changes? How did it differ doing the play for all those runs and the film?
The biggest difference, of course, was the lack of an audience. We were quite used to getting laughs in certain places, and on the film set, the silence at the end of a funny line was deafening. Most of the scenes were shot in short sequences and the blocking was mostly similar to what we had done on stage. There was one little bit of business that Woody and I had developed on stage that always got a nice laugh that is not in the film. The director, not being aware of it, cut the take before we got it in, and since Woody didn't say anything, I didn't either. Perhaps it would not have had the same effect on film as it did on stage anyway.
I remember that Herb Ross gave us very little direction. He presumably felt that we were well enough rehearsed in the scenes that there was nothing for him to add. Except for Susan Anspach, whom he seemed to have some trouble with, I never saw him discuss a scene with any other actor. I remember dreading having to slap Diane Keaton in the fantasy scene, fearing I would hit her too hard as I did occasionally on stage. The movement was required to be so fast that it was difficult to make it look good without hurting her, and I hated doing it because she was the sweetest thing and never once complained or let on that it hurt. But I knew that it landed hard once in a while. We got that scene in one take, at night. I was glad to get past that. I still feel twinges of regret at having hurt her.
Woody is so acclaimed as a writer and director I often feel he is overlooked as the great actor he is. Was he good to work with on an actor-actor basis? Anything you can share about acting with him in the play and the movie?
He was quite professional, knew his lines, showed up on time, not temperamental. Perhaps a little neurotic, but he has never denied that! I remember noticing how he was able to handle so well the split focus of working as an actor in Play It Again, Sam while also preparing for the making of his own film.
Had he directed the film, do you think it would have made any difference?
I don't think it would have made any difference at all. Since it was done so much like the play, just taken out of the theatre and into the world. Owen Roizman, the cinematographer, was a genius at composing and setting up the shots. I give him and the editor a tremendous amount of credit for the success of the film. Also, Woody's added sequence with the motorcycle gang was a great addition to the film.
Do a lot of people still mention the film to you today?
I would say that almost every time I am introduced to someone, a remark will be made about how much they like the film. Older people, that is. Younger people are often not aware of the film. I last watched it several years ago with my twenty-something daughter who had not seen it before. I felt it was getting a little dated as some of the references are fading into history. It was a sort of transition piece in Woody's work, I would say, because it was the first of his films that was not totally bananas, (pardon the pun), and bridged the gap from the zaniness of his early work to the more sophisticated Annie Hall and later works.
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