Allen also sought inspiration from older films, with one in particular. “One of the films that I was thinking of was one of my favorite Fellini films, ‘The White Sheik,' ” Allen offers. Suggesting that he was subconsciously borrowing from films from the Italian masters, he says, “I love the film so much, that stuff creeps into your pores and you do it without even know you’re doing it.”
Penelope Cruz stars in the film as Anna, a feisty call girl and a font of advice for an engaged Italian on vacation. In speaking a language that was not her native tongue, she also sought very specific inspiration. “There were things about [Pasolini's] ‘Mamma Roma’ that were in the back of my head with this role,” she says, citing the Italian neo-realist classic. “She’s a character that has no filter in her brain, and it’s so liberating and refreshing to play someone like that, and to be a part of this homage to Italian cinema.”
Allen also took this opportunity to return to acting, as he hadn’t been seen onscreen in one of his own films since 2006’s “Scoop.” In Allen’s typically modest, straightforward manner, he flatly states, “In the last half dozen scripts I wrote, there wasn’t been anything that I thought I could do.”
"I’ve been performing for years, I made my first film in 1968. I’ve always been open to acting in other peoples’ films, but no one has ever asked me over the years,” he shrugs. “Two or three times I’ve been asked, and I always said yes.” Which explains his involvement in John Turturro’s upcoming “Fading Gigolo." “It’s shooting in New York City so I said sure, because no one ever asks me.”
While Allen’s role in “To Rome With Love” is in English, he had to direct the film’s many foreign language sequences, despite not speaking the local language. This has apparently never been a problem for Allen, who also worked with Penelope Cruz in her native tongue for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” “I can tell acutely; you just see them acting, and they’re clearly convincing in their body language,” says Allen. “When I did ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona,’ Javier Bardem and Penelope were ad-libbing all over the place. I didn’t understand anything they were saying. To this day I have no idea what they were saying in those scenes. But it didn’t matter to me, I could see that they got it right, they were acting in the correct fashion for that moment. It was academic what the actual words were. The emotions were clearly correct.” Scoffs the prolific living legend, “I did three films in a row with a Chinese cameraman who didn’t speak any English, and the photography was beautiful!”
“To Rome With Love” opens in limited release this Friday.