Everybody knows about Woody Allen’s muses: Diane, Mia, Scarlett, Cate, and now Emma Stone, star of Allen’s latest Euro-flavored idyll, Magic in the Moonlight. But there’s another actress in that film who might be described as the director’s lucky charm. Over the past 13 years, Allen has cast Erica Leerhsen in four of his films — often in small but pivotal roles — as well as a 2004 play.
“Every time I cast her, she comes through without fail,” the director told Yahoo Movies of Leehrsen, whom he first met following her breakout role in 2000’s Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. “She shows up, she asks no questions, she does the character—I have no idea how she has worked it out—and it’s always effective.”
Ahead of the film’s release this weekend, Leerhsen offered Yahoo! Movies a rare glimpse into a master filmmaker’s famously opaque creative process—an approach so legendarily secretive that the making of an Allen film often has spurred just as much conversation as the finished product.
Your first Allen picture was Hollywood Ending in 2002. You were 23. How does a young actress get on the radar of a director like Woody Allen?
My manager at the time submitted pictures of me from magazines and from the set of Blair Witch 2. I came into his New York office to read for Juliet Taylor, his casting executive. I got all dressed up and wore my hair curled, just like in the movie, so that I could match the pictures he’d seen. I got my lines in the waiting room, which is unusual. He was even more secretive in those days.
When I was called in, he didn’t say ‘Hi’ or anything. He just had me say the dialogue and then stand in different ways so that he could take Polaroids. It was all of 10 minutes. Usually, there’s a much longer process of people analyzing you.
And then he just said, ‘Thank you.’ And that was it. I thought I didn’t get the part. I was so bummed out.
But that same day, Juliet called my manager, who told me I’d gotten the part. That day was such a weird day; I’d read two lines!
Leerhsen with Jeffrey Donovan in 2000’s Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
It’s odd, isn’t it, to get your lines in the waiting room?
It was nerve-wracking, but he’s testing your improv ability. That’s what he’s always looking for. He’ll put scenes in a movie spontaneously. He’s kept me around for an entire film-shoot just in case he decides that my character should be in a certain scene. He might just throw you into a scene. One time, I was talking to his assistant, and he turned to me and said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m putting you in the next shot.’ It’s great. It’s refreshing.
When did you get one of his legendary typewritten offer letters? Does he still do those?
Yes. It was for his play in 2004, Second-Hand Memory. They’re almost like something out of Mission Impossible: This is your mission. It’s almost like he’s handing you a role and saying, ‘It’s yours. What are you going to do with it?’
And he still types them out? In 2012, he told the Wall Street Journal he’d never sent an email in his life.
The letters look typewritten. But they come through email. I think his assistant may scan them in and send them.
But he never sends out his whole script to his actors.
You see your pages but you can’t see anyone else’s pages. And there’s no rehearsal a lot of the time. He tells you where the camera is going to be and where it’s going to follow you and then he says, ‘Go.’ You just have to be ready.
And yet he’s really not that married to those scripts, right?
He’ll often say, ‘You can say whatever you want. I just want the scene to work.’ He just wants the energy to be up and for it to be funny, if it’s a comedy. And he knows that comedy is this undefined thing. You’d think he’s really controlling, but he’s not. Not with comedy, at least. He’s just like, ‘Make it funny.’
I hear he has this phrase …
Yeah. If a scene isn’t working he’ll come over and say, ‘OK, this is death.’
The shoots. What are they like?
Woody makes decisions very quickly. It’s refreshing. It’s nice. He’s very confident in his decisions. if you do something and he likes it, he likes it, and he moves on. I think that’s one of the reasons for his success. He doesn’t care as much what other people think. He cares what he thinks.
And he’s quiet. He doesn’t talk that much. He often says stuff to me about work. But the first time he ever really spoke to me socially was in this latest movie, Magic in the Moonlight. We were on location in the south of France and he turned to me and said, ‘It’s so hot I can’t wait to get out of here.’
And after we wrapped the project, he didn’t say goodbye. He just said, ‘You always seem to end up in my movies. So I’m sure I’ll see you in New York on another movie.’ That was his goodbye.
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