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Even for people who have never been to Paris, the name of the city is more than a metaphor for magic—it’s almost a synonym. Certainly there’s no better place on earth that Woody Allen could have chosen for his new romantic comedy than Paris.
It is a city with a unique mythology and heritage, celebrated for the extraordinary beauty of its streets, boulevards and gardens, as well as the splendor found inside so many of the greatest museums in the world. The resonance of its history, from major political and cultural events to the aura of its legendary restaurants and cafés, is felt everywhere.
The past endures and shines brightly in Paris, which makes it well suited for a story of a man reinvigorating his feelings and finding inspiration to reflect on his life.
‘Midnight in Paris’ is Woody Allen’s valentine to the City of Lights, which he considers equal to New York as the great city of the world. “Of course I’m partial to New York because I was born there and grew up there,” he says, “but if I didn’t live in New York, Paris is the place I would live.”
The film is the second time Allen has filmed there, after a small bit of ‘Everyone Says I Love You’. “I get great enjoyment out of presenting Paris to the cinema audience the way I see it,” he says. “Just as with New York, where I present it one way, and other directors present it other ways, somebody else could come and shoot Paris in a completely different way. I want to present it my way, projecting my own feelings about it.”
Allen fell in love with Paris during the shooting of ‘What’s New Pussycat’, his debut film as an actor and writer. Much like Gil, the protagonist of Midnight in Paris, he’s rueful about not staying there after the filming, as others on the film did. “It was an adventure that was too bold for me at the time,” he says. “In retrospect I could have stayed, or at the very minimum taken an apartment and divided my time—but I didn’t, and I regret that.”
Gil (played by Owen Wilson) is a Hollywood screenwriter who had aspirations to be a serious writer when he was a younger man. He idolized American novelists like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and wanted to be a novelist in their tradition.
But somewhere along the way, Gil left that path, discovered he had a talent for writing screenplays, and fell into a well-paid routine of work that didn’t satisfy him and affluence that he wasn’t entirely comfortable with. “He found himself to be a victim of that old Hollywood joke,” says Allen. “I laid down at the pool… and when I got up it was ten years later.”
As the story begins, Gil and his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) are tagging along on a trip to Paris with her father, John (Kurt Fuller), and mother, Helen (Mimi Kennedy). John, a conservative businessman who has come to Paris to finalize a high-level deal, makes no attempt to disguise his disapproval of Gil, who he sees as an unreliable lightweight unworthy of his daughter. Gil’s absorption with the novel he’s writing, rather than the more lucrative profession waiting for him at home, makes him seem even more frivolous in John’s eyes.
Being in Paris triggers Gil’s memories of his one-time literary ambitions. “Gil lived in Paris when he was in his twenties and he has this romantic attachment to it,” says Wilson. “It represents the time when his professional life was just beginning, when he thought about what he was going to do with his life. That was when he came to the fork in the road. So of course being there again makes him think about that time and the road he didn’t take.”
Allen originally conceived of Gil as an east coast intellectual, but he rethought it when he and casting director Juliet Taylor began talking about Owen Wilson for the role. “I thought Owen would be charming and funny but my fear was that he was not so eastern at all in his persona,” says Allen.
Realizing that not only could Gil come from California, it would actually make the character richer, so he rewrote the part and submitted it to Wilson, who readily agreed to do it. “Owen is a natural actor,” says Allen. “He doesn’t sound like he’s acting, he sounds like a human being speaking in a situation, and that’s very appealing to me.
He’s got a wonderful funny bone, a wonderful comic instinct that’s quite unlike my own, but wonderful of its kind. He’s a blonde Texan kind of Everyman’s hero, the kind of hero of the regiment in the old war pictures, with a great flair for being amusing. It’s a rare combination and I thought he’d be great.”
Rachel McAdams joins the cast as Gil’s fiancée, Inez. “Inez is used to having her way,” says McAdams. “She’s very sure of what she wants. She’s in love with Gil or she thinks she is and is maybe not too inquisitive about the state of their relationship or the health of their relationship.
She thinks Gil’s a good guy, a good catch and he’s stable, provided that he keeps writing screenplays and they can have a comfortable life in the States. She’s supportive of his dabbling with a novel, provided that it’s a slight preoccupation, but I don’t think she’s encouraging it as a life-long dream, something he should spend too much of his time on.”
Says Allen: “Inez just wants Gil to make enough money so they can go to parties and raise children. There’s nothing wrong with her aspirations; they’re just not Gil’s.” Allen has high praise for McAdams’s work on the film. “Rachel just gets it,” he says. “She’s funny when she has to be funny; she’s serious when she has to be serious. She’s unfailingly real, she doesn’t do anything too big or too under-acted, and she’s totally alive on the screen.”
Says Wilson: “What I saw even more from Rachel’s performance was how Inez is kind of funny in the way she uses her sexuality to manipulate Gil. Rachel has a very good sense of humor and knew exactly how to play those scenes.”
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