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As is typical for a Woody Allen film, a group of superlative actors fill out the supporting cast, ranging from stars like Adrien Brody and Kathy Bates to talented newcomers like Corey Stoll, Nina Arianda, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill, and Léa Seydoux.
The film’s locations include some of Paris’s most cherished sites, including: the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, the grounds and Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, Monet’s Gardens at Giverny, Musée de l’Orangerie (Monet’s Water Lilies paintings), Musée Rodin, Musée des Arts Forains, Marché Paul Bert (flea market), Rue Montagne St. Genevieve (where Gil goes at midnight), Notre Dame Garden Square – Jean XXXIII (where the museum guide translates for Gil), Place Dauphin, Maxim’s, Quai de la Tournelle (book stalls), Pont Alexandre III, as well as the restaurants Le Grand Véfour, Les Lyonnais, and Lapérouse.
“It was such a treat to spend time in these places which are usually swarming with tourists and be completely alone, with a really small camera crew, and a few actors wandering around as though it belonged to us,” says McAdams. “It was really magical.”
Woody Allen has often stated that he prefers to give his actors as much freedom as possible on the set. Speaking of Midnight in Paris, perhaps with a degree of overstatement, he says: “I didn’t have to give any direction to anybody.” While Owen Wilson says he’d heard reports from other actors that Allen was “pretty quiet,” he didn’t have that experience himself: “I felt he very much had a point of view about the way the scenes should go,” he says, “which isn’t to say that he was fussy or too exacting with the words in the script—you could change things and make it more how you might say it.”
Wilson discovered that Allen likes to shoot three-minute scenes in a single take, rather than the typical way of breaking up scenes into numerous shots. “It gives you that feeling of adrenaline like when you’re playing a sport,” says Wilson, “you know that you have to get it right and you won’t have all these different chances.
It makes you concentrate a little bit more.” Says McAdams: “It was very relaxed, and I love that he knows what he wants—that really gives me a sense of confidence and direction. And yet he’s so open and collaborative at the same time, which I think is the ideal combination for an actor.”
Cotillard simply considered herself “lucky” to be invited into Allen’s world. “Woody Allen is a brilliant man in the way he observes life, people, things,” she says. “You feel a lot of wit, tenderness, and humor.”
While there are always dark themes underneath all of Woody Allen’s comedies, the tone of Midnight in Paris is more upbeat. “I guess there will always be dark themes in my movies, because they’re underlying in my life, or anything I’ve ever thought about” says Allen, “but in this particular film, they’re not really addressed, they’re just minor themes. The tone and emphasis of Midnight in Paris is more romantic and light.”
The story of Midnight in Paris is about unusual journey that Gil takes. He makes a lot of mistakes and missteps along the way, and his behavior isn’t always admirable, but in the bigger picture he’s making progress. “Gil is a character who is digging himself out rather than digging himself in,” says McAdams. “He’s upsetting the balance, he’s pulling himself up by his bootstraps, and he’s making changes.”
Through his relationship with Adriana, Gil rethinks his idea that he’d be better off somewhere else, and recognizes that being somewhere else carries with it its own issues and problems. “I think he has to find a way to be happy just where he is,” says Wilson.
Allen adds: “If he’s going to take himself seriously, not just as an artist, but as a human being, he’s better off facing reality and recognizing that the contentment and happiness and spiritual peace that is required to get through life is something that’s inside you. So the movie is hopeful in that Gil comes to that conclusion that it’s better not to delude yourself—even though it’s more pleasant and less painful, it’s still better not to.”
“I think this film couldn’t be more hopeful,” says Wilson. “It couldn’t be more hopeful with the sense of endless possibility that exists in a place like Paris. It’s a celebration of that.”
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