NEW YORK — One advantage for Woody Allen in getting out of New York to shoot his London-set Match Point: the chance to work with some fresh young talent. Scarlett Johansson struck up such a friendship with him that after she completed her role as the sexually restless Nola in Match Point, he gave her the lead in his next movie. "Woody and I have a playful relationship," the 21-year-old said at a Manhattan press junket. "In between set-ups, he said, ‘I would like to act with you,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I think it would be funny.’ We’re kind of a good duo in that way. I can set him up and he’s just a goofball.
"I just said, ‘I’ll be sending you letters,’ and before we knew it, it was time to shoot again. He wrote a comedy for us [Scoop, due later in 2006], and we went back to London all over again. It was a real honor for me and a lot of fun, and it’s nice to know that somebody likes you as much as you like them."
Her co-star, 28-year-old Jonathan Rhys Meyers, said he also tried to have a relationship of equals with the legendary director because he’d have found Allen too intimidating otherwise. "Even though I respect Woody Allen as one of the greatest directors in the world, I didn’t really idolize him the way other actors do. I couldn’t put Woody on that pedestal, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to work with him. I had to equalize myself in a way to work with him, instead of having this awestruck attitude."
Rhys Meyers added that Allen’s shooting process encourages that kind of peer relationship with his actors. "This is what’s really nice about an auteur of this quality. Even though he’s taken care in writing the script, if it doesn’t feel natural, he has no compunction in changing it. He’s like, ‘It’s not the Bible. I’m not going to be upset. I want to make the best film that I can make.’ "
One change prompted by the actor was to make his character, a social-climbing tennis instructor, an Irishman like Rhys Meyers himself. "Woody said, ‘Hey, do you want to make him Irish?’, and I said, ‘Why not?’ Which was kind of funny to me because there are no Irish tennis players. It was my little in-joke. Woody never realized this, but I did, and it was kind of a nice twist that being Irish in London, you are a minority. There was that underdog feeling, and without even realizing it, he made a very valid point in making the character Irish."
Another change for Allen was the torrid love scenes, beginning with a fervid tryst in a field during a rainstorm. "It’s not a hard scene to act," said Rhys Meyers. "Is it difficult because it’s Scarlett Johansson? No, it’s difficult kissing Ewan McGregor" — this from an actor who did more than kiss McGregor in Velvet Goldmine. "No it’s not," interjected Johansson, who kissed McGregor in The Island.