Whatever Works

Jeff Wilser

After a five-year sojourn in Europe, Woody Allen returns to New York with Whatever Works, exploring how the City can—simultaneously, somehow—inspire, cause panic, bring hope, broaden horizons and breed myopia. This time the "Woody Allen character" is played by a curmudgeonly (even by his standards) Larry David, who takes a much younger Evan Rachel Wood under his wing and shows her Manhattan. The City then seduces Wood's mother, Patricia Clarkson, transforming her from a Southern housewife to a Bohemian photographer who lives with two men. Nycgo.com sat down with all four to get their real-life New York stories.

What are your first memories of New York?
Larry David: I grew up in Brooklyn. And then I lived in Hell's Kitchen from the time I got out of college until I moved to LA in my early 40s. So I remember, very distinctly, the smell of urine as I left my front door. I remember having to take my shoe off before I came in my apartment to kill the thousands of roaches that were in my bathtub. I have very fond memories of it; shall I go on? [Laughs]

Evan Rachel Wood: I moved to New York when I turned 18. I was filming Across the Universe, so I was on the streets of New York and singing Beatles songs. And it changed my entire life. I just felt like I knew who I was, finally. So the City really does something to you.

Patricia Clarkson: When I came here, the first place I lived was a YMCA, because at Fordham University they didn't have dorms. I remember on Friday nights there were a lot of nice young boys around, and I thought, Oh, have they just returned from a YMCA camping trip? No.

ERW: I thought it was fun to stay at the YMCA.

PC: I have since left the YMCA. And I'm a New Yorker now, I guess. I love the West Village. And I love downtown. I've lived there for a long time. It's my favorite, favorite part of New York, walking my dog in the streets; I never tire of it, ever.

LD: I remember fighting with people every day because I couldn't get change for a dollar to get on the bus. Nobody wants to give you change.

Fictionalized New York is different from real New York. Growing up, which one did you relate to?
Woody Allen: My memories of New York are unrealistic. The New York that I grew up loving was, ironically enough, the New York of Hollywood movies, where people would live in penthouses with white telephones. I grew up in Brooklyn, not that far from Larry, and I never knew New York as it really existed. For that you'd have to speak to Spike Lee or Martin Scorsese. I only knew New York the way it appeared in movies—popping champagne corks and people dressed in tuxedos and making very witty banter, and elevators rising into the apartments directly.

LD: I love how those elevator doors would open….

PC: I know, how you just step out, oh, my God….

WA: So that's the New York that I've depicted in my [films]—and have tried to live in my life, really—and it's caused me a lot of grief.

A classic New Yorker's problem: panic attacks. Larry's character deals with panic by watching old Fred Astaire movies. How do you cope?
WA: You turn on television; with me it would probably be a ball game—something that's calming, where there's no sense of conflict. If I turned on a movie, I'd be full of self-loathing.

PC: I'm a news junkie. So even though there's a lot of conflict, I do like it for some reason. It calms me. I find it soothing.

ERW: That's funny, I actually do the same thing—because it makes me laugh. If you watch the news long enough, it's the funniest thing you've ever seen. Because it just makes no sense.

LD: I generally stay with the panic. I embrace the panic. I know there's no getting out of it. Even if I turned on a ball game it wouldn't make a difference. I would still hear that sick, psychotic voice going crazy in my head.

WA: Perfect casting, right?

This city loves to transform movies into Broadway musicals. Any chance we'll see a Woody Allen number on Broadway?
WA: I myself would have no interest in that whatsoever. None. Producers call all the time. They wanted to make Bullets Over Broadway into a musical and The Purple Rose of Cairo into a musical. But I have no interest in it. No interest in writing it, seeing it, knowing about it.

PC: [Singsong, hands in the air] "What-ever Works! What-ever Works!"

WA: Some of them, I think, would make good musicals in the right hands. But what would probably happen…is they'd get the rights to one of my movies, then make it into a musical, and it'd be a terrible musical, and then everyone would be angry with me.

Larry, we're guessing no plans for a Curb Your Enthusiasm musical….
LD: [Sarcastic] Sure. Yeah, right.

And as they file out of the room, Patricia Clarkson literally skips—with hands in the air—and resumes her singsong: "What-ever Works! What-ever Works!"