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<i>Blue Jasmine</i>: When Cate Met Peter, Dice and Louis

After spending midnight in Paris and sending a mash note to Rome, with love, Woody Allen is back on U.S. soil for his latest film, Blue Jasmine, which divides its time between New York and San Francisco. The drama, which bears the obvious influence of both the Bernie Madoff affair as well as Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, stars Cate Blanchett as Jasmine, a former member of the Big Apple's upper crust brought low by the financial crimes perpetrated by her husband (Alec Baldwin). Decamping for the Bay Area, she moves in with her working class sister, Ginger, (Sally Hawkins) and the move takes its toll on her already fragile state of mind. Given her track record, it's no surprise that Blanchett's performance is already attracting Oscar buzz, but what is a surprise are the dramatic turns delivered by two guys better known for making people laugh: Andrew Dice Clay, who plays Ginger's uncouth ex-husband, and Louis C.K., who plays her new beau. Blanchett, Clay, Louis C.K. and Peter Sarsgaard (who has a small role as Jasmine's love interest) held court at a New York press conference for the film and discussed working with Woody Allen (as Louis C.K. told it, his first meeting with Woody could be its own Louie episode) and the movie's depiction of America's ongoing class divide.

Cate Blanchett on How Woody Cast Her
I got a call from my agent saying that Woody had a script he'd like me to read, so he and I spoke for three and a half minutes and then he sent it over and I read it straightaway and found it brilliant because he's a brilliant dramatist. Then we spoke for another 45 seconds and agreed to do the film together. And then I saw him at the camera test in San Francisco! To me, it's a very contemporary fable, and that's the thing with Woody: he's not only keen to the zeitgeist -- I mean who hasn't followed the Madoff affair and the epic nature of that catastrophe -- but also there's a strong line in American drama of women who walk the line between fantasy and reality, like Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire and Mary in A Long Day's Journey Into Night. In the end, those reference points that are to be drawn on, but Woody has such a particular rhythm and take on the universe. In the end, you're in a Woody Allen film, not a Tennessee Williams film.

Louis C.K. on His First Encounter With Woody
I got a call saying Woody wanted to meet me, so I went to his office. I just wanted to meet him -- I had very low expectations. I thought, "I'll get to meet Woody. He won't pick me [for the movie] and I'll get to meet him before he dies." [Laughs] So I went to his office and it's this very nice little office and he's got pictures of himself with Muhammad Ali and all these people through the ages. I'm looking at that wall waiting to meet him and his hat was sitting on a table upside down. And I'm like, "I'm looking at Woody's hat that he wears to work. Even if they tell me he's too busy and I never meet him, this was worth it." Then I went into this room and there he was and I remember thinking, "He looks just like Woody Allen." He was so nice to me and said, "I like your stand-up and I know you can act, but I don't know if you can be this guy, because this is a mean, tough guy." I went into the other room and read this scene he gave me and I thought, "I can't do this guy. I've never really been in a fight or anything." So I just read it as myself and he went, "Oh, okay." And I knew I didn't get the part right there. It was like one of those situations where somebody goes, "Well… that happened." So I left and I think I cried -- I was so emotional about it. Then I heard that Dice got that part and I thought that was perfect. So that was the end of it to me, but then I got a letter saying, "Somebody who works for Woody is coming to your house tomorrow with an envelope." And a young woman came to my house, gave me an envelope and said, "I have to take this back with me, so you can have it for 40 minutes." I opened it and there was a letter from Woody saying, "You couldn't be that guy, but here's a guy you could do." There were three scenes in the envelope and they just made me laugh. I thought "This guy's a total jerk-off, but I could totally play him." So I wrote back and said yes and that's how I got the part.

Andrew Dice Clay on His Acting Aspirations
Originally I got into stand-up to do acting, figuring I'd use comedy stages to develop my own method of acting. Not every comic can act, but there are ones who really have chops, like Robin Williams, who can do anything from silly comedy to working with guys like Robert De Niro. When I got the call that Louis had failed [Laughs] and that Woody wanted to meet me, I thought my manager was kidding. 'Cause I would never think Woody could see past the persona I play onstage as a comic. But he really trusted me. I think his direction comes in his casting. He gets as close to the part on the page with the person and then he lets you really work with it. He was very open to ideas on the set, because some of the words I would change to fit the way I speak and he was great with it. I was just excited to get it. I wasn’t even trying to get any more movies; I was really focused on my stand-up, so I could do nothing but sit here and thank him for the chance to do something I hadn't done before.

Peter Sarsgaard on Romancing Blanchett's Jasmine
This woman seemed like she had so much going on. I was seeing someone who seemed like they were really on the edge, yet I was playing someone who was interested in her for reasons that are not totally deep. So in some ways the lack of information [from Woody] made me play the character in a certain way. I had to play someone who was not interested in reality, because the reality was this woman looked like she needed medical help some of the time! So I ended up playing your character in a kind of reverse order. I think Woody picks up on something you can't change when he casts you and he knows that's something that'll automatically be there. I don't know what it was with me, but I'm happy to be a part of it.

Louis C.K. on Getting into Character
From what I understand of the guy I'm playing, he works at a stereo store and he meets a terrific girl and he's married and he wants to eke out this little place where he just gets to go to hotels and have romantic sex with Sally Hawkins. Which I would like to do! I think that he's trying to make something better out of his life and most people are shackled by everything they have to do. When life gets dreary, you go outside of reality and I think that's why people deceive and lie: their trying to get outside of reality. I think you can play somebody who is deceptive with sympathy. I think in most of Woody's movies, everyone is trying their best and they're failing. I never go out for movies and stuff anymore; I have my life in a great rhythm of doing stand-up and my TV show and spending time with my kids. I get offered stuff sometimes and I usually just don't want to do it. You gotta live in like Shreveport, LA for half a year and I don't think that's worth anything.

Blanchett on Whether It's Important for the Audience to Like Jasmine
I don't think it's particularly useful for an actor to fall in love with a character; it's up to the audience to like them or dislike them. There are plenty of warts with Jasmine, but in the end her flaw is tragic. Oedipus, for example, fucks up royally. He marries his mother for god's sake! But it's a tragedy because he does it unwittingly. And Jasmine is the unwitting agent of her own downfall in a way. What I found most interesting was the chance to delve into her eternal cocktail of guilt, rage and fear. And then you overlay that with the situational aspect of it, with Woody placing the characters in often absurd situations. But you have to play it like the stakes are high and the situation is real and then the question of whether the characters are likable or unlikable is thrown back to the audience.

Louis C.K. on Being Directed by Woody
For me, I wanted to be as little trouble as possible. I think you have to have a sense of proportion -- I knew Cate and these guys were making a movie… and I was in it. So I tried to make it so that Woody didn't have to focus on me at all. Basically, I did what I was hired to do and I was happy when he didn't say anything because I figured that meant it was fine. Or he was going to cut me out and I didn't cause too much trouble. But then some days he would really say to me, "You kind of dumped that one, can you give me a little something." One thing he said that sticks with me is, "That pause is too long for the audience." And that told me that the audience is with him; he's already in the seats watching it with the crowd, because he's a comedian -- he came from that. He tried to help us do it right for the crowd that's going to watch it. He's also very humane about movies; some people are kinda crazy in how they direct, but he's very humble.

Blanchett:The thing he always used to say to me was, "The audience has already left the theater." [Laughs]

Sarsgaard: Or, "You sound like an actor saying lines." That was another good one.

Blanchett: I heard that our first day shooting together and it was awful. But it bonded us and made us do better the next day! I actually found Woody very forthcoming. There's an obvious reverence for him and his body of work and the danger with that is the set can become a sacred place with actors laying offerings at his feet. But when you asked him a question, he'd give you an answer. And he felt free to say, "That was awful." And I felt free to say, "Well, what are you after then? I can try this or that?" And he'd say, "Try that." So he was forced to direct me!

Andrew Dice Clay on the Movie's Depiction of Class Warfare
I didn't like Cate's character too much, because I hate the rich. I hate them on film and I hate them in reality, because I lived for a long time in Beverly Hills and I'm from Brooklyn. When you talk to people of old money, it's like you're an insect to them. So the way she played her character was so perfect -- I just hated her. I mean, Cate's great; I couldn't even believe I was working with her. But she played it just perfect, because I had a neighbor just like Jasmine in Beverly Hills and I had such hatred for this woman that when I had to do some dialogue with Cate, that's all I could think about. That's how those people are. Anybody from what they call "New Money" they have no respect for, people who come from blue collar backgrounds and worked their ass off…

Louis C.K.: You've been rich for like forty years, though.

Clay: I was actually going to ask you for a loan today! But you know what I'm talking about. Louis also comes from that kind of family, where you break your ass and try to accomplish in life. And when you come from such families where things are handed down to you -- you know, like Coca Cola -- you don't have to work too hard.

Louis C.K.: I like that Dice's example of class is the Coca-Cola family. That's old blue blood money. Those Pepsi people really are lame. [Laughs]

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