Woody Allen on First TV Series: "It Was Much Harder Work Than a Movie"

The acclaimed film director talked to THR at the New York premiere of Amazon's 'Crisis in Six Scenes' about whether he'll make more small-screen content and why he's continued to collaborate with the Jeff Bezos-led company.
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Woody Allen and Miley Cyrus at the New York premiere of 'Crisis in Six Scenes'

When Woody Allen first started working on his first TV series, an Amazon project announced in January 2015, the acclaimed film director joked that he'd made a "catastrophic mistake."

“I should never have gotten into it,” he said at a Cannes press conference for his film Irrational Man, adding that he was really struggling with the project, which was already proving to be more difficult than he thought it would be.

“I thought it would be a cinch. One half hour and then another half hour. But it’s not! It’s very, very hard, and I just hope that I don’t disappoint Amazon,” Allen said at the time. “I don’t watch any of those television series, so I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m floundering. I expect this to be a cosmic embarrassment.”

Now that he's completed work on the first season of the 1960s-set comedy Crisis in Six Scenes — starring himself, Elaine May and Miley Cyrus — Allen still says it was incredibly difficult work.

"It's much harder than I thought. I thought, 'Oh, I do a movie all the time, and I've gotten so that I can do them,' and I thought 'Television, just six half hours, I can knock that off as if it's nothing.' But it wasn't nothing," he told The Hollywood Reporter at the series' New York premiere earlier this month. "It was very hard work and I struggled and worked hard and it was much harder work than a movie and even more because you have to begin and end all of the time. It was a big nuisance. I mean, I couldn't just phone it in, to say the least."

But Crisis actor John Magaro, who was previously part of the ensemble in The Big Short, claims it's just Allen's way to be overly self-critical, saying of the filmmaker's initial comments, "Yeah, I read that. I feel like Woody says that about everything. I feel like every project he gets onto he beats himself up over and thinks why's he doing it. But I also feel like he loves the work. Every year he puts out a film. And this year, he put out a film [and a] TV series. He's already on to the next [movie]."

Still Magaro and his Crisis co-stars said the process of making the six-episode series, which spans three hours, was a lot like making a movie.

"This experience wasn't much different than a film," said the actor. "The way we shot it. The amount of time — it's a three-hour series. So if you watch all six [episodes] together, it's like a longer Woody Allen film, and that's kind of fun."

Co-star Rachel Brosnahan echoed Magaro's assessment, saying making the show "was like working on a movie."

"We shot it like a movie. It wasn't split into episodes. He edited it into episodes later," the House of Cards alum added, arguing that the set had the same communal, family-like feeling as a small indie film.

Max Casella, who can be seen in previews for Crisis as Allen's character's barber and worked with Allen before in Blue Jasmine, noticed little difference between the way the director worked across the two mediums.

"This was exactly the same, as far as a movie or TV thing. There's a camera. There's a script," said Casella. The only difference for me was working with him as an actor in a scene. I'd never done that before and that was fantastic."

And the actor says if Allen was struggling with his first TV show, he didn't act that way.

"He couldn't have been more relaxed. He had written I guess what was it like a five-page scene and he knew his lines completely. He was directing. He was just doing everything," said Casella. "He's like 80 years old, and his energy is phenomenal. But he's extremely low-key. Very, very low-key."

While Amazon Prime subscribers can now stream all six episodes of Crisis, little was known about the show beyond Allen's involvement and its cast until a trailer was released a couple weeks before the show started streaming. And Casella, Brosnahan and others all said that even to them the show was still a bit of a mystery as each actor only got their pages, not the full script, which Allen veterans said was typical of his process.

"We just kind of got what we were involved with, and we were told very briefly what it was we were going to be engaged in," Christine Ebersole told THR at the Crisis premiere. "So I think it's going to be a big mystery to me as well. I'm looking forward to seeing the episodes because I have no idea. Just what you see from the trailer is basically what I know."

Joy Behar, seen in the Crisis trailer as one of the members of a book club, said that even without seeing the script, just the prospect of working with Allen and May was enough to get her to sign on.

"It's a leap of faith, but it's a no-brainer as far as I'm concerned," said Behar.

As for whether Allen will continue his foray into television beyond Crisis' six episodes, he said he wasn't sure but indicated he wasn't leaning too strongly in that direction.

"It would be tough. I don't know if I want to do more. It was very hard work," Allen told THR. "And I don't know if this one will work at all. People may see this and think, 'I hate this. He should stay in the movies.' Or they may say, 'I like it very much. I wish he'd do more.' And then it becomes a little tempting. But I'm not too tempted really."

Still, Allen has already continued his relationship with Amazon, with the streaming service backing his next movie, and he said that he particularly enjoys the artistic freedom the Jeff Bezos-led company provides.

"I like working with them because they came to both projects — the movie and [Crisis] — with the understanding that I had 100 percent freedom in every aspect. Just completely free," he said. "They put up the backing and they come back when I'm finished. And they're very supportive and very intelligent and they understand how I work. They didn't come in and say, 'Well, we've backed these projects but we would like to know who you're casting.' Or, 'We would at least like to read the script or at least get a synopsis.' But they said, 'We're buying you. We trust you. Do what you want.' … It's like artistic sponsors, like the Medicis."