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Familiar Faces: Woody Allen's Cast Hierarchy

Several Woody Allen's ago we began a very short lived series called "Familiar Faces" in which I surveyed repeat usages of the same actors in a director's ouevre. The series was short lived because my god do you know how long each post took? Nevertheless, I'd love to revive it if I've ever afforded the budget or time and I thought with Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen's 43rd complete directorial feature, rocking it at the box office the time was ripe to revisit and republish with a few minor adjustments. If you see a half point trust that it's from Play It Again Sam which Woody wrote and starred in but did not direct or New York Stories which he directed only one segment of. One of the key factors in why I don't think Woody Allen films are as strong as they used to be is his weird shift from loyal employer to fickle star-gazer. Nowadways its rare for an actor to return to his filmography. 

Will Cate follow in other muse footsteps or is Blue Jasmine a one-off?

Take Blue Jasmine for example. The only performers with a previous Woody under his belt are Alec Baldwin who had the "pleasure" of playing an ill-defined role in To Rome With Love and (a long time ago) a small role in Alice and Ginger herself Sally Hawkins who previously appeared in Cassandra's Dream

Herewith my findings... from Mia through the Dian(n)es and on to the Scarletts 

Woody Players ... Quantitatively Speaking

Before Woody was regularly casting male stars in the Woodyesque lead roles, he was playing them himself for himself (and usually doing a better job of it than his later proxies). The first of his films in which he did not appear in was Interiors (1978), a landmark moment artistically since it was his first attempt at sober drama and surely the catalyst picture for the "I liked your early work best" fickleness from the public. He most recently acted for himself again in To Rome With Love (2012) but maybe he's caught the acting bug again since he's stepping outside of his own filmography for John Turturro's comedy Fading Gigolo (2013) 

Mia Farrow in her three best Woody Allen roles: Broadway Danny Rose (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), and Alice (1990)

Still the Queen of Woody's filmography and she'll undoubtedly remain so since her former lover is getting on in years and has yet to settle on a post Mia muse though he did famously try Scarlett Johansson on for size / style from 2005 through 2008. Remarkably and horrifically, despite the plentiful acting nominations earned by Woody Allen films, Mia was herself never nominated for an Oscar. The actress won two BAFTA and three Golden Globe nominations for her roles in Woody Allen films as well as the NBR best actress prize for Alice (1990)... but Oscar never bit. So stingy! 

Annie Hall won Keaton one of the Academy's most deserved lead acting statues in its 80+ year history and remains her signature role despite numerous strong characterizations in other films. After regular annual stints as his leading lady in the 1970s she returned to the Woody fold rather blissfully twice, the first time in the nostalgia soaked Radio Days (1987) and finally as the chatty adventure-loving wife in Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) the first film to be made in Woody's Post-Mia years (rebound security blanket?) and in the latter they proved that they hadn't lost an ounce of their chemistry.

It's a pity that they haven't gone for an 8th film together. (Her half point is for Play it Again, Sam which Woody did not direct).

Radio Days (1987) is the mother lode of Woody's Favorite Actresses: Julie Kavner and Dianne Wiest (pictured) , Mia Farrow and Diane Keaton all appear!

Kavner's association with Woody is less noted by movie buffs both due to Kavner's limited fame outside of that Marge Simpson voice and to the fact that she mostly had small roles in his films. She's hard to miss though as the Mrs in Don't Drink the Water (½ point for Woody's only full length TV movie) or as his trusted sounding board co-worker in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). 

Fred Melamed & Woody Allen in Shadows and Fog (1991)05 FRED MELAMED 7 FILMS
Readers might best recognize Melamed as huggy doomed Sy Ableman from the Coen Bros A Serious Man (2009) but he's all over the place in the Woody filmography albeit in very small roles, the first of which was Woody's doctor in Hannah and Her Sisters and the most recent of which was Hollywood Ending (2002)

These two have roles like "Movie Theater Patron" in Anything Else or "Sound Recordist" in Celebrity. But since they're in six movies each, one assumes they're either spectacular extras or friends with Woody or Juliet Taylor his casting director.

Judy Davis in a welcome return to the Woodyography in To Rome With Love (2012). He should cast her ALL THE TIME.

Davis is the newest member of this 5 time club having been the sole bright spot in To Rome With Love last year though her best performance in Husbands and Wives (1992) was a semi-surprise loss on Oscar night. She's obviously game for whatever Woody throws at her and one wishes they'd work together more often.

The instantly recognizable Shawn (an immortal face thanks to Clueless and The Princess Bride), has also been in a whole handful of Woody film albeit in smaller roles. You may remember him as "The Masked Avenger" in Radio Days (1988). David Ogden Stiers (of TV's "M*A*S*H" fame) was another regular.

Dianne Wiest in one of the greatest comic performances of all time

Finally, Dianne Wiest won both of her very deserved Oscars for Allen pictures (Hannah and Her Sisters & Bullets Over Broadway) and I'd argue that her two wins demonstrate the most range of any actor's two Oscar wins... yes, even Meryl kids.  If you've ever wondered why actors are so obviously desperate to work with him, consider this: He's guided thespians to 15 nominations with 6 wins among them - making him one of the ten best directors of actors... at least according to Oscar stats.

Louise Lasser and Woody in bed in Bananas

12 (TIE) LOUISE LASSER & TONY ROBERTS 4 and a ½ or thereabouts
Lasser is often forgotten when people are listing Woody's muses only because she was the first before his legend really took hold and before, and this is the key point, he was in full control as writer, star AND director. They worked together on non official Woody films and shorts like What's New Pussycat and "The Laughmakers" and she did voice work for his comic dubbing experiment What's Up Tiger Lily (1966) before starring with him in his first three traditional features Take the Money and Run (1969), Bananas (1971) and Everything You Always Wanted to Ask About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask (1972).

Roberts, who first worked with Woody the actor in Play it Again, Sam (1972) won the most attention for his philandering friend role in Annie Hall. and exited the Woody filmography through an uncredited role as "Mickey's Former Partner" in Hannah and Her Sisters

September, Woody's little seen troubled 1987 drama with Dianne Wiest & Sam Waterston

Waterston's most significant role is, if I'm remembering correctly, in September (1987) opposite Dianne Wiest, but this was notoriously not a happy set having been reshot, recast and delayed and not causing much of a stir when it opened despite Woody's renewed popularity at the time fresh off of Hannah. Aaron, also in small roles, first joined Woody's filmography for Crimes and Misdemeanors.

This 10 person club is about to have a new member: ERICA LEERSHEN who was previously seen in small roles in Hollywood Ending and Anything Else and is currently filming Woody's as yet untitled follow up to Blue Jasmine to arrive like clockwork in summer 2014.

Two timer Penélope and Three timer Scarlett Johansson in Vicky Cristina Barcelona

25 (TIE) 2 FILMS
There are well over a dozen actors who have pulled double Woody duty over the years. The most recent inductees to the two timer club are: KATHY BATES (Shadows and Fog, Midnight in Paris), PENELOPE CRUZ (Vicky Cristina BarcelonaTo Rome With Love) LARRY DAVID (Radio Days, Whatever Works, PATRICIA CLARKSON (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Whatever Works),  JOSH BROLIN (Melinda and Melinda, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger) and EWEN BREMNER (yes, that's "Spud" from Trainspotting who appeared in Match Point and You Will Meet...). Previous familiar faces who've shown up twice in Woody pictures include: Bob BalabanLynn Cohen, Jeff DanielsJulia Louis-DreyfusGregg Edelman, director Nora Ephron (only cameos), Stephanie FarrowRupert FrazerJoanna GleasonJessica HarperMariel HemingwayAnjelica Huston, Debra MessingGretchen MolZak Orth, Alison PillMichael RapaportDeborah RushMarian SeldesTina SloanCharlize TheronMichael Tucker,Loretta Tupper and Tracey Ullman.

AND THAT'S A WRAP. Everyone with a SAG card has appeared in at least 1 Woody Allen picture though it's a mystery as to why Woody doesn't reuse Christopher Evan Welch who did such great work narrating Vicky Cristina Barcelona and appeared physically in Whatever Works,  Martin Landau (Crimes and Misdemeanors - Oscar nom), Elaine May (Small Time Crooks -NSFC Best Supporting Actress) and Goldie Hawn (so delightful with Woody in Everyone Says I Love You) in particular.

Which actor would you love Woody to invite back?

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Reader Comments (36)

I love Woody's career but in a very weird way I hope Cate Blanchett's participation in it is a one-off. I could be wrong.

Somehow I feel like he has completely and entirely used her as an actor in this total lead role and now she should do great work for other great directors.

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Would love him to bring Diane Keaton back for a staring role. Throw in Judy Davis as her sister, Diane Wiest as her therapist, Rebeca Hall as the daughter and Sam Waterston as the ex-husband.

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVinicius

Wasn't Alec Baldwin in ALICE also? If so would that be 3 pictures with Woody?

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeff

I want him to badly to give ScarJo another comedy. Her inspired work in Scoop was exceptional, and I really wish he'd give her another go.

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

I say: Woody, make a IT'S COMPLICATED comedy with your muses from the past.

Woody Allen as the cheater, Dianne Wiest, Judy Davis, Mia Farrow and Diane Keaton as the conquests. Now wouldn't that be swell?

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Correction: Sally Hawkins was in Cassandra's Dream. I know..what a forgettable movie. Maybe the least Allenesque or his movies...

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMr. Goodbar

I absolutely agree that he (or his team) are too focused in casting big names these days.

Diane Keaton could really use a good movie for a change, but my answer is Dianne Wiest. We just don't get enough of her and I believe that should be considered a crime.

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

It would be great to see Meryl work with Woody in a supporting role to
augment her sumptuous appearance in Manhatten.

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Thanks for catching that, Jeff--I was going to mention it. Yes, Baldwin was the ghost of Farrow's youthful boyfriend. One of his loveliest performances.

I had a hard time shaking the ghost of "Alice" while I was watching "Blue Jasmine"--in some ways they have similar outlines (monied New York woman reaches a turning point in her life and reaches out for something--anything!--new), but as good as a lot of "Blue Jasmine" was, I had a hard time warming up to the central character, despite Blanchett's throwing everything she could into the role. I just didn't know if I was supposed to empathize with her, pity her, despise her, laugh at her, what? The movie didn't even afford her a "kindness of strangers" ending like Blanch Dubois got, nor does she finally have a breakthrough (as Farrow does in "Alice")--it just stops, as not even a stranger on a bench can stand to listen to her. What will happen to her? Where will she go? And should we care? (I also thought of the tragic grace that Farrow brought to "The Purple Rose of Cairo"--an undeservedly harsh ending for such a sweet character.)

It's a pity that Woody Allen and Streisand never got on the same page; he could probably direct her to do something revelatory. I'd also love to see him tackle some of the other undersung actors, like Sam Rockwell or Ethan Hawke or Anthony Lapaglia or Don Cheadle, and see what they could do outside of their comfort zone. (Considering what Allen did for Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, I'd also think Antonio Banderas could do something great, too.) Maybe he can team up with Lake Bell, too, now that she's taking off like a rocket?

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDback

Want him to reteam with Winona Ryder, who graced CELEBRITY as the Muse and was the original choice for MELINDA AND MELINDA before the shoplifting thing. Also second the Meryl reteam. But mostly, I want him to welcome back Dianne Wiest and Julie Kavner, especially since I think he's the only one to fully appreciate their gifts.

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWalter L. Hollmann

Martin Landau because of Crimes and Misdemeanors, Jesse Eisenberg because he was underused in To Rome With Love<7i> and Javier Bardem so that he stops playing crazy hair villains. Almost every one deserves another opportunity either because they were really good or because they weren't used appropriately.

What I wonder is who will be Woody Allen's replacement

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

Jeff -- thanks for that catch. I had TOTALLY forgotten he was in that. I feel like that is maybe the #1 movie from woody's filmography that needs a reappraisal. i remember people not liking it but i dont remember why and i only remember Mia Farrow being amazing in it with the quick change personalities

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMOTHER

Too much hope on my part, but I really want him to get Jacki Weaver an Oscar.

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

I think Sally Hawkins was in 'Cassandra's Dream'. I remember only because I was weirdly in love with that movie.

As for double dipping? I wonder what Rachel McAdams and Emily Mortimer can do in different roles. Heck, I'm even curious if they just swapped roles in 'Match Point' and 'Midnight in Paris'.

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Can I say I think Amy Adams would be a perfect fit for his movies? I don't know why but I always thought she could be the next Dianne Wiest (if she stepped it up).

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Caroline Aaron was in 4 (Crimes and Misdemeanors, Alice, Husbands and Wives, Deconstructing Harry)

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterschiesser77

Yup, Caroline Aaron. ;-)

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I always found Woody's casting choices and patterns (perhaps intentionally) a bit peculiar. He keeps casting unnaturally subtle actresses that can't sell dialogues with enough strength as characters that should be at least a little dramatic and entertain the audience in an emotive way. I don't think it's creative and suspect that he just finds to work with those "simple" actresses easier as they don't get in the way of his direction and characteristic flow.

Likewise, his celebrity studded ensembles routinely tends to drown out talent. I feel he dislikes hiring complete nobodies but in really small roles where you're supposed not to stand in general flow, casting stars are just distracting and counterproductive. I really think it works.

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJT

It's myth, I think, Woody Allen is the best director of actors--in particular actresses. Character actresses, the neurotic ones, thrive off his loony scenery chewing caricatures. There's a reason why we gravitate towards Judy Davis and Dianne Wiest going for broken whenever possible under his direction. An indifferent direction by the way. Allen is the only auteur in history with as lax attitude about the final outcome of the movie as he is. The perfect new generation muse for Allen is Anne Hathaway. She's a Christmas ham and a likely double Sup Actress winner if Allen were to give her a plum supporting part. Something along the lines of brittle Judy Davis but from a younger age.

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Dback -- omg. i would have never thought of that pairing but Barbra in a zany early Woody comedy would have been amazing.

Scheisser77 - thank you. embarrassed i missed her. have updated the post.

August 26, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Maybe they're both Aussies but I was getting so many Judy Davis vibes from Blanchett's Jasmine. I love Judy Davis, so this was helpful.

Mia Farrow's range in her roles was so awesome. How does Radio Days get from Broadway Danny Rose or Hannah and Her Sisters or The Purple Rose of Cairo? Ugh. And they will never make a movie together again.

Dianne Wiest is still my favorite Allen woman. Her and Keaton need to be in one of his new movies. ScarJo (I am pro-ScarJo as an Allen regular) can be one of their daughters.

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

The Diane's both Keaton and Wiest would be great to welcome back as well as Barbara Hershey. Everybody talks about Dianne and Mia in Hannah and Her Sisters, and they were great but I thought Barbara was wonderful as well.

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Can Woody find Greta Gerwig or is she sole property of Noah Baumbach (not that that's wrong in my book)?

P.S. - I'm hoping for another good one with Emma Stone. Girl REALLY needs to bring the goods after these two slower years. Easy A, The Help and Crazy Stupid Love won't cut it, Emma. We need more.

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJorge Rodrigues

Nice list. Dianne Wiest has impressed me the most of the repeaters. Hannah and Her Sisters, and Bullets Over Broadway, are great parts and she delivered. MS called out WA early on for being a womanizer. I remember thinking that she had balls. Her first 90 seconds in Manhattan are glorious. Shows what an actress can do.

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJason

my list of people i NEED to see back (as long as the parts are good) who have only made 1 or 2

1. JULIETTE LEWIS (sensational & sly in husbands and wives)
2. CHARLIZE THERON (really good in both of her outings though both movies were terrible)
3. PATTY CLARKSON (strutted her stuff in whatever works but the movie is a mess)
4. GOLDIE HAWN (i just loved her with Woody in that musical comedy)
5. JENNIFER TILLY (so happy she was oscar nominated. that performance is delicious on every level)

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

Samatha Morton.

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

@ Nathaniel

Juliette Lewis has been usurped by Jennifer Lawrence.

August 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

God, I would love to see Juliette Lewis in another Woody Allen - I'm still blown away by her work in Husbands & Wives every time I watch it (which is often!) and that's an extraordinary ensemble to stand out in. Although Judy Davis in H&W is my eternal favourite performance in the Allen canon, so I vote for a reunion between those two actresses.

I am ambivalent about Amy Adams in general, but I agree with Tim that she would likely be sensational as an Allen muse. Rebecca Hall and Patricia Clarkson should also be re-visited.

Dianne Wiest just about goes without saying.

August 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSally W

A reunion with Diane Keaton would be an event. It also would likely inspire Allen to re-examine his method and mindset.

August 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Greta Gerwig, Julianne Moore, and/or Tilda Swinton.

Also, it is possible for a woman of color to be her next muse? I love me some Kerry Washington or Halle Berry (?).

August 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDaph

Considering it seems unlikely having Mia Farrow in another Woody movie, then I would love to see MERYL STREEP + DIANE KEATON + SCARLETT JOHANSSON + WOODY ALLEN... with Allen playing a director, Meryl Streep his wife, Keaton his ex-muse and Johansson is actual muse

August 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEd

NathanielR - you beat me to it! I was just about to say Goldie Hawn. Also, based solely on her one scene in "Shame," I'd be interested in seeing what Nicole Beharie could do with him.

But ever since her brief role in "Midnight in Paris," I'd LOVE for him to give something even meatier to Nina Arianda

August 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

I've long championed Barbra and Woody together, but it's looking extremely unlikely to happen. And I've also long thought that Barbara Hershey gets the short stick of acclaim for Hannah And Her Sisters, but she was great too. Why didn't Woody warm to her again?

The suggestion of Greta Gerwig for Woody is brilliant. She already seems like she's acting in her own private Woody Allen movie (in her head). Come on Juliet, get on this.

If Woody goes "age appropriate" again, please give Diane Keaton a call. I'd love to know what Annie Hall is up to now, not the actual character but her spiritual sister.

August 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

dave --- greta already did a woody though. albeit a super weak useless one (to rome with love)

August 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

Well that's disappointing. And I hope you'll forgive me for skipping To Rome With Love. I didn't hear one good thing about it.

August 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

Dave, I did hear good things about Judy Davis in it. Then again, she can do no wrong.

August 28, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

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