Woody Allen's new film, Midnight in Paris, is a romantic comedy starring Owen Wilson. He plays Gil Pender, a Hollywood screenwriter, on a trip to Paris with his fiancee. He yearns for what he considers the city's golden age, Paris of the 1920s, when American writers like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald lived there. One night while wandering the streets, Gil is transported back in time and finds himself face to face with those literary giants. Robert Siegel talks with actor Corey Stoll about playing Hemingway on the screen.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Woody Allen's new film is called "Midnight in Paris." It's a romantic comedy starring Owen Wilson. He plays Gil Pender, a Hollywood screenwriter on a trip to Paris with his fiancee.
The movie is not only about romance between people, it's also about a love of a particular place and time: Paris of the 1920s. Gil yearns for this golden age when F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway roamed the Parisian streets and brooded at its bars.
And so it comes as quite a surprise when one night, Gil is transported back in time and finds himself in the company of a man who says his name is Francis Fitzgerald, who takes him to a bar and introduces him to another man.
(Soundbite of film, "Midnight in Paris")
Mr. TOM HIDDLESTON (Actor): (As Mr. Fitzgerald) Now this is a writer. Uh, Gil, yes?
Mr. OWEN WILSON (Actor): (As Gil Pender) Gil Pender.
Mr. COREY STOLL (Actor): (As Ernest) Hemingway.
Mr. WILSON: (As Gil) Hemingway?
Mr. STOLL: (As Ernest) You liked my book?
Mr. WILSON: (As Gil) Liked? I loved all of your work.
Mr. STOLL: (As Ernest) Yes. It was a good book because it was an honest book, and that's what war does to men. And there's nothing fine and noble about dying in the mud unless you die gracefully. And then it's not only noble but brave.
SIEGEL: And we're joined now by the actor who plays that noble and brave Ernest Hemingway, Corey Stoll, to be exact. Welcome to the program.
Mr. STOLL: Thanks. Good to be here.
SIEGEL: Tell me about playing Ernest Hemingway for Woody Allen.
Mr. STOLL: Well, I mean, just that phrase itself sends chills down my spine. It was a complete joy. And I had a couple months to prepare for the role. So I just gorged myself on pretty much everything I could get. I just read his whole oeuvre.
SIEGEL: You went back and read "Farewell to Arms" and...
Mr. STOLL: A couple times, yeah.
SIEGEL: A couple of times. So what was the takeaway? What did you decide you had to be to be Ernest Hemingway?
Mr. STOLL: I think what Woody Allen wanted was not for me to be Hemingway the person. You know, he told me not to listen to recordings of him or even read biographies. He really wanted me to be the Hemingway that you get when you read him. You know, he wanted me to be the writerly voice of Hemingway. And so I just stuck to, you know, his words.
SIEGEL: You said what Woody Allen told you to do. Did you get a lot of direction from Mr. Allen?
Mr. STOLL: No, that was about the beginning and end of it.
SIEGEL: That's it. He told you what not to do?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. STOLL: Yeah, and at one point, we were shooting that scene that you just played a clip from, we did a couple takes and he said: That's what I wanted. And from him, that is really huge, huge praise. So I took that and was satisfied.
SIEGEL: Now, I have to tell people that they may have seen you in the program "Law & Order: LA," or as we now refer to it, the late "Law & Order: LA" because it's just been canceled by NBC. But you played detective T.J. Jaruszalski.
Mr. STOLL: Very good.
SIEGEL: And in that program, you are bald. You are with hair in the film. I gather bald is the natural state?
Mr. STOLL: It is. Somebody donated that hair, some very sweet person gave me hair that even when I could grow hair, I could never grow hair quite that virile and beautiful.
SIEGEL: And just before you go, back to the question of Hemingway, this immersion in Ernest Hemingway, did you come out of it more of a Hemingway fan? Are there things you read that you're more impressed with and more involved with now than you ever would have been before?
Mr. STOLL: Definitely more of a Hemingway, the writer, fan. Having embodied him, I mean, part of my process for getting ready for the movie was I would read aloud to myself, to my girlfriend, his short stories. And it worked so well spoken out loud, and it's - his work, while it can be very easily parodied is actually quite diverse, and there's so much life in there.
SIEGEL: How did your girlfriend take this, having you read Ernest Hemingway to her and be Ernest Hemingway the book?
Mr. STOLL: I recommend to all the men out there to read Hemingway to their girlfriends. It's quite attractive. She loved it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: It was a successful experience.
Mr. STOLL: That's right.
SIEGEL: Well, we'll let everybody think of that, and meanwhile, I just want to say thank you very much for coming in to talk with us about it.
Mr. STOLL: Thank you, it was a pleasure.
SIEGEL: That's Corey Stoll, who plays Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen's new film "Midnight in Paris." He also played detective Tomas "TJ" Jaruszalski on the now-canceled "Law & Order: Los Angeles."
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