Woody Allen’s ”Sweet and Lowdown” is sure to be helped at the box office by Sean Penn’s Best Actor Oscar nomination. And Penn, for his part, thanks Allen’s writing and direction for helping him craft his role as a self-centered 1930s jazz guitarist –although he admits Allen could be a bit abrupt on set. ”One day he called, ‘Cut,’ and said, ‘Sean, do you know what was wrong with that take?” says Penn, 39. A long pause. ”’Everything.”’
That’s a rare bit of creative input for Allen, who’s notorious for giving very little direction to his stars. ”I always hire actors who are great before I get my hands on them,” Allen explains. ”You hire someone like Sean, he’s been great for years before I met him, and the thing you want is not to mess him up. People think I’m joking when I say that 90 percent of my direction is either ‘Faster!’ or ‘Louder!’ But that’s really what it is.”
Better yet, Allen was even able to talk the much in demand Penn into taking a pay cut to do ”Sweet.” ”These wonderful actors and actresses get offered so many car-chase and special effects things that the scripts of normal, grown-up people talking, with either a comic or romantic or serious problem, are so rare for them that they want to do it for nothing at all,” Allen says. ”Because the scripts they have waiting for them at home are all infantile.”
Not Penn. He won’t even look at a blockbuster script, especially if there’s a high bullet-per-page quotient. ”I can’t do [an action movie],” explains Penn, who has been vocally critical of Nicolas Cage’s string of shoot-‘em-ups. ”I see good actors do five of these movies in a row, and the only thing the movie is saying is if you have good abs, you can kill people and don’t look back. I hate it. I just couldn’t do it.” In other words, you know what’s wrong with movies like that? Everything.