Director Paul Mazursky Tells NPR’s Terry Gross Why He Cast Bette And Woody In “Scenes”

Fresh Air‘ Remembers Screenwriter Paul Mazursky
July 07, 2014 1:18 PM ET


Paul Mazursky had planned on becoming an actor. Perhaps the most autobiographical movie he wrote and directed was 1976 film “Next Stop, Greenwich Village” about a young actor and his friends. I first interviewed Mazursky in 1991 after his film “Scenes From A Mall” came out. Woody Allen and Bette Midler play a couple about to celebrate their 16th wedding anniversary with a big dinner party in their Beverly Hills home. They’re spending the day in the mall shopping for the party. In this scene, Woody Allen confesses he’s been involved with another woman.


WOODY ALLEN: (As Nick Fifer) I had an affair.

BETTE MIDLER: (As Deborah Fifer) I see. When?

ALLEN: (As Nick Fifer) Recently. It’s over now. You know – I’m sorry.

MIDLER: (As Deborah Fifer) When did you meet her? Where did you find the time?

ALLEN: (As Nick Fifer) I did. I found time. You know, after work mostly, when I was supposed to going to the health club. I had two others, but they were one nighters and this was years ago and that’s it.

MIDLER: (As Deborah Fifer) That’s it, two?

ALLEN: (As Nick Fifer) That’s it, two. They were one-nighters both – three actually, if you count the hooker in Dallas. But that – that was business. That was totally business. They sent her to my room, I couldn’t refuse. It was a gift. I love you. I really, really love you.

MIDLER: (As Deborah Fifer) Oh, honey (punches husband). You are the most callous, selfish, shortsighted son of a bitch who has ever lived. I hope you rot in hell.

GROSS: In 1991, I asked Paul Mazursky why he thought of casting Woody Allen, who always played introspective cerebral roles opposite the physical and brassy Bette Midler.


PAUL MAZURSKY: It’s a fair question and many people ask me. But I have have a variety of answers. One is that most marriages I’ve known, and I’ve been married a long time and I’ve known a lot of married people – you wonder how they got together. Often they seem to be opposites, you know? The guy’s a baseball fan and watches football and this and that – the woman has no interest in it. I’ve rarely met couples who – they both love to do everything together, you know.

GROSS: Right.

MAZURSKY: That kind of thing. So that I felt perfectly normal. Secondly, it seemed at the time, and I still think it’s a good idea, to try to match these two, you know, famous people who you would not think would be together just to see what would happen.

GROSS: This is Woody Allen’s first role in another director’s film since “The Front.” Was he initially enthusiastic about this?


GROSS: Did you have to sell him on it?

MAZURSKY: No. I called Sam Cohn, who’s my agent and his agent, and I said I have a script. He said well, I know the script. I said you think Woody might be interested? He says he might, he’s looking for a job. He wants to work in another person’s movie to make money. Sent him the script on Saturday. On Monday, he called and said he wants to do it. That’s how easy it was.

GROSS: So what did you tell Woody Allen about how you wanted him to act compared to the kind of character he usually plays in his own movies?

MAZURSKY: Well, I didn’t tell him I wanted him to act. I told him I wanted a ponytail and at first he was resistant then…

GROSS: I could see why (laughing).

MAZURSKY: Well, why do you say that? Tell me.

GROSS: There’s something so trendy about that kind of ponytail right now.

MAZURSKY: Right. I wanted him to be trendy – I wanted him to be someone other than the Woody Allen you see in Woody Allen movies.

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