For his latest film, Magic in the Moonlight, Woody Allen has decided to focus on the occult while setting the action in a decade familiar to his fans: the 1920s.
For the second time in his last four films, the New York director took his crew to France for principal shooting.
The action in Magic in the Moonlight begins in Berlin, in 1928, in the middle of a stage magic show.
An unrecognizable Colin Firth plays the magician, named Stanley, who goes by the stage name Wei Ling Soo and is seen making an elephant disappear.
Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), one Wei's friends, later visits the performer in his dressing room and tells him about a family that has fallen under the spell of a medium, played by Emma Stone.
Burkan asks Stanley to help prove that the girl is a fraudster.
Actor Hamish Linklater plays one of the family members who has been mesmerized by the occultist.
In a telephone interview with QMI Agency, the 38-year-old Massachusetts actor recalled a "strange" screen test to land the part.
"It's different for everyone, but in my case, I was told (Allen) was interested in me," said Linklater, who previously appeared in the TV show The New Adventures of Old Christine as well as Fantastic Four (2005) and Battleship (2012).
He says producers liked him but not enough to give him any clues about the part they wanted him to play.
"When I asked what role it was and how I could prepare myself, I was told that no information had been leaked and the only thing they could tell me was that my character was a normal person who was unpretentious."
He asked for, and was granted, permission to wear a plaid shirt for the audition.
"Of course, when you realize I play a 1920s playboy who lives in the south of France, you can see that this was a very bad advice!" Linklater exclaimed.
Woody Allen barely made a cameo at the tryout.
"(He) entered the room, told me he was interested, asked me if I was free to go to France for the filming and after I told him yes, he told me he would see me there and then he left," said the actor.
Behind the camera, Allen is known as a perfectionist. The 78-year-old craftsman insisted Linklater learn to sing and play the ukulele for his role, which still draws a laugh form the actor.
"Yes, it's me that you hear," he said of the musical scenes. "I didn't get a second chance, it all happened in one take with the Mediterranean air coursing through my lungs."
Linklater described Allen as quiet and reserved in the director's chair. He was open to suggestions from the actors about script changes, said Linklater, but was definitely in charge.
"He is … very precise and knows exactly what he wants to see and hear," he said. "Some actors say that Woody Allen doesn't run things. That's not true."
He said meticulous attention was paid to lighting and colors.
Linklater had only good things to say about co-stars Firth, Stone, Marcia Gay Harden and Jacki Weaver.
They grew so close that they even went sightseeing together on days off.
"Being abroad together is a good way to build team spirit, especially when almost nobody speaks your language!" said Linklater. "Simon McBurney speaks very good French, Marcia Gay Harden thinks she knows how to speak the language, but seriously, it was fun to spend time there."
Woody Allen takes audiences back in time
American director Woody Allen has used his camera to take us back in time since he first started making films in the 1960s.
Some of his best known feature films were period pieces including:
A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982)
Mia Farrow's debut starring role was in this Allen film inspired by Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night. The story is set in the early 19th century when a philosopher (Jose Ferrer) and his wife (Farrow) spend a weekend with their cousin (Mary Steenburgen) and her husband (Woody Allen).
This faux documentary focuses on Leonard Zelig (Allen), a chameleon who slowly begins to resemble the people around him. Allen set the film in the interwar period and peppers it with fake testimonies from real personalities such as the American writer Susan Sontag and novelist Saul Bellow.
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Set during the Great Depression, blurring the boundary between truth and fiction. Waitress Cecilia (Farrow) visits a movie theatre every day, watching the same film over and over again, to try and forget about her miserable life. Jeff Daniels plays the lead actor in the film within a film who notices the woman and involves her in the on-screen action.
Bullets Over Broadway (1994)
Set in New York in 1928, the comedy tells the story of a cash-starved theatre director (John Cusack) who gets a mobster (Chazz Palminteri) to finance his play. The catch is that Cusack's character has to cast the mafioso's acting-challenged sister (Jennifer Tilly).
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)
This thriller, set in 1940, follows the hijinks of CW Briggs (Allen), an insurance company investigator who commits a burglary while under hypnosis. Allen admits that it's one of his worst films.
Midnight in Paris (2011)
Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a young writer on vacation in Paris with fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) is transported back to the 1920s. There he meets some of the most prominent artists of the time including Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston).