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ULLMAN, TRACEY - SMALL TIME CROOKS

HE NEEDS ME!
Will Tracey Ullman work with Woody Allen again? "I bloody hope so! He needs me!" the actress tells Sandra Bordigoni, while discussing Small Time Crooks, in which she plays Allenís ex-conís ex-exotic dancer . . . if you follow.

The character you play in the film is quite unusual for you and for a Woody Allen film...
Frenchy, my character, comes from a very poor family and it's exciting for her to suddenly have money. This is a movie about the working class people and not about the New York intelligentsia with all the complexity of a typical Woody Allen movie. What I mean is that this time it's just a comedy and it's just fun. We didn't try to create a new religion or say something particularly deep. We just wanted to make people laugh.

What is it like to be directed by Woody Allen?
I enjoyed working with Woody because he let me improvise and gave me a lot of space and now I really believe that we're married, because I am definitely closer to his age than many of his recent leading ladies... [laughs]. Woodyís direction is very simple. He let me do what I could do and the fact that he does one shot is very liberating for an actor because it allows to maintain the rhythm. He shoots very quickly and if you want to change something in the script you can always discuss it with him, although it's rare that you can actually improve what he writes ...

You are English but you seem to know the various American types very well...
I have lived in America for 17 years and I have met people like Frenchy and the other characters, people who don't live in the city but goe to New York to see Phantom of the Opera, people that come from the working class and have become rich. I really enjoyed playing this character. I have played a lot of Jewish characters in my shows, but this one is very Anglo-Saxon. In my show for HBO television I play a lot of different characters: women, men, Chinese, Jewish, gay, blacks. I love to measure myself with different roles and I am fascinated by people and by their response to my work, especially in a time like ours where everything has to be so politically correct.

It's the first time that Woody Allen creates a female character that is smarter than the one he plays...
True! Frenchy is the smartest one of the group, despite the fact that she gives her husband all the money for his stupid scheme. And it's also stronger. We have discussed this a few times, but when you play opposite Woody you're so tempted to impersonate him, to adopt his rhythms, so I had to make a conscious decision not to do it, plus I am bigger and fatter and loved to boss him around...[laughs]

How much improvisation went on between you and Hugh Grant?
Not much. Just a bit. As I said before, to add something to a Woody script it has to be very, very interesting because usually they're perfect. Hugh and I improvised a bit to make it more natural. He is fabulous and we are same nationality, same profession and "same age"... and I have never met him before. We were two Brits in New York and every day I would make him a cup of tea and we would talk. He uses the language in an incredible way and uses words that I had never heard since 1940 ... and he's not pretending. He's really like that and I would tell him things like "Hugh, it sounds like you're living in India in 1944. It's like you're trapped in a time warp...!" In Woody's films usually he doesn't rehearse the scenes, so Hugh and I would meet in my trailer and try the scenes. He's adorable and likes to be looked after. Make him a cup of tea and he is everybody's...

On the big screen we have seen Woody Allen / Diane Keaton, Woody Allen / Mia Farrow; now will it be Woody Allen / Tracey Ullman?
I bloody hope so! He needs me! I am funny and I make the film make money! [laughs]
It would be actually fantastic to work with him again. In 1983 I was pregnant and I was wondering how I could survive, so I wrote to Woody that I wanted to work with him. It happened, but only many years later...

What else are you doing besides acting?
I am writing another show for the American cable TV, HBO. I like HBO because it gives me a lot of freedom and produces a lot of good stuff. Plus, the success of this film (Small Time Crooks) in America has given me much more confidence and I would like to write a movie based on my [various tv] characters. It's harder for a woman. There are a lot of male comic actors in America, like Jim Carrey, but it's time that a woman makes one and I will. Plus I have my own internet company called purpleskirt.com, where I design fashion for women of every size. But who's not on internet these days?

Ed: No-one whoís reading this!

Published January 25, 2001

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