WOODY ALLEN treated a roomful of reporters to a trip through his complicated psyche today, using a TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL press conference as an outlet for his anxiety over life and death.

Though flanked by the A list cast of his new film YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER – including ANTHONY HOPKINS, FREIDA PINTO, JOSH BROLIN, LUCY PUNCH and GEMMA JONES – the writer/director fielded the majority of questions, pushing the assembled throng into hysterics with his angst filled rants.

It began when WOODY was asked about ANTHONY’S character, an aging Londoner who ditches his wife for a bubbly blonde prostitute (LUCY PUNCH), a sleek bachelor pad and a gym membership, all in the service of trying to reclaim his youth.

“I’ll be 75 in a couple of months and I do see myself as you know, becoming waning and decrepit,” said WOODY, clad in a tan coloured suit with a light blue shirt.

“And anything I can do to obviate that is fine with me. My thoughts always go to what might have been if I was 30 or 40 years younger. But you know, for me, that boat has also sailed…sunk!”

That was only the beginning of a masterful appearance by WOODY, whose monologues here were witty enough to be ripped straight from one of his screenplays.

YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER centres on a family with ANTHONY HOPKINS and GEMMA JONES at the head. Their daughter (NAOMI WATTS) struggles through an unhappy relationship with JOSH BROLIN’S layabout writer, who struggles in vain to recapture the critical acclaim of his debut novel and becomes keenly interested in the beautiful stranger across the road (FREIDA PINTO).

WOODY conceded that there were elements of him in both of the film’s lead male characters.

“I’ve written a lot of movies about writers and usually, writers that are having problems,” he said.

“And Josh is right in there with that. That’s a typical kind of character that I would write — someone who fancies himself as an artist and struggles with it and doesn’t live up to his promise. And, you know, I feel that’s the autobiographical strain in the movie.”

“And then, I also feel it’s autobiographical with (the character played by) Anthony Hopkins. I feel that I’m probably close to his age and these problems of a life more in the past than in the future torment me all the time. And that is a problem that recurs in all of my movies, or many of them, since I got older.”

Of course, WOODY and his cast consistently offered words of mutual admiration. (Except JOSH BROLIN, that is, who sarcastically announced “I can’t stand Woody.”)

No one, however, was more complimentary than FREIDA PINTO, who was ecstatic about her experience working with the legendary director.

“I think it’s definitely changed me in every possible way,” FREIDA commented, resplendent in a turquoise dress.

“Woody gave me the best advice ever — he said he really doesn’t like it when he finds actors who come to the set and start acting the moment they hear the word action. Just because you’re an actor you don’t have to act in front of the camera. He prefers it to be organic and natural.”

“I think both (Woody and Josh) were amazing mentors to have on the project.”

The film captures a group of people who share one trait: they aren’t content with where they are and feel that a better life lies just beyond the horizon. It doesn’t end with a comfortable resolution either, which has rankled some critics.

“I feel that your life, unlike Hollywood movies, does not tie up all the loose ends – that life is unresolved, confusing, bewildering, puzzling, ambiguous and that you don’t really know what’s going to happen,” WOODY said by way of explanation.

“I didn’t want all the characters to wrap up his or her story and (have) a nice MGM ending or something.”

“I wanted people to wander around in agonizing limbo. You know, like in real life. Naturally, nobody’s going to pay to see this. But that was where the story went.”

Of course, the characters also grapple with crises over aging — a subject that bothers WOODY far more than his cast, it seems.

“We’ve all gone through our midlife crisis,” ANTHONY HOPKINS said brightly.

“My wife suggested we buy a Porsche a few years ago. I couldn’t even get into the damn thing. The guy who sold it to me said, ‘You know, this is a chick magnet.'”

“I said: ‘Oh yeah?’ I couldn’t even get into it.”

Added GEMMA JONES later: “I would just say that it’s so thrilling at my age and stage to be given a wonderful part like this. And it gets better and better the older I get, so I’d just like to hang onto my optimism. I feel younger than I am. I like to think there’ll still be romantic adventures ahead. I’m optimistic.”

WOODY, naturally, didn’t feel the same way.

“That’s what I love about her,” he interjected.

“I’m the opposite. I think things get worse and worse. I see no advantages of aging whatsoever. You become shrivelled, you become decrepit, you lose your faculties, your peer group passes away…I don’t see any advantages whatsoever.”

“It’s an unpleasant thing. It’s kind of a nightmare, in a way, actually. And the best thing you can do…is to distract yourself. So, you know, you go to the movies. You get involved in a meaningless love affair, the outcome of which doesn’t mean anything in the scheme of the universe. And you watch Roger Federer and you do all these things that distract you and keep you from thinking about the tall dark stranger that eventually comes and gets you, despite all your efforts to eat health foods and do exercises.”

At this point, a publicist prodded the media assemblage for a final question. One of the scribes jokingly shouted back that the room was too depressed.

“I didn’t mean to be a downer,” WOODY replied with a smile.

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