The Verge: Lucy Punch

lucy_punch_schmucks.jpgAs gold-digging courtesan Charmaine in the new Woody Allen film, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Lucy Punch spends most of her screen time acting alongside one Anthony Hopkins -- not too bad for a breakout role. The British actress first gained national exposure here on the CBS series The Class, but left the show before it's eventual cancellation to pursue other projects. It was a risky but, as it turns out, wise move. I spoke to Punch about her role in Stranger, her... interesting wardrobe for both this film and Dinner for Schmucks, learned about her dead-on Midwestern accent the hard way and realized that watching CSI: Miami is certainly not on her list of leisure activities.

Your character in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Charmaine, isn't exactly a nice person. But for an audience, it's hard to hate her.

One of the few things that Woody said to me was, "I don't want the audience to hate her. I don't want her to be the baddie." You know, to not be too annoying and not to come across as manipulative. And to try and find a way to make her likable. I thought there's something kind of almost weirdly, for a prostitute, innocent about her. I just thought that every time she's lying, she's not doing it to be devious, it's like a child reinventing her truth.

She does seem to care a little about Alfie (Anthony Hopkins); she certainly isn't repulsed by him.

Absolutely. She wouldn't have married him, otherwise. Certainly that's the way I wanted to play it when he asked her to marry him. She's in shock. I think the opportunity comes up and she's like, "Why not?"

For people who see this and Dinner for Schmucks back-to-back, they're seeing you wear a lot of interesting outfits.

(Laughs) I know! Gosh, Dinner for Schmucks, all of that black leather... Yes, it was unusual. I've never played, in my whole life, two characters like that: Sexy albeit repulsive. That kind of ferocious, grotesquely sexual character. Certainly for this movie, it really helps with the character. She's someone with no inhibitions. I wanted to be able to be totally open, physically, and let it all hang out -- have no shame, or body shame, or insecurities. Yes, it was a lot of fun wearing those ludicrous outfits.

It's hard not to think a relationship might be doomed when one of the first conversations includes the line, "I won't give you AIDS."

Yeah! (Laughs) I think that I love that line. It's also her sense of humor. She's being funny, she's making a joke -- but it's just so crass, awful. But actually quite truthful because that's probably what he's worried about, something like that. What is he getting himself into?

He mentioned that he was more concerned with herpes.

Herpes ... [AIDS] hadn't even occurred to him. She's got no filter, whatsoever.

I can't image the "laying on the floor being sexy, waiting for Alfie's Viagra to kick in" scene is an easy thing to do.

That was really, really funny, that scene. We did it on the second day it was shooting. That was the fall -- that take isn't actually in it now, but when I first fell on the fur, I just did a fall and the crew laughed...

I've heard to never trust crew laughter.

Yes! And [Woody] says, "That wasn't funny." I guess there was, perhaps, an awareness of the joke. But, no, I just had to completely let go and be totally free. Watching that movie back I see my leg opening, and all of these shots up my... I'm like "Oh!" I'm completely mortified. But, you know, I just really let go of it all because I had to. It was a challenge, but it helped that I looked like a totally different person and sounded like a totally different person. I just felt like I could let it all hang out.

How many times have you been asked so far, "So, what's it like working with Woody?"

Everyone asks that...

I refuse to ask that.

Everyone! Anyone who knows about the movie, all my friends, "What's he like?" You hear so many different stories of what the experience is like for an actor. For me, it was my greatest experience. I was given a huge amount of freedom to say what I want and to do what I want. There's a huge amount of it that's really fun; I see stuff that Anthony and I just totally came up with together. Although [Woody] doesn't give you a lot of praise, he was very kind to me and was aware that I was taking over the part from Nicole Kidman, who pulled out. All I could think was, Anthony Hopkins in a Woody Allen movie. I've been working for 10 years but I hadn't had an opportunity like this.

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