Scarlett and Woody Forge Unlikely Alliance

Allen hasn't been nominated since his screenwriting nod in 1997 for "Deconstructing Harry." But that may change with "Match Point." Johansson -- who should've earned an Oscar nod two years ago for her breakout performance in "Lost in Translation" -- has already emerged as a strong candidate.

Ironically, Johansson, the only American in the cast, wasn't originally slated for the film. She was a last-minute replacement for Kate Winslet and signed on in July 2004, only weeks before shooting began.

"I was in L.A., planning to take the month off. Then, I got the script with a note from Woody that said, 'If you respond to the material, I'd love to have you on,'" says Johansson. "A week later, we were shooting. It was pretty quick."

Perhaps plain old luck brought the director and actress together. But if that's the case, it's certainly OK with Allen, who sees "Match Point" as a story about the powerful but unacknowledged role luck plays in our lives.

Allen's tennis pro gambles with his life, and as a sportsman, he knows the outcome can go either way. Destiny is as capricious as a ball that nicks the top of the net and bounces in or out of bounds, and sometimes that is all that separates a winner from a loser.

"You always hear people say, you know, 'Luck is nonsense, I make my own luck by hard work,'" Allen says. "But life is often so chaotic and terrifying, and out of control."

'I Don't Have to Work With Friends'

Allen's career has yet to fully recover since he began his controversial relationship with his wife of eight years, Soon-Yi Previn, the 35-year-old daughter of his longtime ex-girlfriend Mia Farrow.

But like a lot of top actors, Johansson jumped at the chance to work with the legendary director and screenwriter of such classics as "Annie Hall," "Manhattan" and "Hannah and Her Sisters."

Most other actors, however, don't describe Allen as the warmest of men, even if they relish the experience of being in his films.

In his younger days, Allen was among those directors notorious for being romantically involved with his leading ladies. Before Farrow, there was Diane Keaton, and before Keaton, his first wife, Louise Lasser. But in recent years, Allen is all business on the set.

Allen is so famously standoffish, he frequently doesn't let his cast read an entire script. Instead, actors only get lines from the scenes in which they appear.

Johansson's co-star, Rhys Meyers, recalls barely talking with Allen on some days.

"I like that," he says, "I don't have to be friends to work with someone. Actually, it could put extra pressure on a working relationship when you have to placate someone.

"Woody Allen isn't someone who gives compliments, but that's not necessary. Just being on the set with him is compliment enough. I remember one morning, after four incredibly tough scenes, all I said to Woody or Woody said to me was 'Good morning.'

"Then you see," Rhys Meyers says, "that in his silence, he's showing faith in how you're handling your role. I mean, he's already proven his genius as a director. He's done dozens of movies. If he doesn't like something, he isn't shy. There's just no backslapping."

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