Over seven decades of moviemaking, and more than 50 films, Woody Allen has worked with a diverse group of big stars including Michael Caine, Geraldine Page, Anjelica Huston, Julia Roberts, Leonardo DiCaprio, Scarlett Johansson, Sean Penn, Joaquin Phoenix, and, of course, Diane Keaton.
But there’s another well-known actor named Keaton that’s not on the list. Michael Keaton.(No relation to Diane.)
However, Michael and Woody almost worked together in The Purple Rose of Cairo, according to the director/actor’s new autobiography, Apropos of Nothing.
In fact, they did work together. Sort of. Let me explain.
The 1985 film stars Mia Farrow as a lonely waitress in the 1930s who goes to the movies to forget her troubles. During one picture, also called The Purple Rose of Cairo, she thinks the main character (‘Tom Baxter’ played by Jeff Daniels) has broken ‘the fourth wall’ and is looking at her. She goes to see the movie again and the character seems to be gazing at her more frequently. Finally, during yet another showing, the actor jumps off the screen and joins the waitress in real life on a madcap lovefest around New Jersey. This sets off a crisis (and comic mayhem) at the studio when it learns that their prized performer is on the loose.
The Purple Rose of Cairo, the Woody film, not the film inside the film, is a funny and inventive tale that evokes much of the comedian’s fiction in The New Yorker. And Daniels is perfect for the role.
But Woody actually first cast Keaton for the part, and filmed some scenes with him playing Tom Baxter.
“I originally cast Michael Keaton, a wonderful actor, in the Jeff Daniels role but there were two problems,” Woody writes. “Michael seemed so contemporary on the screen I was having trouble buying him as a thirties character. Add to this he had just become a father and the baby was keeping him up all night, and he’s understandably come to work bleary-eyed. It’s hard to tell an actor you’re replacing him because natural insecurity always convinces them it’s because you don’t like their acting.”
Woody adds: “Here’s a truly meaningless piece of trivia. We had filmed a bit with Michael Keaton, including a long, overhead night shot of the abandoned amusement park in the story. The tiny, dark figure skulking around is not Jeff Daniels, but Michael Keaton. We figured no one could tell and why stay up all night in the cold and spend a fortune to reshoot a cumbersome scene?”
The director says he was thrilled with Daniels’ performance as the new Tom Baxter.
“Jeff lived up to our fondest hopes and has gone on to have a fine acting career on stage and screen,” he writes.
The Purple Rose of Cairo is available for rent for $3.99 on Amazon Prime Video.