Director Woody Allen rarely speaks about his relationship with his wife, Soon-Yi Previn, but he did this week, telling NPR that “she responded to someone paternal.”
Previn is Mia Farrow’s adoptive daughter, and she and Allen met when he was dating Farrow. Allen and Farrow split in 1992 when Farrow found nude photographs of Previn, taken by Allen. They had been a couple, and they co-parented but maintained separate households, for more than a decade. Allen married Previn in 1997, and they have remained married since.
If the circumstances of his relationship with Previn weren’t eyebrow-raising enough, his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow accused Allen of sexual abuse in an open letter published in the New York Times last year, recounting his alleged abuse in excruciating detail. Allen denied any wrongdoing.
In an interview with NPR, Allen, 79, revealed his attitudes about relationships as they’re reflected in “Annie Hall,” and how they play out in his marriage to Previn. The basic attitude of “Annie Hall” is that “love fades.”
“I lucked out in my last relationship,” Allen told Sam Fragoso. “I’ve been married now for 20 years, and it’s been good. I think that was probably the odd factor that I’m so much older than the girl I married. I’m 35 years older, and somehow, through no fault of mine or hers, the dynamic worked. I was paternal. She responded to someone paternal. I liked her youth and energy. She deferred to me, and I was happy to give her an enormous amount of decision-making just as a gift and let her take charge of so many things. She flourished. It was just a good-luck thing.”
Allen seems to contradict the wishes of his wife and the way she’d like to be seen, though it’s hard to say because she hasn’t spoken publicly on the matter nearly as much as Allen or Farrow. In a statement released to Newsweek in 1992, written when she was 21 years old, Previn was pretty adamant that she didn’t want her relationship with Allen characterized by his paternalism. “Please don’t try and dramatize my relationship with Woody Allen,” she wrote. “He was never any kind of father figure to me.”
Previn later continued, “I’m not a retarded little underage flower who was raped, molested and spoiled by some evil stepfather — not by a long shot. I’m a psychology major at college who fell for a man who happens to be the ex-boyfriend of Mia. I admit it’s offbeat, but let’s not get hysterical.”
Allen told NPR he didn’t think the relationship would amount to much, which seems almost counter-intuitive, given the scandal that initially surrounded it and continues to follow him. He and Roman Polanski are members of a club that is dubious at best, known as auteurs who have escaped any real consequences for their actions despite being accused of sexual abuse toward underage girls.
I thought it was ridiculous. … I started the relationship with her and I thought it would just be a fling, it wouldn’t be serious. But it had a life of its own. And I never thought it would be anything more. Then we started going together, then we started living together, and we were enjoying it. And the age difference didn’t seem to matter. It seemed to work in our favor, actually.
She enjoyed being introduced to many, many things that I knew from experience, and I enjoyed showing her those things. She took them, and outstripped me in certain areas that I showed her. That’s why I’m a big believer in luck. I feel that you can’t orchestrate those things. Two people come along, and they have a trillion exquisite needs and neuroses and nuances, and they have to mesh. And if one of them doesn’t mesh, it causes a lot of trouble. It’s like the trace vitamin not being in your body. It’s a tiny little thing, but if you don’t have it, you die.
In 1992, Previn attempted to explain the relationship and its appeal for her. “I have a terrific relationship with Woody and realize it’s full of dramatic overtones, but it’s really quite simple,” she wrote. “It revolves around conversations, film talk, sports talk, books and art. He’s very quiet and hardworking and finds it amazing and ironic that our relationship is of such interest to people.”