Blake Lively Talks Working with Woody Allen, Faking Shark Attacks & Where She Hangs in the Hamptons

By Jill Sieracki | June 29, 2016 | People Feature

Actress Blake Lively takes the plunge in the summer blockbuster The Shallows, then swims in glamour in her first Woody Allen picture, Café Society.


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Blake Lively burst onto the Hollywood scene in 2005 with her role in the popular coming-of-age film The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but it was as Serena van der Woodsen on the hit series Gossip Girl that she became a genuine star. Now, with two eagerly anticipated films arriving in theaters this summer, expect Blake Lively fever to hit an all-time high.

First up is The Shallows, a Castaway-style drama that pits the actress—alone—against a great white shark. “There would be cameras on helicopters and we’d be doing 16-minute takes, so it would go from out of the water, to in the water, to underwater, to getting hurt, to being attacked— it was very intense in every way,” Lively says. “The roles that I like to play are roles that challenge me, that scare me, or are ones that I don’t feel like I can do. Doing an isolation film made me work new muscles every way, in both the literal sense and the figurative sense.”

Later this year, she’ll be seen as part of the ensemble cast in her first Woody Allen film: Café Society, a 1930s love story that swings between Hollywood and New York, costarring Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carell, and Parker Posey. “[Woody] creates a very pleasant set where everybody’s just happy to be there and happy to be making a movie, and happy to be a part of film history,” says Lively. “For him to have that confidence in you almost gives you the confidence in yourself to just go with the flow. And those are the moments that he really likes, the found moments, the moments that aren’t written but just happen.”

Here, Lively talks about her two new films, red-carpet dressing, and the time and places in the Hamptons that capture her fancy.


Floral gown, Etro ($5,560). Neiman Marcus, Roosevelt Field Mall, Garden City, 516-368-0500

The Shallows is a new genre for you; what attracted you to the role?
I really like the idea of a film where two creatures are just doing their best to survive. A few years ago, I spent time with [conservationist] Michael Rutzen—I dove with great whites and I went from having that standard primal fear that people have of sharks to really appreciating them and understanding them and respecting them. So what I love about this film is that it gives you an inside [perspective] on sharks. You get to see that we’re pushing them into more shallow water because of global warming, and they’re just doing their best to survive, too. And this film is also a summer movie—it’s thrilling, it’s very much fantasy-driven. When you see the shark, he’s incredibly large, and I think there’s a clear distinction between fantasy and reality.

Many of the scenes you had to carry alone. What was that acting experience like?
Ninety-nine percent of this movie was me acting to a piece of pink tape or a man with a shark fin swimming around me in circles just so the camera could track where the shark would be CGI’d later. That was incredibly challenging because I really appreciate having a costar to play off of and I feel like they always make me better. This movie, I only had my imagination to play off of.

Also coming this summer is Café Society, which has a big ensemble cast. How was the filming process different for you as compared to The Shallows?
Woody [Allen] shoots incredibly short days. Most things are one shot, one to two takes. You’ve got a great ensemble cast; it’s fast-paced, talky, talky, talky dialogue, tons of improv, where The Shallows is by and large a pretty quiet movie. The process couldn’t have been more different, but that’s also what I appreciated and enjoyed about each one.

“The roles that I like to play are roles that challenge me, that scare me.”

What was it like working with Woody Allen?
It’s really cool to work with a director who’s done so much, because he knows exactly what he wants. The fact that he does one shot for an entire scene—[and] this could be a scene with eight people and one to two takes—it gives you a level of confidence because when he’s got it, he knows he’s got it. He also is really encouraging as to why he cast you, so he’ll say, “Say the dialogue that’s written and then you can improvise for a while.” And his dialogue is so specific, and it’s speaking in a 1930s dialect and [with period] references, so it’s intimidating to think, Oh, let me just improvise there and hope that my words blend seamlessly alongside Woody Allen’s. Which they clearly wouldn’t and don’t. But he’s very empowering.

There are a lot of big-name stars in Café Society. Was there someone on set you particularly gravitated to or who taught you something about your craft?
I spent my time mostly with Jesse Eisenberg and Parker Posey, and both of them were so welcoming and so kind. Luckily, both of them had worked with Woody before, so they had experience in what the process was like. The first day I met Parker, she knew how nervous I was, and she reached under the table and grabbed my hand and just held it when Woody came over to give us notes after the first take. That was really nice to feel so quietly seen and supported.


Floral gown, Etro ($5,560). Neiman Marcus, Roosevelt Field Mall, Garden City, 516-368-0500

The costumes and sets for Café Society are just spectacular. What was it like dressing up and playing around in that throwback era?
The costumes and set were terrific. They were like stepping into a Woody Allen movie. We were saying that when we were there, because he also really creates the environment that you see on screen. Normally when you’re making a movie, the movie doesn’t come to life until you’re watching it in theaters. When you’re in a Woody Allen movie, if there’s a band playing, then there’s a band there in person playing beautiful 1930s music. It’s really neat to feel like you’re actually in the world as you’re shooting, and it helps to make your performance more authentic.

Fashion speaking, your red-carpet style has been documented, discussed, and heralded around the globe. What do you gravitate toward when it comes to red-carpet dressing?
It’s mood-based, it’s environment-based, knowing what the event is. Something like Cannes, for example, is incredibly Old Hollywood, glamorous, iconic; there’s the wind of the Côte d’Azur—you want things that will blow in the wind, that will look beautiful in the sun, that drip down a sweeping staircase. It’s the same thing with the Met: You think of the staircase that your outfit could drip down. You sort of look at the event cinematically and you think, What character do I want to play? Red carpet is not real life, so you’re always sort of playing a character when you’re on it.


Blake Lively in a scene from her new thriller The Shallows.

In your own time, how would you describe your style?
My style is very much a reflection of my experiences and my moods, who I am and where I’ve traveled. Whenever I travel, I like to discover little shops and restaurants and artists and artisans, and I love that to be a part of my story. So my design aesthetic, whether it’s in my home or on my body, is very much an unfolding of my experiences and my stories. And that can be incredibly casual—it can be jeans and a T-shirt—but it’s my dad’s T-shirt maybe. It’s stuff that normally means something to me. And it’s also very personal and relaxed. I also like to dress up, though; I also think that’s relaxing— to put on a great pair of Louboutins.

Clearly you have so much happening this summer, from your recent trip to Cannes to promoting your films. Will you have any time to unwind in the Hamptons?
It’s been a while since I’ve been [to the Hamptons]. I had a friend whose parents’ family had a house here, and we would sneak up with a group of friends every fall. We would go apple picking; we would go to all the local restaurants and shops. There’s no cookie in the world like Levain Bakery. Boy, boy, that chocolate peanut butter cookie. And Breadzilla—oh, that monkey bread! But we would go and just cook and eat and apple-pick and walk along the beach at night when it’s cold, and there was something really romantic about that. [There is] something really romantic about how intimate the place can be, especially in the fall because there’s not as many people. You see the familiar [shops and restaurants] that pop up, which is cool, but what I really appreciate are the ones that are just local, because that makes it special. That’s what carves the experience.

Photography by: Photography by guy aRoch