When casting his movies, Woody Allen claims to know little or nothing about an actor's media profile or personal life. They come to meet him, sometimes fleetingly, and he goes by what he observes.

As a result, in Cafe Society - his ode to Hollywood's golden years - he has cast the decidedly contemporary actresses, Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively as the kinds of 1930s characters we have never seen them play - a secretary and an aristocrat.

"They are both great beauties and are deliberately contrasting," Allen says. "Kristen is a smaller, dark beauty in the tradition of Hollywood stars of the 40s like Elizabeth Taylor; she is very complicated and interesting. Blake could be in Grace Kelly mode. She's tall and gorgeous and looks like a billion dollars when she wears those dresses. She looks like she grew up riding horses and going yachting."

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in a scene from the movie Cafe Society.
Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in a scene from the movie Cafe Society.

Still, Stewart must have been sceptical about playing Vonnie, a secretary with white bobby socks from Nebraska who claims to reject Hollywood glamour - but then completely gives into it?

"I think it's great that Woody saw that in me," the Twilight star admits.

"Sometimes people see things that you don't immediately see. He said he thought it could work if I could have this buoyant quality and play this sophisticated young lady and be funny, impulsive and light."

Likewise, Gossip Girl star Lively, last seen in a skimpy bikini fending off a shark in The Shallows, had to transform.


"Being offered a part in a Woody Allen movie where he's been able to create this heightened version of New York and that he saw me as someone could bring one of those characters to life, is gratifying," Lively says. "Some of my favourite performances are in Woody Allen films."

Though the actress makes a lot of her few brief scenes, Cafe Society allows Stewart to shine in what might be considered her most grown-up and certainly most glamorous leading role.

The film is essentially a love triangle, with Jesse Eisenberg, probably the best Woody Allen surrogate ever, as the man in the middle. His Jewish New Yorker Bobby has come to Los Angeles to visit his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell) and he falls for Phil's secretary Vonnie, only to discover she is having an affair with her boss. He returns to New York, heartbroken, and eventually hooks up with Lively's golden girl.

Eisenberg, who speaks at a thousand words a minute, is close friends with the intense, fast-talking Stewart and their chemistry is palpable.

"We have this second language," Stewart explains. "We have conversations other people wouldn't be interested in having that are way too analytical, way too obscure - stupid, esoteric, random actorly stuff. Considering I play someone who needs to be nothing but inviting and present her as truly defenceless, it helped that I'm not embarrassed around him. My defences are quite hard and Vonnie can't be like that. I could do anything around Jesse, just let everything hang out, and there aren't too many people who pull that out of you."

Having worked with Allen on To Rome with Love, Eisenberg knew what to expect from his director. Interestingly he says he is more like the bumbling Woody Allen screen character than the man himself.

"I'm always surprised by Woody in person. He's calm, blunt, frank and open and I would expect him to be intensely private, to be snarky, sly, sarcastic. Whereas I'm the reverse. I'm a nervous, shy person and I tend to play characters who are more sincere than myself, or if I play a very bad guy like Lex Luthor, I become more malevolent than I am. I always think we play characters to offset who we are."

Cafe Society is very much a romance that dwells on the subject of soulmates and whether or not you end up with them. Allen, now 80, says he can't believe his luck that after relationships with Mia Farrow and Diane Keaton, he has been the happiest with his wife of 19 years, Soon-Yi.

Director Woody Allen with actor Steve Carell during the filming of Cafe Society.
Director Woody Allen with actor Steve Carell during the filming of Cafe Society.

After a three-year relationship with Aussie actress Mia Wasikowska, Eisenberg returned to his former girlfriend of a decade, Anna Strout, and the socially conscious actor helps finance the domestic violence shelter Strout helps run with her mother.

Stewart had reunited with her former personal assistant Alicia Cargile, publicly declaring her love, though now is linked to singer St Vincent - and seems far more comfortable in relationships with women, while Lively and Ryan Reynolds, after previous failed relationships (with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Scarlett Johansson) recently welcomed their second child.

Stewart speaks cryptically on the subject.

"I didn't take a life lesson from this movie but the meditation on the different loves you can have in your life and how perspective changes those loves and defines them, was liberating and validating and enlightening.

"Ultimately you're responsible for creating the mosaic of your life, but I wasn't sure, looking back, that mine would end up like this. It would take a simple-natured person to sit back and never think about what could have been or how it could have gone differently. Vonnie could have ended up with either of these men and, while you think you're content with where you've ended up, you have to wonder, you know."