Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn's relationship shocked many people in 1991 and it continues to do so in 2020.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on December 10, 2021. It has since been updated.
There are many long-lasting couples in Hollywood who inspire us, but there are also couples whose union just shocks us. 84-year-old director Woody Allen's relationship with the adopted daughter of his former partner, actress Mia Farrow, 75, had raised eyebrows and continues to do so.
The Annie Hall director and his wife since 1997, 49-year-old Soon-Yi Previn, met when the latter was only 10 years old. Today, they have adopted children together. During an interview with Rolling Stone, her first in-depth one, she defended the man she's been married to for 23 years. Previn, who accused Farrow of being abusive, said that she was attracted to Allen because he showered her with affection, which her adoptive mother never did. When Farrow found out that her partner of 12 years was having a relationship with her adopted daughter, she broke up with him.
Soon-Yi was adopted by Farrow and her then-husband, Andre Previn, from an orphanage in Seoul, Korea, in 1975. She was five at the time. Allen's wife now, she said that her adoptive mother and she never saw eye-to-eye. Farrow "wasn’t maternal to me from the get-go." She also added that she and her adopted sisters, Lark and Daisy, were treated like "domestics."
When she was a teenager, Farrow encouraged her and Allen to attend basketball games together. "I think Woody went after me because at that first basketball game I turned out to be more interesting and amusing than he thought I’d be,” Soon-Yi said. "Mia was always pounding into him what a loser I was," she added. She believes that the director "valued" her, unlike Farrow. "I wasn’t the one who went after Woody — where would I get the nerve? He pursued me. That’s why the relationship has worked: I felt valued. It’s quite flattering for me. He’s usually a meek person, and he took a big leap," she added.
They didn't start dating until she was a freshman in college and Farrow soon found out. The Korean American is now estranged from the Farrow family and lives a quiet life with Allen. In 2001, Allen had explained his feelings for the woman, who is 35 years younger than him, as love. "The heart wants what it wants," he told Walter Isaacson in an interview with Time magazine in 2001. "There's no logic to those things. You meet someone and you fall in love and that's that."
The Midnight in Paris director said he didn't have any moral dilemma about his relationship for Previn as he never saw her as his daughter. "I didn't find any moral dilemmas whatsoever," he told Time. "I didn't feel that just because she was Mia's daughter, there was any great moral dilemma. It was a fact, but not one with any great import. It wasn't like she was my daughter."
Previn also confirmed his sentiments by adding that she and her other siblings "didn’t think of him as a father and he didn’t even have clothing at our house, not even a toothbrush."
Those who claimed that Previn had a mental handicap were also silenced by her. She said that she had a learning disability for which Farrow had no patience. "I’m not a retarded little underage flower... spoiled by some evil stepfather — not by a long shot," she said in 1992 to Newsweek, according to Rolling Stone. "I do have a little learning disability," Previn told Vulture. "I've never spoken about it because Mia drummed it into me to be ashamed about it. It comes out in spelling, and I had to work much harder in school. But I was driven and interested, and I wish I'd had a tutor the way some kids do for homework," she added.
Defending his relationship further and trying to show that it was not normal but ultimately acceptable, Allen told NPR in 2015, "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."