While for most prestigious movies, audiences have to wait until after their high-falutin’ red carpet festival premieres before they can see it for themselves, with “The Master,” Paul Thomas Anderson is changing the game. The film had its first surprise public screening Santa Monica at the beginning of the month, had a last minute fundraising showing in Chicago last week (see our review here), and over the weekend, had two more unannounced unveilings in New York City. But even so, the curtain has been somewhat closed on the movie from the filmmaker himself, but in his first interview about the film, Paul Thomas Anderson shares his inspirations and frustrations about getting the movie out there.
“I was naive. I should have known that’s what people would latch onto,” Anderson tells David Ansen of Newsweek about early word leaking that the lead character of Lancaster Dodd, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, would be inspired by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. But as those who have seen the film can attest, there are larger, weighter issues the movie is grappling with, and perhaps surprisingly, Anderson isn’t ready to throw the celebrity fueled religion under the bus. “[I’m] much more defensive and protective of [Scientology] than I would have thought.”
And indeed, Ansen notes that Hubbard was only one ingredient in a fascinating stew of resources and inspiration that Anderson used to pull the movie together including “scenes he’d written early on for ‘There Will Be Blood‘ he’d never used. There were stories Jason Robards had told him on the set of ‘Magnolia‘ about his drinking days in the Navy during the war. Chunks of Freddie’s experiences as a migrant field worker and wanderer were lifted from John Steinbeck’s life story.”
Yet somehow, all these various materials still combined into a film that explores the usual themes fractured families and flawed fatalistic antiheroes, something Anderson acknowledges. “I know, it’s the same thing again. No matter how hard I try to set out to do something different,” he said. “I wish I would have more diversity as a filmmaker.”
And powering all these disparate elements is Joaquin Phoenix, whose performance is already garnering Oscar buzz, and who Anderson has nothing but praise for. “At a certain point, Joaquin is just incapable of faking it. He’s like Daniel [Day-Lewis], his level of concentration. He just got in character and stayed there—for three months he didn’t stop,” he said. “Joaquin is very unpredictable. A lot of the time I didn’t know what he was going to do.”
But that unpredictability is an element Amy Adams
felt from the director as well. Talking to Vulture
she recalls his unique approach that he demanded of the actors on the film, where “even for scenes in which she was not scheduled to appear, she was instructed to show up, just to make her presence felt.” Keeping the cast off balance, Anderson asked Adams at one point to read a page of Victorian pornography directly to the camera, but if you’re looking for complaints, you won’t find any from the actress.
“…I do kind of worship Paul. He’s magnificent,” she said.
“The Master” opens on September 14th.