Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” may have already thrilled lucky American audiences at sneak peak pop-up screenings all over the country and in Venice – where it won two of the three major awards including Best Director – but the hypnotic, opaque and much-discussed drama is still the talk of the Toronto International Film Festival.
With its star Philip Seymour Hoffman in Venice to receive the prizes on the Lido, Anderson, co-star Amy Adams and producer JoAnne Sellar discussed the film at yesterday’s TIFF press conference (co-lead Joaquin Phoenix was apparently in Toronto, but AWOL from the press conference). Here’s five highlights from the Toronto chat witht the media.
While Anderson has acknowledged that Scientology was a jumping off point for the impetus of the film in recent interviews, he wasn’t much interested in talking about it again during TIFF.
One Toronto critic had a rambling question about Scientology being the “elephant in the room with a lawyer” and whether Anderson could discuss it, but the filmmaker quickly jumped in and sidestepped the question. “Can we deal with that word [Scientology] and then get rid of it?” the critic asked? “You just did it perfectly,” PTA said. The director seemed bored, near-frustrated with the subject and when the same critic asked about the impulse to draw a portrait about such churches, Anderson said his film had a different aim, albeit one with a circuitous answer.
“I don’t consider that we’re dealing with a cult,” he remarked. “The area of this story after the war is like food and drink to me in terms of an opportunity for a lot of good stuff to tell a story. It’s a mix of a tremendous about of optimism, but an incredibly large bodycount behind you – how can you feel really great about a victory with so much death around you? So it gets you to a spot where you’ve gotta figure out where all the bodies are going and this creates a situation where people want to talk about past lives, about where we go after we die, past lives, and those kinds of ideas that the Master is putting forward – time travel is possible – those are great ideas. They’re hopeful ideas and stuff that was fascinating to write the story around.”
Just as the “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” was a big influence on “There Will Be Blood,” another John Huston film, 1946's documentary "Let There Be Light," which chronicled soldiers who had sustained debilitating emotional trauma and depression after WWII, was a big inspiration for “The Master.”
In the 1940s, Hollywood directors were commissioned to by the war department to make war films and directors like Frank Capra, John Ford and John Huston were enlisted to tell such stories. However, Huston’s documentary about veteran hospitals was just too real for their taste.
“The war department took one look at this film and said, 'absolutely no way we're showing this to anyone,' “ Anderson said. “They kinda had this amazing footage… very graphic and kinda showed you what these fellas were coming back with. I mean there's stuff [in 'The Master'] that we ripped off line for line from that film, it was sort of a way to talk about time travel. It was the best source of material that we found to show what these VA hospitals were like at that time. So we were sort of ripping it off and left, right and center. And the fictional version of that is [William Wylers] 'The Best Years Of Our Lives' which is just a great film and obviously tell its story in a very different way.”
Anderson adores Turner Classic Movies and it’s a big part of his day to day.
Asked about other influences or inspirations in the film was the commerical-free classic cable television channel. “I just keep TCM on my house 24 hours a day like I'm sure a lot of us do,” he said. “I put it on in the kitchen and it's always on so even if I'm not watching anything, you just sort of let it just soak into your veins and hopefully wash over you and do something good.
When Amy Adams said her household was consumed by PBS KIDS’ Sprout channel, Anderson quipped that everyone should be encouraged to watch Turner Classic Movies. “I force my children to watch TCM,” he joked. “I force their heads close to the TV set.”
While there are some of the best working actors in the world performing in “The Master,” no one is chewing scenery and all the actors had a generous give and take.
“They're both strong hitters, but they're also team players,” Anderson said of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, using baseball metaphors. "Maybe the mistake of a young actor is to dominate something, but the sweet spot of a mature actor is one who really gives over and knows when to squeeze in and knows when to slow down. And that's more fun for everybody when you find a way to play together that services something else as opposed to, you know, a kind of dick measuring.”
Amy Adams added that said she adored and worshipped Philip Seymour Hoffman. “It was great to overpower Philip because that's the only time it's going to happen in my life.” Adams also said she thought that the filming experience was going to have a very serious endeavor, but she was surprised and happy to learn it wasn’t somber at all. “It was actually a lot of fun, we laughed a lot and there was a lot of exploration,” she said. “The freedom to experiment and fail was unexpected.”
Anderson wasn’t phased over the minor drama at the Venice Film Festival over who got what award.
While there was controversy in Venice this morning over who won what award – it was reported that the jury originally wanted to give "The Master" the Best Picture prize (known as the Golden Lion), but then had to renege when they realized rules stated that no film could win more than one major prize – PTA didn't seem to mind.
"I'm thrilled with what they wanted to hand over," Anderson said of the Silver Lion Best Directing prize that "The Master" was awarded on top of the Best Acting Prize that went to both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix. "I heard some of the scuttlebutt recently, but I'm thrilled. I think it's great."
“The Master” opens in New York and Los Angeles on September 14th. We have two reviews of the film you can read, one from a pop-up surprise screening in Chicago and one in Venice. “The Master” is currently playing at the Toronto International Film Festival.