Paul Thomas Anderson confirmed he based his cult leader drama “The Master” on Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard at the Venice press conference yesterday.
“I based it on L. Ron Hubbard, a lot of it related to the early days of Dianetics,” he revealed. “I don’t know much about Scientology. But I do know a lot about the beginning of the movement. It inspired me to use it as a backdrop for these characters.” The director also said he showed the film to Scientologist Tom Cruise, who starred in his film “Magnolia.” “We are still friends. Yes, I showed him the film and the rest is between us.”
Anderson’s key characters in the 50s-set feature are charismatic Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), his wife Mary Sue (Amy Adams) and Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a drunken drifter whom Dodd takes under his wing. Anderson describes it as a, “love story between these guys,” referring to the bond between the two men that forms the focus of the drama.
“It’s not father and son, not master and servant more of a romance,” he said. “The love of your life. It’s great territory for a story, a bottomless pit.”
While Seymour Hoffman puts in a typically compelling performance as Dodd, it’s Phoenix who drew the biggest cheer from attending press thanks to a memorable turn as the “feral” Freddie, who’s driven by animalistic instincts. Phoenix left Hoffman to answer questions on their relationship during the press conference, leaning back from the microphone, smoking and at one point leaving the room. “They sense something in each other,” explains Hoffman. “They identify with each other. They’re coming from different places but they’re both wild beasts. One has just tamed it and is trying to teach other people how to do that.” The theme appealed to the actor, who chuckled, “We all wake up each morning and think, ‘Why can’t I just run naked through the streets of Venice and eat shit and have sex with everyone I see?’ But no, we can’t do that, and so sometimes we need a Master to help make sense of the world.”
Anderson, meanwhile, said that Phoenix was, “A pain in the ass but worth it. I’ve asked Joaquin to be in just about every movie I made and he said no. He said yes to this one, thank God.” Phoenix sat expressionless as Anderson described a scene in which his character kicks and breaks a toilet in a rage. “That unfortunately was a real porcelain toilet, a historic toilet,” explained the director. “We could only do it once.”
Philip Seymour Hoffman spoke of working with Anderson many times, in the likes of “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia” and “Punch-Drunk Love.” “I’ve known Paul 20 years so I look at him as a friend and I try to keep it that way. To take the friendship into a creative area is very fruitful and enjoyable.”
Anderson revealed he consulted Hoffman before casting Amy Adams, who’d worked opposite him in ‘Doubt.’ “Since I saw her in ‘Catch Me If You Can’ and ‘Enchanted’ I loved her,” said Anderson. “A great actress and easy on the eye.”
The distinctive look of the period film also came up at the press conference. Paul Thomas Anderson described using “huge cameras” for an epic feel but admitted there were downsides. “They looked great but the camera broke all the time and made a lot of noise you can still hear it. We put fan noises over it.”
Asked if the film was specific to the United States, both director and star emphasised the universality of the story. “I think it’s from the beginning of time this story,” said Hoffman. “Mentor and follower. Someone changes your life, affects you. The person most hurt is the Master.”