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Paul Thomas Anderson Breaks His Silence on ‘Phantom Thread’: ‘It’s Not Your Standard Love Story’

The director talks about his movie for the first time and teases Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca" as a source of inspiration.

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Paul Thomas Anderson is finally ready to talk about “Phantom Thread.” The director’s new drama opens in theaters this Christmas, but he’s remained tight-lipped about it since wrapping production in April. “Phantom Thread” reunites Anderson with Daniel Day-Lewis 10 years after the success of “There Will Be Blood.” Day-Lewis won his second Oscar for the movie, while Anderson picked up three nominations himself.  “I suppose there’s always the risk of trying to do it again,” Anderson tells Entertainment Weekly about reuniting with the actor. “But it seemed crazy not to take the opportunity.”

“Phantom Thread” is set during the 1950s and stars Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned dressmaker at the center of the British fashion scene. Woodcock’s obsessive lifestyle becomes disrupted when he falls for a strong-willed young woman named Alma, played by relative newcomer Vicky Krieps. Early word suggested Anderson was using the fashion designer Charles James as inspiration for his lead character, but the director brought another name into the conversation in his EW interview.

“I generally didn’t have that much knowledge or interest in the fashion world until I started finding out a little bit about a guy named Cristóbal Balenciaga,” Anderson said. “He led very monastic life, completely consumed with his work — sometimes at the expense of other things in his life. Our characters become something very different. Our story focuses on if you have a character like that, what would it take to disrupt his life. Usually, it’s love that does that.”

The first “Phantom Thread” trailer teased the escalating tension that grows between the lovers played by Day-Lewis and Krieps, and Anderson admits he intended to make a more suspenseful kind of love story. The director credits Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca” as a source of inspiration, indicating that Woodcock’s attempts to turn Alma into a product of his own creative vision will have devastating consequences.

“It’s not your standard love story. It’s more peculiar for sure,” Anderson said. “A lot of directors have tried and failed to make ‘Rebecca.’ I’m probably next in line, but it’s a different story. I’m a large aficionado of those large Gothic romance movies as the old masters might do them. What I like about those kinds of love stories is that they’re very suspenseful. A good dollop of suspense with a love story is a nice combination.”

Unlike a majority of his other movies, which were inspired by long-gestating ideas Anderson had, “Phantom Thread” was born out of a relatively new idea the director had. “I had a story that was in search of characters, which is rare for me,” Anderson explained. He knew the world he wanted to set the movie in, but not the events that would actually occur in said world.

As for his much-anticipated reunion with Day-Lewis, Anderson said the collaboration started as early as the writing process. The director pitched the idea of a reunion to the actor, who warmly accepted the challenge. Anderson said he wasn’t aware of Day-Lewis’ plans to retire after “Phantom Thread.” The director explains:

The process of writing it was really the two of us together, quite honestly. I’d give him things as I was writing. Rather than go away and write a script and try to impress him, I was collaborating with him each step of the way as I was going, which was very helpful in terms of forming the story and the character. But also, it was incredibly practical for time [purposes] because it gave him time to prepare whatever he was going to have to learn how to do to play a dressmaker. It would not have been practical to write a script alone in my room and then hand it to him and say, “Oh, now we have to get started.” That seems crazy.

“Phantom Thread” opens in theaters December 25. Head over to Entertainment Weekly for Anderson’s full interview.

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