Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread” is slowly rolling out to press and guild members ahead of its Christmas release. Following the drama’s first screening in Los Angeles on November 24, “Phantom Thread” arrived in New York City on Sunday, November 26, complete with a rare appearance from star Daniel Day-Lewis. The three-time Oscar winner joined Anderson and co-stars Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville to discuss his new movie, which his representative says marks his final film performance before retirement.
To the surprise of no one, Day-Lewis revealed he extensively researched numerous fashion designers to get into the character of Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned dressmaker who designs gowns for high society women. Original rumors suggested Woodcock was based on designer Charles James, though the actor refuted the notion. “As fascinating as his life was, it was not the life we wanted to explore,” Day-Lewis said.
Instead, the actor and Anderson pulled from a handful of top fashion designers. The actor and director name-dropped Cristóbal Balenciaga, Hardy Amies, Norman Hartnell, Michael Sherard, Digby Morton, Edward Molyneux, Victor Stiebel, and John Cavanagh throughout the discussion. According to Day-Lewis, “We splashed around in all their experiences.”
A majority of “Phantom Thread” takes place inside the fictional House of Woodcock, Reynolds’ home and designer studio located in a Georgian townhouse in London. In order to successfully capture the atmosphere of a living, breathing London fashion studio in the 1950s, Anderson moved production into one of the actual Georgian townhouses. The director’s hope was that the tight space would create an insular world for the film’s production, but it was a decision that proved to be challenging for everyone, especially Day-Lewis.
“It was awful,” Day-Lewis said bluntly of filming, noting that production started off wonderful in the countryside before becoming difficult when the bulk of filming had to take place inside the townhouse. “We had hoped to find that way of working again where we would be self-contained, beholden to no one, and uninterrupted. We built a world we could create and just stay in and no one could get into it. But in this townhouse, which was very beautiful, it was a nightmare.”
According to Day-Lewis: “We were living on top of each other. It was an enormous unit. There was no space. The way it works if it’s helpful is that these rooms belong to you. These rooms are yours, they are part of your life. But of course these rooms for us become storage spaces. You work in a room then you have to move all that shit into another room, and that space becomes a storage space. That entire house was like a termite nest.”
Krieps echoed Day-Lewis’ thoughts on the matter, saying the crowded rooms even gave her a panic attack on set one day. “Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe,” she remembered. “In every room there were just cables, there’s an energy to it and it’s taking the breath away of your character.”
Day-Lewis is famous for his Method acting tendencies, but clearly staying in character was tough in such a small space. The actor even teased that the crew grew unhappy with the film’s tight-knit production, joking, “You see, it’s hard to work with a crew that really hates you…We must be fairly stupid because we didn’t realize it was going to be like that.”
Anderson agreed the filming of the movie was “hard,” especially because the townhouse required the crew to carry all of the heavy film equipment up long and tall staircases. The layout of the set prevented Anderson from shooting in sequence because it proved too difficult to keep bringing the equipment up and down. But the struggle was worth it for the director, who wanted the close quarters to create an intimacy for the movie that would’ve been lost had he shot on a soundstage.
“They lived like mice, like miniature people in these tiny rooms,” Anderson said of the real designers. “They’re all on top of each other working. Whatever life they had, it’s the same thing as their work. There was nowhere for them to go. It was good. It’s the tradition of all those great films that we all love: ‘Rebecca,’ ‘Brief Encounter.’ They take place in real intimate places.”
“We’re all okay now,” Anderson concluded. “But it was hard, it was really hard. There were struggles, but it was struggles that were worth it.”
“Phantom Thread” opens in select theaters on Christmas, courtesy of Focus Features.