The new Paul Thomas Anderson movie “Phantom Thread” is under review embargo, of course, but Focus Features started screening the late arrival for various guild and Academy voters and press, who at the first screening Friday gave a hearty round of applause to the ‘50s London romance set in the high-couture fashion world.
PTA wrote the script for Daniel Day-Lewis, hoping it would pass muster with the finicky actor who agreed to star as fussy women’s designer Reynolds Woodcock, which could be the retiring actor’s last role. Anderson relied on Day-Lewis more than he did in “There Will Be Blood” (which won DDL his second of three Oscars), because “I don’t speak English, I speak American,” Anderson said at the post-screening Q&A at the Fine Arts Theatre in Los Angeles. Joining him were Luxembourg actress Vicky Krieps (“A Most Wanted Man”), who plays Woodcock’s love interest, and Mike Leigh favorite Lesley Manville (“Secrets & Lies”), who plays his controlling sister.
When working with Day-Lewis on set, everyone dealt with him in character as the imperious workaholic designer. (You could put this movie on a double bill with “mother!”) Krieps plays Alma, a waitress whom Woodcock brings back to his London home as muse and model, while Manville’s Cyril runs the show in more ways than one. “I’m a fucking director,” said Anderson, who admitted feeling butterflies in showing his film to an audience. “I don’t know anything about obsession!”
He turned to great TCM masters like Alfred Hitchcock for inspiration on crafting a Hollywood romantic drama, looking at films like “Rebecca” (starring Anderson fave Joan Fontaine) as well as “Vertigo” and Joseph Mankieweisz’s “All About Eve.”
Of course, the costumes are crucial: models for Woodcock include Balenciaga and Versacci, who also relied on his sister in business; Manville admitted she felt like she had more fittings than shooting days. Anderson wanted the high-couture outfits to reflect the times, but costume designer Mark Bridges also built many original designs from the ground up.
Expect many craft nominations on this film, which opens December 25. But cinematography may not be one of them. When Anderson couldn’t get the DP he wanted, he chose to run his favorite camera crew himself, while admitting “I wouldn’t dare call myself a cinematographer.”
Krieps told Anderson: “You become one with the camera, like a super eye.” He smiled at her, delighted.