It’s the hottest move on the awards season circuit these days: using an acceptance speech to pay homage to your cinematic heroes while also attempting to line up your next big gig. At last week’s New York Film Critics Circle Awards, “Phantom Thread” star Lesley Manville filled in for Paul Thomas Anderson when it came time to accept his Best Screenplay award, reading off a speech that included an appeal to Best Supporting Actress winner Tiffany Haddish to work with him, going so far as to literally provide her (and the entire room) with his phone number in hopes of connecting.
At Tuesday night’s National Board of Review awards event in New York City, the tables were turned, with Breakthrough Performance winner Timothée Chalamet, the revelatory star of “Call Me by Your Name,” using his own acceptance speech to profess his adoration for Anderson, lightly asking for his own collaboration at the conclusion of his charming speech.
Initially playing to his hometown crowd, Chalamet first framed his speech around the history of the NYC-based organization, his love for their shared city, and the way seemingly strange acting exercises (mainly, the Meisner technique) have stuck with him since high school (New York’s own La Guardia, of course). There was a point, though, and it led directly to Anderson and his “Punch-Drunk Love,” a formative film that Chalamet mentioned in the same breath as his also-beloved “The Dark Knight.”
“I was hanging out with some drama friends one night, and we decided to watch something funny,” he remembered. “We randomly chose an Adam Sandler comedy we thought had a cool poster: ‘Punch-Drunk Love.’ It was clear from the first long, wide shot of Mr. Sandler at desk, where he’s in a deep argument about coupons, this was not a cheesy Adam Sandler comedy.”
He continued, “I sat there watching and watching and watching, and then something happened, it clicked. I was inside the world of an introvert, the way I’d only been reading [in] books, like ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ or something like ‘Crime and Punishment.’ Adam Sandler clued me into a world I’d never been, and then it was over.”
Chalamet was hooked, and he and his friends soon set about finding out everything they could about PTA and his oeuvre. “The writer-director was Paul Thomas Anderson. ‘That’s a cool name,’ I thought. ‘It’s a cool name, could be a rapper or something,'” he said with a laugh. “So I run home and I watched the only other available movie of his on Netflix, because I’m a millennial, ‘The Master.'”
It was “The Dark Knight” all over again, by Chalamet’s own admission. “It was the only ever time I had the visceral reaction I did while watching ‘The Dark Knight’ six years earlier. About forty minutes into the film, there’s a processing scene, an interrogation of sorts, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character says to Joaquin Phoenix that he has to answer everything he asks of him honestly and without blinking. I was floored.”
For Chalamet, it was the Meisner technique, made real. “The scene contained two masters at work, open, vulnerable, in Mr. Phoenix’s case, physically self-loathing. To this day, I don’t know a scene that feels so intensely honest…The scene was somehow messy, and the most direct piece of acting I’ve ever seen,” he said.
He continued, “I guess there’s something nice about getting to hear your own voice, shouting out your hero, in front of your hero, because I know he’s somewhere here tonight, I think he’s somewhere here tonight. And I know this shout out doesn’t increase the likelihood that I’ll get to work you with you, but that’s not the goal. I mean, if you want to work, let’s talk! We’ll figure it out, you know. Rather, I just want to say thanks, because Mr. Paul Thomas Anderson, you’re a major reason [why] I am standing on this stage right now and I’m humbled to be on any sort of program with your name on it and because you’re a genius.”
Chalamet was, of course, right — Anderson was in the room, and he just so happened to accept his award for Best Original Screenplay immediately after the young actor exited the stage. His first words? “You’re on, Timothée.”