The conversation around “Phantom Thread” has largely been dominated by Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Thomas Anderson, and breakout newcomer Vicky Krieps, but anyone who has seen the film knows that Lesley Manville is its not-so-secret weapon. As Cyril Woodcock, the sister of Day-Lewis’ Reynolds, Manville dominates every scene she’s in without saying much at all. Don’t believe us? Just ask Anderson himself, who singled out Manville’s work during a recent discussion at the AFI Conservatory.
“My love affair with Lesley Manville was to the point that the crew would always be whispering, ‘Teacher’s pet, teacher’s pet,'” Anderson said. “You just put the camera on Leslie Manville, she can do no wrong. You can ask her to do anything and she can do it.”
Anderson revealed that it was Manville who stared directly into the camera during the film’s opening scene, announcing her character as the one with all the power in the Reynolds’ household. Anderson often has his characters stare directly into the lens, which is something he admits he stole from Jonathan Demme. But “Phantom Thread” wasn’t going to have its actors do this, until Manville tried it out during the first take.
“The idea of staring into the lens, I’ve done it before, I stole it from Jonathan Demme. He was the master of it. I didn’t think I would do it here on this movie, but when she did it the first time it was so good,” Anderson said. “I said, ‘Well let’s do it again.'”
It turns out Manville is also at the center of Anderson’s favorite moment in the film. When Reynolds dares to challenge his sister, Cyril strikes back with a calm and menacing rebuttal that proves he would be wise not to challenge her again. Anderson singled out the scene as the highlight of “Phantom Thread,” and he spoke to Cyril’s larger importance in the movie.
“Initially, the impression is that she’s Mrs. Danvers, the ‘Rebecca’ character, and it is that at first, but then it’s hopefully something a little more complicated,” he said. “She’s just not the arch rival of Alma, but without Cyril there’s no way Alma is going to survive…There’s a very pragmatic side to it which is: How long can the House of Woodcock keep running until some new blood has to come in? This is fashion after all. Without Cyril the whole place crumbles.”
Watch exclusive video from Anderson’s AFI discussion in the video below.