Friday, February 27, 1998

Interview: "Do The Hustle"

Total Film Magazine UK, Written By Cam Winstanley
February ??, 1998

He's arrived. Boogie Nights has catapulted an ex-teen star onto Hollywood's hot list, showcasing his turn as a thrusting young trouser serpent called Eddie, sucked into the world of '70s porn. Director Paul Thomas Anderson tells how he made a funny, honest mainstream patch of the film biz.

Dog-eared stroke mags stuffed under mattresses. Fuzzy videotapes featuring fat Germans energetically servicing busty farmgirl types ("Ja, ja, ja! Ich kommen!") Men with scruffy moustaches peering around rickety doors, enquiring, "Mind if I join in?" Well-thumbed pocket-sized magazines containing 'all genuine' letters that start with phrases like "I'd always dreamt about sex with identical twins, but never imagined that it could happen to me."

Pornography is something that men are usually cagey and embarrassed about. They enjoy it, for the most part, and like to consume as large an acreage of fleshy skin tones as they can, but one with provison - no one else really knows about it. Not friends, not lovers, and certainly not parents.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson stands alone in that he's not afraid to proclaim his fascination with porn - in a two-and-a-half hour movie. It follows the life of teenage dishwasher Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) as he becomes porn megastar Dirk Diggler in a series of flicks directed by old time sleaze-merchant Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), and is as fascinating and funny as it is horrifying. Hold your head up high, and share your sins, Mr Anderson...

We heard you'd seen your first porn flick at the age of nine. How?

It's true. My dad was one of the first guys on the block who had a VCR. The film was called The Opening of Misty Beethoven. Very, very, very well made - one of the best. And I just found it. It terrified me at the time, really scared the piss out of me.

Could you work out what was going on?

Well, a blow job was a blow job, but the sex stuff was a bit confusing. I was trying to figure out - is that in her butt or what?

It's hard to say you were unaffected by it. Especially since you've just made a movie about the porn industry.

I'd like to say that pornography has nothing but a positive effect on young children, but I can't. I don't think that it was a real relevant event in my life though. I think it's more to do with growing up in the San Fernando Valley. That's where the film takes place, and it's the capital of porn production.

In the movie, they shoot their sex scenes in a single take from a single angle. Surely they were never made that badly?

But they were. The bits with them 'acting' - most of that was just taken right from real porno. It's very easy to come up with porn dialogue, but I thought why don't we just rip off real scenes exactly so we can sit back and say "You know what? We didn't make it that bad to try and highlight it and get a laugh. We did it exactly how they did it."

There's a great scene in the bar where a woman enters from one side, but not from a door or anything. She just stands near a wall and then walks in on cue.

Yep. That is taken, shot for shot, from a real porno. Even up to the point that if you look closely, you see Mark at the bar. He's sitting in the wide-shot with a toothpick and then cut to the close-up and he's holding a cigarette in the other hand.

Skye Blue, Summer Cummings, Nina Hartley - surely these are real porn stars that appear in your film? They can't be real names.

True. Summer and Skye play themselves - they're the girls in the Jacuzzi. Nina Hartley plays Little Bill's (William H. Macy) wife. You can invent your own porn name by taking your pet's name followed by the street you grew up in. I'm Alex Troust.

And I'd be Perry Greenfield. Surely the ensemble cast (including Wahlberg, Reynolds and Julianne Moore) was you dream team?

It is, but it's nowhere near what I thought I wanted when I started. I wanted Leonardo DiCaprio, but he thought he probably wasn't right - a little bit too wholesome. But he did Titanic, and thank God; not because Leonardo was no good, but because absolutely no-one is Dirk Diggler apart from Mark. And he's now a total hotshot fucking movie star. We've definitely created a monster.

Boogie Nights is Scorsese's GoodFellas, but about porn. Discuss.

Absolutely. I certainly looked to GoodFellas as a template for modeling the storytelling. Essentially, Boogie Nights is the same as Hollywood gangster movies. Because what you have is these characters who are underground types that not a lot of people can associate with, and they habitually do this thing that most people consider despicable.

We watch The Godfather or GoodFellas and, although they're murderers and killers, we relate to them because it's a study in human behaviour. And Boogie Nights isn't about sex and violence either, although they're both in it. It's much more sex + drugs = violence... that's the topic. You put fucking cocaine into the mix, someone's going to get hurt. Always.

Were you conscious of these links even at the writing stage?

Definitely. Part of me was thrilled that I was writing this story about pornography. So okay, that was an original thing, but what movies could I use as a template? I chose gangster movies, but I also knew this was an ensemble piece with interlocking stories, so Nashville was a major influence, also Battle of Algiers and They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

The long opening shot through the club is very Scorsese.

Yeah, he's done that, but 40 other people before him have done that too. The first person I really tuned into doing that was Julian Temple when I was about 14. And even though the start of Absolute Beginners isn't one shot because he cut it all up, that was the first time I was wowed by what appeared to be a single shot. The long shots are fun to do too, the actors love doing them. They can be something really in the mood of the film, really in the vibe of it. Like in those party scenes - why cut it up? Let's be like we're roaming the party.

You're 27 now, so what was it like recreating a time in your life when you were just a teenager?

Everyone talks about the '70s, but the '80s were more fun for me because I had only vague emotional memories from the '70s, but when it comes to the '80s, it's very specific. That was the song I heard, or that the fuckin' outfit I wore.

When Dirk's recording his songs, he's wearing a terrible '80s sweat-shirt with an off-centre zip and shiny shoulder panels...

And that fucking headband as well.

Do you think it's possible to create a better '80s in retrospect? Because you can take the best bits - all the icons and enduring imagery?

Absolutely. But it's not like making a movie about the turn of the century, where if you cheat a little, no-one would ever know. With this, you've got to be pinpoint specific, because someone can stand up in the cinema and shout, "I was there. The headband thing didn't start until June of '83!" We stuck to it to the day. We actually found out who manufactured those headbands and when they hit the streets.

Dirk Diggler's attempt at achieving pop stardom is wincingly poor, and very funny. Who wrote his songs?

I wrote Feel the Heat - it's fucking good! You Got The Touch is actually a song I found on the soundtrack to a movie called The Transformers. Remember those things? They were robots that used to turn into trucks and helicopters. I saw the soundtrack in this 99-cents bin and I thought, "I've got to have this. This is too good."

Are there any adverse affects to the entire freedom of speech and expression thing in the US? Do you think it has a downside?

Sure, I do. But this is a movie. We're dealing with a topic that has a massive amount of confusion attached to it. I don't want to be the wishy-washy guy, but I also don't want to be the pro-porn crusader. I personally don't think that pornography causes sexual abuse, but I also think that sexual abuse does cause porn. And on a personal level, I know a lot of people that are in the porn industry. I'm not thinking about the man who buys it or the 15-year-old kid who sees it; they can rent it and do what they want to do and they should - go for it. My concern is with the people who make it, and how debilitating and how degrading it can be for them. I hope it's on display in the movie - how they have to deal with that. Because they ain't going to be doing anything else, they really aren't.

Dirk Diggler tries to get out through music and fails. How many people genuinely break free from porn and go mainstream?

It doesn't really happen. Traci Lords is a rare example. Sure there are people like Linda Lovelace, who stop doing porn and become super right-wing Christian fat ladies in Iowa. There's that version of getting out. Another version is, "I don't act in them any more, but I direct," but then there's maybe the odd one or two who are able to get one foot in the mainstream film-making or music or something like that.

Is the porn scene a young industry then? The Mark Wahlberg character starts out when he's 17.

It's weird, because it's the same thing in Hollywood. There's the old pros that have doing it forever, like Paul Thomas and Nina Hartley, and then there's always the new breed, who are mostly women. There's not a lot of new studs out there. The same guys have been doing it for 20 years because a dick's a dick, essentially. Back in the '70s, that was the time for male porn stars - John Holmes and Harry Reams. Now with the video market, it's just about women.

How bothered were you with making it completely real?

When I'd written it, I'd never been to a porn set or met anyone in the industry. I was writing it based on growing up in the valley and all the porn movies I'd ever seen. So when we were going to make it, I went into that world and met those people on-set just to verify what I thought was the truth. I was just validation, because you can figure most of it out. Something that struck me was that it was funnier than I thought and sadder than I thought.

How do the people in the porn industry feel about the film?

Many said, "Well, there's not that much drugs," but they were definitely the newcomers into the industry. Someone who'd been there in the '70s was like, "Yeah, absolutely!" To me, it's incredible that the only outcry there's been about the film has been from a couple of real porn stars who I've never met who've been saying, "I don't like Boogie Nights because we're not that stupid." And there's some guy who's been claiming that it's all lies, but that's just sour grapes because we didn't make him a consultant.

But it's kind of hurtful to me. I've been criticized because I didn't deal with the criminal prosecution they went through, but I crammed so much into it. It's fucking two-and-a-half hours long! I did my best. Maybe I'll make a sequel.

What about the other side? The moral minority?

Not a peep. What can they say? My fear was that there might be a backlash if someone came in and only watched the first half of the movie. But if they stay and watch the whole movie, there's consequences for actions and there's a strong moral thread...what could they possibly say?

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