Friday, January 07, 2000

Interview: Akron Beacon Journal

Akron-Beacon Journal, Written By George Thomas
January 7, 2000

Success Blossoms for Magnolia Director

Most people take the majority of their lives to find their calling. Not movie director Paul Thomas Anderson.

"Absolutely without question, with no backup A1 plan, I knew what I wanted to do," the creator of the film Magnolia said from his Manhattan hotel room yesterday. There's no reason the 29-year-old shouldn't have show business aspirations. His father, Ernie Anderson, developed Ghoulardi, a legendary Cleveland TV character, before he packed up and moved to Southern California's San Fernando Valley and landed a job as the voice of the ABC television network. He finished his career as the announcer of America's Funniest Home Videos.

Paul Thomas Anderson was born and raised in the valley, and it's those experiences that serve as the basis for his films, especially Magnolia, a quirky movie set one day in his old neighborhood.

The quirkiness could be an Anderson trademark because his first film, Hard Eight (a movie about a gambler with a secret), and Boogie Nights (a film about family in the pornography industry) are arguably a bit off-kilter.

"(Ideas) just come from my head, my life, things that I see," Anderson said between bites of his lunch. "I'd like to just plug standard answers here, but I don't have a standard answer for that one. I think everybody has the ideas swimming around their head. It's just something that happens that triggers your needing it to come out."

Those ideas resulted in some of the more complex characters in film in recent memory. The beauty of Anderson's creations (he writes his films) is that they're not superheroes or people with pretensions. They are everyday people.

In Magnolia, the emotional basket case is Tom Cruise's Frank Mackey, a misogynistic peddler of a plan to help men seduce women. The character is the antithesis of what American film audiences generally see on the screen.

"I just think it's kind of maybe being reactionary to seeing a lot of movies where you can't relate to the ticking bomb going off in the warehouse," he said of his characters' development. "How can I emotionally connect to someone who's trying to dismantle the red wire or the blue wire?"

The ability to create vivid, realistic people pays dividends for the actors in the roles. Julianne Moore was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Boogie Nights and could be a strong contender for her turn as a emotionally fried wife in Magnolia. If Cruise is nominated and wins an Oscar for his role in Magnolia, he'd have Anderson to thank.

Cruise shines as Mackey and not surprisingly, Anderson didn't initially think of him for the dark role. Cruise called Anderson to say that he wanted to work with him.

"If he hadn't done that, I probably wouldn't have thought of that because he's so, so Tom Cruise-y, so unreachable. You just think, 'My God, who gets him in movies?'"

To Cruise's credit and Anderson's direction, the superstar surrenders to the role, giving arguably the best performance of his career. Tell Anderson that and he'll modestly give credit to the actor.

"I didn't have to coax it out of him at all," he said. "He just wanted to go for it." He gives credit to all of the actors with whom he works. Some of those actors are part of a regular roster that he taps.

Former Toledo resident Philip Baker Hall has appeared in all three of his films, as has John C. Reilly. This is the second time around for William H. Macy and Julianne Moore, who both appeared in Boogie Nights.

Anderson worked as a production assistant on various television films and shows before Hard Eight put him on the map. He followed that with critical darling Boogie Nights two years ago. The critical support that movie received enabled him to make Magnolia, a film that clocks in at three hours, the way he wanted.

That was important because during the editing process the studio asked him to remember the people that financed the film.

"I was able to have a lot of control on Boogie Nights and the film is exactly the film that I wanted to make," he said. "What I really wanted to do with Magnolia is take the opportunity in time where I could put together everything from the TV spots to every last dot on the poster." Having that kind of control at his age is a bit of an aberration in Hollywood. It would make his father beam with pride, Anderson said. He also thinks that his father would be proud of the films he's made after Hard Eight, the only one the elder Anderson saw before his death in 1997, because there is some thing personal about them.

"I think all three movies that I've made in roundabout ways reflected his (Ernie's) life in small, intimate, personal ways that I wouldn't want to reveal, but you can be sure that there's a lot of my Dad in these movies."

What's next for Anderson?

"I'm just starting to think about it," he said with a sly laugh. "I really want to do something completely opposite of Magnolia, something that's very, very short and very, very funny and try to experiment with something that's very disposable and just good old-fashion movie fun.''

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