Wednesday, January 05, 2000

Interview: Entertainment News Wire

Entertainment News Wire, Written By Joshua Mooney
January 5, 2000

Filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson felt free to create Magnolia on his own terms

LOS ANGELES -- Paul Thomas Anderson is not yet 30, but, on the strength of two films, he's a director who's come to be considered one of the most talented filmmakers working in America today. His first film was a very small drama about gamblers in Nevada called "Hard Eight." His second was the much-talked about "Boogie Nights," set in the pornography industry of Los Angeles in the 1970s and '80s. The film garnered three Oscar nominations and won Anderson the freedom to make his third film pretty much on his terms.

Anderson has utilized that freedom to the limit for "Magnolia" (opening Friday), a sprawling, three-hour-long drama set in 1999 in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley. "Magnolia" is very much Anderson's private vision -- he wrote, directed and produced the film. One thing is for certain: the guy has a way with actors. Some of Hollywood's best, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Baker Hall, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly and William H. Macy, are part of "Magnolia's" big ensemble cast. These actors have all worked for Anderson before, and when asked to describe him as a director, they throw around terms such as "genius," "visionary," and "the future of movies."

What do such accolades mean to Anderson? "It feels great -- feels great," says the director, trying hard not to smoke the cigarette he's got clenched in his hand. When asked if he sees himself as different -- and maybe on a higher plane -- than your "average" filmmaker, Anderson looks alarmed. "Oh, no no no!" he says quickly. "First of all, those actors know I feel the same way about them. And the truth is, when I'm writing, I'm writing for them. And I'm writing for them because I love them. And I want to impress them."

In other words, people can toss a term such as "genius" around if they want to, but Anderson says he's not about to start believing it -- or at least admitting to believing it. "I mean, of course not -- what am I gonna say? 'Yeah, I'm a genius'? Hey, listen, do I have an ego? Do I think I'm good at what I do? Yeah. Yeah."

Anderson says he has, in the course of three films, developed a serious and steadfast bond with those aforementioned actors. He's committed to them and they're committed to him. After the success of "Boogie Nights," he says, "I could have had any actor in Hollywood in my movie. And I'm writing John C. Reilly as the star of 'Magnolia.' "

Reilly, who plays an earnest but confused cop in "Magnolia," has been in all of Anderson's films. He is a talented character actor, but hardly Hollywood's idea of a star. The same goes for Philip Baker Hall, who also makes his third appearance in an Anderson film, here playing the troubled host of a television quiz show.

"My first movie 'Hard Eight,' was written for Philip Baker Hall and John C. Reilly before they even knew me," Anderson says. "I knew of them and they were my favorite actors. So I'm just this stalker, basically, who has found the people I've always wanted to work with. They're great actors ... Oh geez, I don't know -- I love 'em."

Anderson isn't exaggerating by much when he says that the success of "Boogie Nights" meant he could have worked with any actor he chose to. "Magnolia" also stars veteran Oscar-winner Jason Robards, playing a bitter, dying millionaire, and Tom Cruise, who is generating Oscar talk for his performance as Frank Mackey, a television guru of female seduction who revels in his macho excesses.

Cruise's "Magnolia" character is unlike anything else the actor has tried before in his career. It was Cruise, Anderson says, who first contacted him. "Tom was in London making 'Eyes Wide Shut' for director Stanley Kubrick. I was there doing publicity. I got a call. I visited him on the set. We just sat in his trailer. He cooked me this really terrible pasta he was really proud of. He said, 'I want to work with you.' I said, 'I want to work with you too, but I never think of working with you because you're Tom Cruise.' But he said, 'Nah, come on -- we'll do something.' I'd just started thinking about Frank Mackey, so it was wonderful serendipity." About eight months later, Anderson was able to send Cruise his finished script. The actor "went nuts" for the part, Anderson says.

Serendipity might explain some of the fortuitous events surrounding the making of "Magnolia" -- but certainly not all of them. Anderson admits that he was able to make this film his way because of the success of "Boogie Nights." The saying in Hollywood goes, "You're only as good as your last movie." "Boogie Nights" transformed Anderson from an obscure but dedicated first-time filmmaker to a hot young director with the movie all Hollywood was talking about.

Anderson says he originally planned his follow-up to "Boogie Nights" to be "a small movie. I wanted to write a quick, cheap movie. And I did -- but then I just kept writing. An idea would lead to other ideas. I just didn't censor myself. I figured, 'Well, here I am in the enviable one-time position with the success of 'Boogie Nights' to be able to do whatever I want. And this makes sense to me.' "

Anderson says he knows he's in "a lucky position" now. If the ambitious "Magnolia" isn't a hit along the lines of "Boogie Nights," he also knows he might have to work a little harder to raise the money for his next film. But, he says, he plans on doing all his movies his way. It's a responsibility, he adds, he doesn't plan to take lightly. "I don't plan on making inaccessible movies. But I'm gonna write what I want to write, and if they cost the right amount and they make sense, I'm gonna make them. I'm in a wonderful position -- I don't want to abuse it."

Anderson grew up in the San Fernando Valley, the setting of his last two films. As a child, he says, he was "exactly the same" as he is now: "I was just a little movie-kid brat in trouble." When he was about 6, he knew he wanted to be a director. "I actually wanted to be a boxer at that age," he says. "I wanted to be Rocky. But I was really skinny, so my dad said, 'Maybe you want to be a writer -- you know, Rocky wrote that movie too. Or maybe an actor, like Rocky.' So I said, 'Yeah, OK.' "

There wasn't one film in particular that inspired him, Anderson adds. "All films did -- everything."

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