Friday, January 07, 2000

Interview: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, Written By Ron Weiskind
January 7, 2000

The Virtue of Self - Indulgence

Director Paul Thomas Anderson held nothing back with Magnolia

To anyone who complains the movie Magnolia is too long (slightly more than three hours), dense and repetitive -- in short, too self-indulgent -- writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson offers a simple rejoinder.

"I don't think self-indulgence is a bad thing," says the 30-year-old filmmaker over the phone from Los Angeles. "I thought that my job was to be self-indulgent, to a certain extent. You would want me to give of myself, if you're going to pay to see the movie. ... I think if I wasn't being self-indulgent, you'd be really, really bored."

In fact, Anderson said he had intended to write something small as the follow-up to the critically acclaimed Boogie Nights, the movie that marked him as the latest talented Hollywood wunderkind. Instead, he came up with Magnolia, which intercuts the stories of about a dozen people.

What came first, I asked him, the stories or the concept? The answer proved quite literally hard for him to say.

"Um, oh boy, that's just the unanswerable one. I wish I had a better memory of the process of writing the movie. I can remember a few things from when I sat down to start writing. I just kind of made a list of things that were interesting to me -- characters or character traits or something like that. It's sort of like you fall asleep, you wake up and you have this massive 190-page script. Where the hell did this come from? It was a blurry process of having so many things on my mind and just vomiting it all out.

"I was really trying to see what would happen if I wrote from my gut and I let my gut win. You always have to decipher whether you're being lazy and undisciplined or whether it's a good idea to just let your gut take over, and that's what happened with this one. I think I wanted to reflect on things that were going on in my life."

Magnolia shares with Boogie Nights an obsession with the idea of families, both the nuclear type and those that are extended almost beyond all recognition. It also contains a number of strained father-son (and, in one case, father-daughter) relationships.

By all accounts, Anderson was estranged from his mother, which may explain the ferociously unsympathetic portrayal of Dirk Diggler's mother in Boogie Nights. The filmmaker got along fine, he says, with his father, from whom he may have inherited the show-business gene.

In the '60s, Ernie Anderson was a late-night horror movie host in Cleveland who called himself Ghoulardi. His comedy bits combined parody, anarchy and skewering of local icons in a way that was years ahead of its time. His son has named his film production company for Ghoulardi, whose visage occasionally appears on T-shirts on "The Drew Carey Show," which is set in Cleveland.

The elder Anderson moved to Los Angeles in 1966 and became one of Hollywood's most successful voice-over announcers. He did almost all of ABC's network promotional spots during the 1970s and '80s (he's the guy who purred "The Lo-o-o-o-ove Boat") and was the announcer on "America's Funniest Home Videos."

One of his friends was an actor named Bob Ridgely, who became one of young Anderson's surrogate relatives and mentors. Ridgely played the role of The Colonel in Boogie Nights and died in 1997, two days after Ernie Anderson succumbed to cancer -- the disease that afflicts two of the father figures in Magnolia.

Writer-director Anderson is still reaching out for family through his actors, which may explain the sprawling nature of his projects and the list of actors who keep appearing in his films, including Julianne Moore, Philip Baker Hall, William H. Macy and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

"I have a few things to say in my movies but I feel like the truth is they're really motivated by wanting to create situations so I can be around these people, these actors, these friends of mine.

"I'm done with this movie and I'm going to start writing another one. All I'm trying to do is formulate how best to get everyone together in, like, a live-in situation for many months where we'll go and make a movie together. It is a family. It really, really is."

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