Sunday, January 02, 2000

Interview: Times Union

The Times Union Albany, NY, Writen By Sean Daly
January 2, 2000

Director Has His Pick of Actors

If you believe the buzz around the popcorn stand, the future of American cinema has arrived. And its name is Paul Thomas Anderson. Regarded as a genius by many of his peers, Anderson is a self- taught writer/producer/director, whose encyclopedic knowledge of movies and unique appreciation for the human condition have shaped some of the most strikingly original films to emerge recently from mainstream Hollywood.

"Paul is a natural filmmaker," said actress Julianne Moore, who worked with Anderson on his groundbreaking 1997 film, "Boogie Nights."

"If he had never watched a single movie, he would still have an intuitive understanding of how to tell a story through film," Moore said.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Moore jumped at the opportunity to work with Anderson on his latest film, "Magnolia" -- a collection of nine intertwined stories that all take place on the same day in California's San Fernando Valley. The film opens Friday.

The dark, sometimes disturbing three-hour drama, set mostly on or near Magnolia Boulevard, explores the loneliness of its many characters and their family relationships, which sever and mend over one day and night.

"All the characters are searching for the truth about who they are or trying to correct things that they think are wrong with themselves," according to John C. Reilly, who co-stars with Moore and fellow "Boogie Nights" alumni Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Phillip Baker Hall and William H. Macy.

A stalker

Most of the cast gathered recently in Beverly Hills to discuss the film. Anderson, although shy and somewhat sheepish as he took his seat, quickly came to life when the conversation turned to his e."

In addition to drawing from Anderson's familiar stable of actors, "Magnolia" also features smaller supporting turns by Jason Robards and Tom Cruise. In contrast to his more traditional roles, Cruise is cast as a charismatic sex guru who hosts seminars to champion male empowerment.

Casting Cruise was a special treat for Anderson, who finds himself in the enviable position of being able to have his pick of talent. The deal first was discussed during a 1998 trip to the London set of the Cruise film "Eyes Wide Shut."

"We sat in Tom's trailer and he cooked us really terrible pasta," Anderson recalled, laughing. "It really didn't taste like anything."

Kubrick fan

Fortunately the opportunity to dine with one of Hollywood's biggest stars came with an unexpected bonus. During the trip, Anderson was introduced to his longtime hero and fellow filmmaker Stanley Kubrick.

"(Meeting him) was so amazing," he said of the late director. "It did humanize him, but I still have movies as early as age 7. "At first I actually thought I wanted to be a boxer because I saw `Rocky,' " he recalled. "Then my father explained to me that if you want to be like Rocky, maybe you want to be a writer -- because Rocky wrote the movie. So I said, `Yeah, that's what I want to do.' "

In the beginning Anderson, whose late father, Ernie, earned a living doing voice-over work for such shows as "America's Funniest Home Videos" and "The Love Boat," was born on New Year's Day 1970 and grew up in the San Fernando Valley, just miles from Hollywood.

He briefly attended the prestigious Buckley School but was asked to leave in the sixth grade, due to fighting and poor grades. He eventually graduated from a prep school and went on to study for two semesters at Emerson College in Boston before dropping out and heading to New York University Film School.

The more structured approach to filmmaking didn't agree with Anderson, and he decided to hone his craft the old-fashioned way -- by watching every movie he could get his eyeballs on.

Anderson began writing scripts and making home movies as a teenager, but got his official introduction to filmmaking as a production assistant on several movies, videos and game shows. In 1992, he borrowed a camera and produced his first short, "Cigarettes and Coffee." That film eventually landed at Sundance in 1993, and was later developed into the full-length 1996 feature "Hard Eight." The low-key morality play about a gambler in search of redemption featured Samuel L. Jackson and Gwyneth Paltrow, and marked the later. The vibrant black comedy about the porn industry in the late 1970s put Anderson on the map, garnering tremendous critical acclaim and sending a resounding wake-up call to the rest of the entertainment industry.

Testing boundaries

With "Magnolia," Anderson continues to carve his niche as a consummate storyteller. He is not afraid to test the boundaries of traditional filmmaking, often subjecting his characters to the unpleasantness of death, rape or incest.

"Magnolia" even contains several unintended and subliminal references to the Bible, including one scene where thousands of frogs begin to fall from the sky.

"I did not know that the (frog sequence) was in the Bible until about two months before we started shooting," he confessed. Anderson later admitted he saw the coincidence as an opportunity to sprinkle the film with his own brand of symbolism.

"If you look closely, in just about every scene there is an 8-2," he noted, "because Exodus 8:2 is the passage of the Bible when it rains frogs."

Anderson explained that frogs are often mentioned as a barometer to weather and to any society's health in general. "So it's kind of ironic that all of these frogs are deformed and have three eyes."

According to Anderson, "Magnolia" was intended to be a quick, inexpensive movie to make, but soon took on a life of its own. He began working on the script three years ago, after production wrapped on "Boogie Nights," and completed the final draft nine months later.

"I just kept on writing," he said. "One idea would lead to other ideas. I just didn't censor myself. I figured, `Here I am in this enviable, one-time position, given the success of "Boogie Nights," to be able to do whatever I want to do. And I will only get it once.' "

Anderson is presently working on a script for director Jonathan Demme but declined to discuss the content. Instead, he preferred to talk about "Magnolia" and the powerful message he hopes it will send to audiences after they see it: "Go home and be nice to your children."

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