Sunday, September 02, 2012

Interview: Venice Film Festival Press Conference

Partial transcript of the Venice Film Festival press conference on September 1, 2012.

On the film's central relationship

Paul Thomas Anderson: Every time I set out to write one of these things, I think they're going to be different than the last one we make. And maybe it's kinda the same, a relationship develops, but I look at these guys not like father and son. They're a little more like, not even master and servant and all that, just like love's immortal romance. Like, look at the love of your life, you know? I kinda try to look at it like that, less of a father-son thing. But it's great territory for a story. Because these kinds of relationships end up being a bottomless pit that you can keep going back to [and] hopefully it provides good stuff.

On shooting in 70mm

Paul Thomas Anderson: We'd been messing around, trying to find something, to see maybe what the film would look like. We were just messing around with cameras and Panavision recommended this big huge camera that's as big as this desk. And we tried it on for size and it looked great and we didn't really think it through because the camera broke all the time and made a lot of noise. You can still hear the camera rolling in the film, we just put fan noises over it so you couldn't tell that it was the camera. And it was just one of those things that felt right, look right, and normally it's supposed to be for epics and things like that. So we just brought the images in and used this old camera. It just seemed to feel right.

On the inspiration behind Freddie's young girlfriend

Paul Thomas Anderson: I read a story about a guy who came back from the war and met this girl of his dreams and she turned out to be 15 or 16, I don't remember how old she was. And she was going to visit her family in Norway and all that stuff was in the story I read and that's where it comes from basically. Liked it, liked that feeling, getting it in there. Solstad, I looked up popular Norwegian names and that one looked good. Picked it out of a book.

On casting the film

Paul Thomas Anderson: When I was writing the film I was thinking about Joaquin being in it, obviously I was thinking about Phil the whole time I was thinking about Joaquin to be in it. I've asked him to be in just about every other movie I've made and he's said no. Cause he's a little bit of a pain in the ass. But it's worth it. And he said yes this time. And thank God he did. And Phil I just expect him to be there to do something with me. And Amy was somebody that since I saw in "Catch Me If You Can" and "Enchanted" and "The Fighter," I knew I just loved her work and I asked Phil how she was to work with and he loved working with her. And she was just a great person to have around.

On whether the film is a specifically American story

Paul Thomas Anderson: The story could probably take place anywhere. I mean, I think it helps that it takes place in America. It seems to [ebb?] for me. I think it it specific to America, yeah. I don't know. I mean you could take these guys and you could put them anywhere else but... [trails off]

On whether he believes the wife to be The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson: The role of the wife, well we just talked about this before. Is she the master? I think yeah, sure. She is. I don't know. It goes back and forth I suppose like any relationship, comes on top, comes on the bottom. That's a dance that goes on in any relationship. Who's the master? The thing about the father? That shouldn't be read into too much. There was an old guy and we were shooting a bunch of things and Freddie sat down next to him and said "You looked like my father." We didn't know, we just knew that somebody had to die from the booze, we just picked somebody that looked good. And that day, we had a big picnic set up. And the light was going down on us honestly, so we just walked up and started talking to him. That's where that came from. I'm sorry he had to die but I looked on IMDB, he died like 100 times on "ER," that old guy. We thought we were the first to kill him. But it turns out he's played a corpse a number of times.

On whether he was nervous making the film

Paul Thomas Anderson: Every film is different. You start out, some of them you get rough spots in the beginning and then they get good. They all have a life of their own. I thought the first few days of this were really going great and then we saw dailies and thought, 'This is really tragic,' then you pick up and get some good stuff, then it gets tragic again. It's so hard to get anything that's good and if you get one thing a week, you're lucky. Then you just have to assemble it..

Philip Seymour Hoffman: ... it's work. It's making something. It's never easy. That's what I mean. I don't understand. It's never easy.

Paul Thomas Anderson: But it's not anxiety ridden or anything like that. I don't feel nervous. I feel excited and energized by it and love to do it. And love to do it for those reasons. I wouldn't say that I'm nervous. I just enjoy doing it very much and it's really enjoyable when you're doing it with people like these guys that make it very exciting to watch, to be around. It's thrilling, not nerve wracking at all.

On the intense scene where Freddie bangs his head against a toilet

Paul Thomas Anderson: That unfortunately was a real porcelain a toilet. And I'm not fucking joking about this. It's actually a historic toilet because it was in a San Pedro jail cell which is a historic monument in San Pedro and when they heard that we broke their toilet seat they were really pissed off because they couldn't get another one. So you could only do it once. That was it.

On what the characters see in each other

Philip Seymour Hoffman: What do they see in each other? I guess I still don't understand. I don't think they see something in each other, they feel something in each other. It's a sense of each other and I think they identify with each other. They're coming form different places but they're more the same, they're both wild beasts I think. One of them has just tamed it somehow and he's trying to teach other people how to do that. But ultimately that's where the doubt comes in, where the whole reluctant prophet thing comes in. Ultimately, he wants to be wild like Freddie is, so there's this real attraction there over those two very things: wanting to be tame it and wanting to be wild. I think that's basically what life is. I think that's what we'd wake up every morning going, 'Fuck, why can't I just run naked through the streets of Venice and just eat and shit. Why can't I just do that and have it be okay? Is it possible that I can just have sex with everyone I see today? No I can't. But I wish that was possible. So I think I'm just going to go find my Master, he'll teach me how not to do that.

On his relationship with Paul

Philip Seymour Hoffman: I've known Paul for 20 years now. I like him as a friend first and foremost, that I try to keep it that way, so when we work together it's kinda gravy. It's icing on the cake for me, it's a chance to take our friendship into the creative area, which is very fruitful. It's kind of a good thing. And you want to do that together, it's enjoyable. Even when it's hard it's kinda enjoyable cause you' going to get through it because you've done it before. And you know that the friendship endures. So that's how i view it, as an extension of that, it's a good thing.

On what the film is about

Paul Thomas Anderson: Well, you get to the editing room and you try to take out all the bad stuff. And hopefully you're left with enough stuff that you're okay with that it adds up to make a story. That was sort of a joke but um, narrative? I think we were just trying to tell a love story between these guys. And we had a lot of scenes that weren't about that and we just took 'em out and the narrative, for whatever the narrative ended up being, just ended up being driven by these two guys and their love for each other.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: It's the age-old story of a man who needs guidance, finds a mentor, they become co-dependent, the man leaves, and the one who is actually hurt is the mentor.   

On collaborating with Paul

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Paul gives you a lot of leeway. I think Paul's a fan of what an actor does. I think he respects it and I think he wants you to be responsible for it. So it's an ongoing conversation from the beginning you meet about it from the end of the film. I think we still talk about it. And you guys are watching it but that's the pleasure of the conversation and the camaraderie over the conversation. But the leeway we have is up to us. Hopefully it doesn't go off the boundaries of what is being discussed or what Paul has written in his imagination, but I think Paul welcomes the new thing. Anyone who's intelligent or talented understands that things are gonna come from a lot of different places so hopefully some of those things come from the actors. I don't think Paul's somebody who boxes you in.

Joaquin Phoenix: I think Paul maybe gives you the impression, or at least gave me the impression that I had leeway but I don't think I ever did. I don't know where it comes from and I don't care. I just said 'I don't know,' so thank you for the question.

On the L. Ron Hubbard connection

Paul Thomas Anderson: I based it on L. Ron Hubbard, a lot of it related to the early days of Dianetics. I don’t know much about Scientology. But I do know a lot about the beginning of the movement. It inspired me to use it as a backdrop for these characters.

On whether Tom Cruise has seen the film

Paul Thomas Anderson: Yes, I've shown it to him and yes, we are still friends. The rest is between me and Tom.


  1. Jesus, this process looks just like excruciating for Joaquin.


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