Friday, November 16, 2012

Interview: Wittertainment

Transcription by Ashley Wilson.

MK: That was a clip from The Master and we're very happy to be joined from Los Angeles by Paul Thomas Anderson. Paul, Welcome to the show.

PTA: Thanks, Mark.

MK: Now the film has opened in London in the 70MM print, it's about to open nationwide. For those who haven't seen it, can you just give us an idea of the story of the film?

PTA: Oh boy, uh...well we're low on story. We're high on character and low on story. We've got um...the basic premise is that Joaquin Phoenix plays a guy named Freddie Quell who comes back from WWII a bit damaged and a bit aimless, and stows away on a boat. And it just happens to be the boat that belongs to Lancaster Dodd, AKA The Master, who convinces Freddie that he...they become fast friends and he convinces him, he sort of says to him, you know if you've got any pain that you've dropped along the way here that's made you unhappy, I can find a way to go back and fix it for you.

MK: And what can you tell us of the origin of Lancaster Dodd's character? I mean obviously he appears to some extent to be inspired by the real life character of L. Ron Hubbard.

PTA: Yeah, a lot so. L Ron Hubbard was a big influence on creating the character, there's a lot of similarities between the two. There's a lot of differences too. The basic idea is that he starts a kind of um...a system of managing your past traumas and accessing memories that are embedded in your mind that perhaps you've forgotten---that perhaps are from this life, perhaps from another life----but if you navigate toward them and you hold hands with them, it will help you be happier in the skin and the life that you're in right now. So yeah, that's the similarities. But you know, in creating the character Phil kinda had to broaden it out, because otherwise you're just doing an impression of that person, and that's not what we wanted to do. You know, um, there was a Charles Laughton movie on this morning and I was just as influenced by him as a performer and a man as I was Hubbard, you know um...a kind of larger than life person who's light on their feet, who has an enormous appetite for life.

MK: Obviously Hubbard is known as the founder of Scientology, I read an interview with you in which you said, "Just because the film refers to Scientology or is in any way about Scientology, why does that mean that it has to be critical of Scientology?" How do you feel about the character that Philip Seymour Hoffman plays? Because actually, in the early stages of the drama, he does appear to be helping and aiding Joaquin Phoenix's character through some very deep-seated traumas.

PTA: Well I like him. I mean I wrote him, I came up with him, so I consider him a friend. I think the character that Phil plays in the film is dealing with something that gets a little bit bigger than he might---maybe he imagined or maybe he did want it to get that big---but I think the difficulty becomes if you're helping people, if you created a system of whatever exercises---mental exercises, physical exercises and things that people are latching onto, that is helping them. Sooner or later, if something you're doing like that grows, perhaps it kind of turns into an industry or something bigger than just a kind of hands on approach to helping people. And for the guy that we have in our film, his wrestle with that and his navigation of that perhaps isn't as graceful as it should be. But that's what he's dealing with, is how to kind of navigate this kind of home-grown self-help thing into something bigger. Which obviously everybody has ambition, everybody wants to succeed with what they're doing---our character wants to help people. But what happens when that translates into a sea of people looking at you, hoping that you will not just ask them good questions, but provide them with answers? That's when things start to get a little bit sticky.

MK: Can you tell me something about Joaquin Phoenix, he gives this extraordinary, twisted performance. He is physically contorted throughout the whole thing, he looks like somebody who has been literally bent out of shape. Again, I read an interview in which you said, you sighted the fact that some people find him quite scary to work with and you like that idea, that there's kind of a mercurial quality to him. Where did that twisted, bent performance come from?

PTA: I have to say, um, I wrote a couple nice ideas for this character down, and maybe I kind of got the ball rolling. But, in terms of percentages, it falls to him. The way that, the kind of distance between some stuff you write down on a page and what he ended up doing is like vast. I had no idea what my original ideas were, even for this character, but I know he just kind of showed up and started slowly contorting into this person who clearly was so damaged. You know, for instance, we had kind of a bad idea that we might show some war um...stuff from the war, like traumatic war experiences and things like that. I remember the first day of shooting, taking one look at his face and thinking: You don't need to shoot anything. Like what are you gonna do, like bombs going off and stuff like that? It woulda been horse shit. And this was like, just what he can do, one look in his face, you think: I don't know what he's seen, but it doesn't look good.

MK: Well we have a couple of questions from listeners. This is from Will Chadwick: "The music in The Master is extraordinary. What compelled you to use Jonny Greenwood as your composer for both The Master and There Will Be Blood, and what is it about his style of music that fits the stories you're trying to tell?" Of course I gave Jonny Greenwood an award for There Will Be Blood after he was outrageously disqualified by The Academy in surely one of the most grotesque miscarriages of justice of recent years, of many that they have made. But tell us a little bit about working with Jonny Greenwood.

PTA: Well, what can I tell you about working with Jonny Greenwood? He only looks like he doesn't know what he's doing, um, is what I would say. (Laughs) He um...well it's a pleasure, it's a thrill honestly, because no matter what I might vaguely hear in my head---I'm not very musical at all, but no matter what I kind of can feel in my bones, what he comes up with never fits it...and that's a good thing. You know, it never...usually he'll kind of come up with things that I first hear, and I just think they're so beyond me. It takes me a little while to catch up with what he's thinking and what he's doing, and that's fun. It's fun to show him the film without much music in it, and have his response to it...and either stuff that he's kind of had lying around, that he's just sort trying to develop more...or stuff he'll come up with that's original for the film. You know, just digging around and working with him is a real pleasure. Him and Graeme Stewart, his producer, they do everything together and it's a fun part of the process. It goes on for about a year and, yeah, I always miss him when we're not working together.

MK: This is a question from Matthew Crow. "You said after Magnolia that it would be the best film you'd ever make. Do you still believe that?"

PTA: Well, you're supposed to say that whenever you're promoting your new film, right? But I probably assume at that age and that time, what I probably meant was that, you know, you have a certain moment to write something and let it come out of you...and it's fleeting. It always is, no matter where you are in your life, you can't go back. And that film was something that came out of me that...I couldn't do that again. I just couldn't. So, that's probably what I was meaning.

MK: And what can you tell us about Inherent Vice, the Thomas Pynchon...?

PTA: Not much at the moment. Just sorta messing around with it and trying to make it make sense in my mind. Um, you know, do you know the book?

MK: No, I mean I know it, but I haven't read it.

PTA: It's great, I mean it's really fun...

MK: Can you give me a plot synopsis?

PTA: Oh my god, no. (Laughs) I couldn't even...are you kidding me? No way. I've been working on it for 3 years, I still can't figure out the plot. Um, and that's okay, that doesn't really matter. That's not the point of it. Um, it's basically a's a hippie movie. It's a detective hippie movie. We'll see how it goes.

MK: Well thank you very much. I think The Master is a masterpiece, and thanks for coming on the show.

PTA: Thanks Mark, see you soon.

MK: Take care.

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