Paul Thomas Anderson: "Forget Scientology, The Master is a love story"
Source: Le Point
Note: This interview was translated from French to English with the help of reader Nassim Kezoui.
The Master with his first film since There Will Be Blood sumptuous (2007), Paul Thomas Anderson returns in great shape. Fed on early readings of Scientology, he invented Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a suave mentor which closely resembles L. Ron Hubbard in certain details of his teaching as his life. Facing him, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), an ex-GI strong disrupted by the trauma of the Second World War. Them enters into a confrontation which is also a fascinating duel of actors at their peak.
Q: When we heard you were working on a movie about Scientology, we thought it would be necessarily against it...
PTA: Wrong! The truth is I like Dodd a lot. He's energetic, full of enthusiasm. Deep down, he's a creator. He tries to help people. Nobody is concerned with the wounds of the soul, past lives or mental health with money for only goal. There is a real quest which, then, know excesses...He starts his career with sincerity then he loses his inspiration. He finds himself at a crossroad. 'Do I need to go on,' he wonders. And here, the pressure of his entourage, the expectations around him, the taste of power...everything makes him go on.
Q: Why were you interred by the Dianetics, Hubbard's doctrine?
PTA: Above all, I like its simplicity. Everything is about the traumas of past lives and the fact that you can deal with them in the present. It's not that far away from psychoanalysis! Of course, it's more simplistic. We understand that after the horrors of war, after the camps and Hiroshima, people saw themselves in this idea which promise eternal life and force them to discover who they are. As for Hubbard, he was a character so immoderate, with a Orson Welles aspect, that he stimulates imagination.
Q: On the other side, in There Will Be Blood, you were very harsh with Eli, shown like a false prophet.
PTA: In this movie, the characters were very clear-cut. Plainview had an essential motivation: to prevent people from blocking his road. As for Eli, he was using spirituality in order to dominate others, he was a misleader. When I started The Master, I wanted to do something radically different from the previous movie. Let There Be Light inspired me for Freddie. We see disorientated, broken people in that movie. Freddie is like them, a hypersensitive animal, but also broken, overflowed by his violence. He has nothing of spiritual, and yet when he meets the Master he's curious. The Master is a manipulative person, but he's also sincere man. There is a confusion in these characters which is reflected in the movie. Until then, the dramatic stakes of my movies were very clear and overrode the characters. Here, they took control. I improvised a lot with the comedians to know where Freddie and Dodd would take us. It was always in shady zones, in the father-son relation ship that I've already explored a lot in my previous movies...But I can't change my nature!
Q: The Master appears like the continuation of There Will Be Blood: as if with every film you were telling a new chapter of the history of American and its relation with religious faith.
PTA: Oddly, I'm not fascinated by the theme of faith. What means something for me, it's the faith in someone. In There Will Be Blood, people had faith in Eli, they believed in him. The audience which assisted at Tom Cruise's conference in Magnolia drank his words. And Freddie has faith in Dodd. The media were very interested of the movie because of Scientology. I wanted to say to them: forget Scientology, The Master is a love story! These characters can't do without one-another. They're bound in a mysterious and indissoluble way. Above all, Freddie is a body, a broken body, twisted by pain, which crosses life suffering. He drinks like a fish to destroy himself. Maybe he's seduced by Dodd because his spirit wants to get rid of his body. He is trapped. When I engaged Joaquin, I knew he would be good. But not so much! There is a moment in the movie where The Master tries to break Freddie's resistance and he obliges him to repeat the same thing over and over. Joaquin had to cross a room, to touch the wall and then the window. We were shooting, we were shooting and, of course, his frustration rose. That lasted three days. He kept his eyes closed, like his character. That was kind of hypnotic, a mystic quest.
Q: This scene evoke the relationship between a director and his actor...
PTA: Yes, Philip Seymour Hoffman told me that day: "I've the impression to play a drama teacher!" Joaquin and Philip know they're pawn. Here, mine! They're clever enough to express their will by playing the game. Few have that courage.