Sunday, January 20, 2013
Interview: Paris Press Conference
Transcription by Megan Leddy
B.E.A. Beatrice: Well Paul Thomas Anderson what was, five years after There Will Be Blood, what was your original impulse in writing The Master? And who came first in your writing mind? Was it the sailor soldier, or was it the Master?
PTA: The story about Freddie I had first – the story of a sailor who was more comfortable probably at sea than on land. Just a series of events for that character - until he met the Master.
B.E.A. Beatrice: While we can quite easily understand Freddie’s attraction to the Master – but how do explain the Master’s attraction to Freddie? What makes Freddie so special that he attracts the Master’s attention?
PTA: It’s funny – I feel the same way in reverse. It was always easier for me to understand what the Master saw in Freddie – that was always very clear to me which is weakness and low self-esteem and those negative personality traits. But in addition to that he saw a friend – somebody to drink with and to dance with and to party with. That really appealing thing that happens when somebody comes into your life that by all accounts you should have no connection with at all, but something just snaps and you feel that you have seen them before you’ve met them before – you’re meant to be friends. I always had to ask myself: Why does Freddie stay around? Cause he has such an impulse to go away. And one thing that Joaquin came up with and found was - for a lot of these sailors that had been in the war – when they came back from the war they felt very aimless. Because they didn’t have any commander anymore – they enjoyed the part of the military that was very structured, that gave them a commander. That if they had a commander that they connected to and they liked very much they really liked working for him. They liked being guided and to come back home, and life back here, to not have that was very disorienting. So I can see Freddie’s attraction to this commander.
B.E.A. Beatrice: In your life or career did you ever meet someone who you could call a “master”? Someone who deeply changed your ways and your life?
PTA: Yeah – my first thought was within my profession, the way that I felt about Robert Altman -the way that I looked up to him and the way that he was so kind to me. But to imply that we had a similar relationship – that would be a mistake. It was just not that at all, but it is sort of the first thing that popped into my mind. Quickly followed by the woman that I’m with, who I’ve been with for ten years and I have three kids with, she occurs to me as a master in terms of that question, in terms of making a huge impact on your life and changing the course of it. But even a friend – even Philip I consider a similar relationship just in terms of how much you can meet someone and how much they can inform the flow of the rest of your life. When that happens it’s very strong you know, and it’s not just in relationships we have that make family or kids but in friendships as well. My friendship with Phil is one of the strongest I have. You know through my life from my father to some other men I know recently I’ve had very close relationships to older men, stronger, some kind of attraction to that.
B.E.A. Beatrice: When we see your film we are struck by Joaquin Phoenix’s performance because it’s almost scary – and you really wonder if at any point his health was at stake or something. You also at one point almost feared for his health, his state of mind?
PTA: No – it’s sort of simple to say but, he’s acting, you know? And it is really really good acting. He gives the impression that he just has no idea what he’s doing and it’s just this animal who’s walked into where there’s a bunch of movie cameras that just happen to be on. It’s the highest compliment of acting. It would be a mistake to think that he is not in complete command of himself and his ideas. He’s an incredibly inventive actor and incredibly instinctual and unpredictable - but he’s also very intelligent too. Usually those things don’t mix together - usually you don’t get that combination. Sometimes you get an intelligent actor’s that are very cold and can’t be instinctual. But Joaquin I think enjoys flirting with danger - enjoys getting very close to dangerous situations. He’s much like Daniel in that way – they are very similar – in that it seems like it’s not worth doing unless somebody gets lit on fire or something.
PTA: The best that I can do is write good scenes for them or at least close enough for them to get started, and that’s usually when I feel pretty good because they’ve got something to do. It’s always trouble when I write bad scenes and I ask them to do it and there’s no way they can fix it and they can save it and that’s always horrible. One of the things that can be good I suppose is simple communication. It’s as simple as that. The worst thing in the world for actor’s I think is when they don’t know what the whole day is going to be. You come to work in the morning and you make a plan about what you are going to do – hopefully you can understand how many shots you need. It sounds very simple but it really goes a long way because when things really go bad on a movie set is when you start shooting more shots than you need, and everything starts to unravel because they can get physically spent or tired. It sounds so simple but it really is the most helpful you can be is like a secretary and be like here’s what we need and how to budget your time and their energy. It’s the kind of thing we’re talking about with Joaquin; it’s very athletic very physical, so you have to take into account that kind of thing, because he’ll keep going and keep going as much as he can but he’ll run out of energy – he can’t do things over and over and over and over again. And I really don’t like to do a lot of takes – I’m not like those directors that do 90 takes – we don’t really do that.
B.E.A. Beatrice: Of course we are dealing with post-war America – traumatic experiences – was there something in you, what prompted you to explore those years - the 50s, so to speak?
PTA: Oh fuck, it’s like trying to figure out why you fell in love with your wife. Maybe she’s got a good sense of humor, she’s got pretty eyes, but what have you really said? You haven’t said exactly anything you’ve just sort of listed these things. You know there’s obvious element of kind of parallels to things I was researching about Dianetics and L Ron Hubbard and that was kind of the 50s, and the more I looked at that stuff it felt like a fertile time to tell a story. You know the simple reason too is fashion reasons – good costumes, good cars, good music – that’s enough of a reason too. Beyond that you have better reasons – understanding a gravity towards a time – it’s my dad’s era too so all of that kind of stuff, music I was familiar with. It appealed to me – there was just a draw to it – those are the reasons I can put my finger on, I am sure there’s other reasons I can’t put my finger on. We were just in the Louvre and looking at all the Egyptian stuff and it’s amazing and I’m looking at it but it doesn’t make me salivate, you know? When I see this time, when I look at this time post-war I start to salivate, my eyes water – why? I don’t know.
B.E.A. Beatrice: You said earlier that sometimes when you meet someone for the first time you have the impression of having met him or her in another life, in another past life - do you believe like the Master in your film that we have many lives to live?
PTA: I do. Yeah, I do. I hope. And if I thought that before a little bit just in the course of doing this film and looking into all of these ideas that are presented that I feel that I kind of formulated a much stronger feeling about it – a much more hopeful feeling about that. But who’s to say? I’d like to – I love that thought – I love thinking about it. It’s the only way to sometimes explain some feelings that you have for people or places or – it’s the only good reason I can see to explain some of these things that come over you.