People/AOL Chat Transcript: With Don Cheadle
November 17th, 1997
Quentin Tarantino, move over. The latest entry in the Cinematiste Enfant Terrible competition? Twenty-six year old Paul Thomas Anderson whose second film, Boogie Nights is now playing at a theater near you. Anderson began his career working as a production assistant on assorted television movies, videos and game shows in Los Angeles and New York. His first short film, Cigarettes and Coffee proved a hit at the 1993 Sundance Festival - allowing him to rework the concept into the feature-length Hard Eight , a strangely compassionate, character-driven story about hustlers in Nevada. Boogie Nights, Anderson's second movie, continues his fascination with people on the fringes. This time out his camera is focused on the mom-and-pop entrepreneurs of the adult film industry in Los Angeles circa late-seventies/early-eighties. Despite its controversial subject matter, the film has opened to rave reviews.
PEOPLE Online talked to Paul Thomas Anderson - as well as Don Cheadle who plays Buck in Boogie Nights - on November 17. Here's what the two of them had to say.
PEOPLE Online: Hi everyone - I'm Patrizia DiLucchio, this is PEOPLE Online on Pathfinder and tonight's cyberchat guest is writer/director/producer Paul Thomas Anderson whose latest film is Boogie Nights. And I'm pleased to say we're running a kind of two-for-one deal tonight because actor Don Cheadle - who plays Buck Swope - has also joined us here tonight.
Paul began his career working as a production assistant on assorted television movies, videos and game shows in Los Angeles and New York. His first short film, Cigarettes and Coffee proved a hit at the 1993 Sundance Festival - allowing him to rework the concept into the feature-length Hard Eight a strangely compassionate, character-driven story about hustlers in Nevada. Boogie Nights, Anderson's second movie, continues his fascination with people on the fringes. This time out his camera is focused on the mom-and-pop entrepreneurs of the adult film industry in Los Angeles circa late-seventies early-eighties. Despite its controversial subject matter, the film has opened to rave reviews.
Don Cheadle won the Los Angeles Film Critics award for his breakout role opposite Denzel Washington in Devil With A Blue Dress and is familiar to TV viewers from his role on Picket Fences. Most recently, he was seen opposite Tommy Lee Jones in Volcano, and in John Singleton's Rosewood.
Hey there, Paul & Don! Thanks for joining us here tonight!
Paul T. Anderson: Thank you for having us.
PEOPLE Online: The Internet, it's said, is going to revolutionize communications in the same way that video revolutionized the adult sex industry. Do you believe that?
Paul T. Anderson: I'm not sure. I only know that the first genre into any new medium is porno. I don't see video sales slipping, but we'll see.
PEOPLE Online: Boogie Nights is such a strikingly original film. How did you come up with the idea for it?
Paul T. Anderson: It came from a short I did before.
Don Cheadle: Didn't it come from a short based on your home life?
Paul T. Anderson: I'm getting beer as I'm talking.
PEOPLE Online: Get one for me, please.
Paul T. Anderson: It came from a short film I made when I was 17. I wanted to write a movie that would have a lot of sex and that would take place where I lived so I wouldn't have to drive far to work.
Question: Mr. Cheadle: Is it true that you're planning on portraying Sammy Davis Jr. in an upcoming project?
Paul T. Anderson: They want me to.
PEOPLE Online: You're too tall... Don?
Don Cheadle: They want me to too... I haven't decided if I'm going to do it yet.
PEOPLE Online: The thing that struck me walking out of Boogie Nights was how brave every single actor in that movie was, and how well you all worked as an ensemble. These were some of the rawest emotional performances I have ever seen on film. How did the group come to work so well on that level? Did you grow close on the set? I guess that's a question for both of you.
Don Cheadle: I would say yes, we grew close.
Paul T. Anderson: I would say that there was only one way to do the movie...that was 100%, you know. There was just no way to approach this kind of material with anything less than both feet in.
Question: The interplay in Boogie Nights seemed so spontaneous! How much of that was your screenplay and how much improvisation that grew out of rehearsals or spontaneous business on the set?
Don Cheadle: It was on the page--easy!
Paul T. Anderson: I'd say about 75% was in the script, 25% improvised. Perhaps 80% scripted.
Don Cheadle: I'd say 80% was scripted. The dialogue was so lyrical--it appeared spontaneous.
Question: Mr. Cheadle: The wardrobe that you wore during the New Year's Eve party, was that supposed to be based on Rick James, Earth, Wind and Fire or The Commodores?
Don Cheadle: Yes!
PEOPLE Online: The short definition of Boogie Nights is that it's "a film about the porn industry." Is that an accurate description?
Paul T. Anderson: Well, you certainly can't say it's not about porn. But I'd like to think that it has more to do with penis size than porno. It's just a big-dick movie. [Laughs]
PEOPLE Online: The 45 second shot of Dirk's penis at the end of film seemed certain to score an NC-17 rating - but when I saw the movie, I'm certain it was rated "R". How did you manage that?
Paul T. Anderson: Why is it not ok to show a man's penis in movie, but we can show a woman running around naked?
PEOPLE Online: Yeah - but actually you didn't show a real man's penis - you showed a penile prosthesis! Was this because Mark Wahlberg was actually better endowed than what the script called for?
Paul Thomas Anderson: [laughter]
Don Cheadle: I wanted to do it! Take a look at the Harvey Keitel filmography some time...it's all about size.
Question: Mr. Anderson: Have you thought about marketing some action figures and playsets based on the characters and scenes from Boogie Nights?
Paul T. Anderson: [laughs] Yes, we are going to be making some action figures, along with Dirk's Corvette. The Jack Horner family compound playset and hopefully all these dolls will be anatomically correct. The Buck doll comes naked, and the outfits are sold separately.
PEOPLE Online: Mattel just came out with a Rollergirl doll!
Question: Boogie Nights has come in for some criticism from alumnae of the adult sex industry who've claimed that it completely overlooked the legal persecution, harassment, and imprisonment that was kind of like the air those actors breathed. Check out the current issue of Adult Video News, the porn trade and fan magazine Any thoughts on that?
Paul T. Anderson: I don't know how to respond. I can only fit so much movie into 2.5 hours. Maybe there'll be a sequel.
Question: Don, how did you get started in acting? And if you hadn't have ended up as an actor, what do you think you would have gone on to be?
Don Cheadle: I started acting in grade school. I was the rat in Charlotte's Web!
Paul T. Anderson: That's why I cast him.
Don Cheadle: If I hadn't have been an actor, I'd have been a musician! I play sax. In fact - I won a full college scholarship for playing the sax.
PEOPLE Online: Boogie Nights reminded me of your first movie, Hard Eight in the sense that it's also a strangely compassionate story about hustlers who for the most part can't think more than a minute into the future. I'm glad to see movies like this being made! Have you got any more plans for movies like these two? Or next up will you be directing Independence Day, Part Deux?
Paul T. Anderson: I'm trying eagerly to sell out, and find my next project, which could in fact be The Greatest Story Ever Told, Pt. 2. - but with lots of porno.
Question: Don, Picket Fences was an Emmy-Award winning television show that enjoyed a loyal fan base but never quite got the audience it deserved. Is it fun doing a brave groundbreaking show even though it may never become the mega-hit that a more formula-driven show might be?
Don Cheadle: If you have a part in it!
I think my part in Picket Fences was marginalized based on the racial makeup of the show, and the writers. But I believe the show was quality.
PEOPLE Online: This is an era when studio executives plan the marketing of films with all the ferocity of a strategic missile attack. What effect has that had on a movie like yours?
Paul T. Anderson: That's not entirely true. That's assuming that they have faith in the film. With a movie that's a bit different, I have to strategically attack to convince them to strategically attack and hope it works out for the best. At the end of the day, it doesn't change the film, which is the most important thing to me.
PEOPLE Online: Practically every review I've read of Boogie Nights manages to mention your age somewhere in the first paragraph. Do you get tired of being compared to Orson Welles, Steven Spielberg et al? Are your years (or lack thereof) really relevant to understanding your work, do you think?
Don Cheadle: Yes!
Paul T. Anderson: I'm actually not 27. I'm 43. But 27 looks good in print.
Question: Is it easier to become a director by going to NYU or USC film school or by working your way up from production assistant the way you did?
Paul T. Anderson: Work your way up, save your money and forget film school. Go buy Bad Day at Black Rock and listen to John Sturges' commentary and you'll learn more about filmmaking than 4 years of going to school.
Don Cheadle: You arrogant bastard!
Question: Paul, how did you get your foot in the door of the industry? I know that Hard Eight was made out of your short but how did you get recognized and parlay it into making a big film and dubbed the "next big director"?
Paul T. Anderson: Hmmm. I stuck my foot in the door and started screaming "I'll kill your family unless you make my movie." But seriously...it's all in the writing.
Don Cheadle: You wrote a great script.
Paul T. Anderson: The directing is just bribery, because if the script is good enough and someone wants to make it, you basically just tell them that you're directing it. And there's a certain combination of arrogance and confidence that, unfortunately, comes in handy.
Don Cheadle: Audacity. I agree absolutely. I'm writing a movie myself.
PEOPLE Online: Screenwriting is a more-or-less solitary process--it's just you, the word processor & the espresso machine. Directing on the other hand is a collaboration. Do you have any preference between the two? Do different aspects of your personality come into play with each role?
Paul T. Anderson: Totally. I couldn't choose between the two. I love being alone, but I use that time to create a situation where I can be with all my friends and make a movie. Actually, in this moment now, I'd rather be on a set than alone.
PEOPLE Online: Don, I'm interested in hearing more about your script. There were a lot of actor-directed movies that came out last year. Do you think there's some essential difference between them and films directed by non-actors?
Don Cheadle: The film that I'm writing is loosely based on Cleopatra Jones and other 70's blackspoitation. Why Cleopatra Jones? 'Cause I want to work with some babes.
I think a director who knows about acting makes the process easier...but not necessarily a better film.
Paul T. Anderson: I just want Don to stand on his mark and say the line.
Don Cheadle: I don't think Ridley Scott gives a shit about acting. But he's a great director.
Question: Don, you've worked in theater, TV and movies. Do you have a favorite medium?
Don Cheadle: I love working on the stage, the immediacy, the fear it brings out. The best theater is direct.
Question: Don, your career seems evenly divided between big studio movies and quirky independent films Do you have a preference between the two?
Don Cheadle: I learn from big studio movies. The thing you learn when you're doing big studio projects is that it's not about you - it ain't called Actor; it's called Volcano. The great thing about character driven movies is that they are indeed about character.
PEOPLE Online: Paul & Don, thank you very much for joining us here tonight!
Don Cheadle: It was my pleasure. Thanks for having us.