Friday, March 20, 1998

Interview: "Down With The PTA"

FilmInk Magazine, Written By Dov Kornits
March ?? 1998

He grew up in the San Fernando Valley during porn's prime and made a short film for Sundance called Cigarettes and Coffee. Then his first feature script Sydney (which became Hard Eight) was read by Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson and he made his directorial debut with this quirky, largely overlooked gem. But there's no doubt everyone who matters noticed his next film, the uniformly acclaimed Boogie Nights. Paul Thomas Anderson is 27 years old and down with Burt Reynolds, Mark Wahlberg and some of the hippest people in Hollywood. Even Warren Beatty has his number. It's about time he got down with FilmInk


“You know what, I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want to talk to someone who has just given up smoking. No fuckin’ way. But I know a lot of people who have and they turn into maniacs. You’re talking to the wrong guy. I started smoking when I was 18. I had just gotten out of high school and there everybody smoked there. I hated everybody so I went the opposite way of what everybody did. ‘You all just smoke because you think you’re cool. If I smoke I’m gonna smoke because I want to smoke, not because I think it looks cool.’ So I got out of high school and was sitting around by myself. ‘I think I’ll smoke. But I’ll smoke in private. I don’t want it to be a chic thing.’ So I just started smoking and before I knew it (clicks his fingers), I was addicted.”

The Dirk Diggler Story

“When I was 17 I made The Dirk Diggler Story on videotape, which was a short fictional documentary version of Boogie Nights. Zelig format - interviews with people about Dirk Diggler. Then, you know, stood on that, kept writing scripts and stuff. Then when I was 21 made a short film called Cigarettes and Coffee, that went to Sundance and people saw that. I didn’t go to film school so I was able to shave some time in order to write. I shaved four years off my schedule by not going to film school. I had this movie called Sydney which became Hard Eight, got that financed because Gwyneth Paltrow and Sam Jackson wanted to be in it. Got lucky with that.”

Regular Cast Members

“I was a fan. Phillip Baker Hall and John Reilly and Phil Hoffman, all actors that were in both Sydney and Boogie Nights. I'm sure there are certain directors who just want to work with Tom Cruise. So do I, but I wanted to work with Phillip Baker Hall, you know what I mean? I wanted to work with John C. Reilly, I wanted to work with Phil Hoffman. I'd seen Phil in Scent of a Woman., I’d seen John Reilly in everything he’d done like Casualties of War, I'd seen Phillip Baker Hall in a ton of stuff. Those were the guys I was into. Fuck Sean Penn, I want Reilly. That's just where my taste landed me. That's not really commercial taste. It’s lucky enough that Gwyneth and Samuel were my taste, and they were able to get the movie financed because they were in it. So I could have all the actors I wanted. It's very rare to have good actors and actors who can get a movie financed. Usually their names are not on both lists. Do you know what I mean? The wonderful thing now is that due to the success of Boogie Nights, I can keep putting my favorite actors in movies and don't have to worry so much about star power.

Tom Cruise

“I’ve gotten to work with all the character actors I want to work with, but the biggest star actor I want to work with is Tom Cruise. I fuckin' love him. He's the man. I love Tom Cruise. I mean I'm not going to pay him $20 million, but he's a great actor. Top Gun sucked but I loved him in Color of Money, I loved him in Jerry Maguire. I think that is such a good performance. It really reminds me of a Jimmy Stewart performance. It's really simple and he's very good. Funny, charming, lost and confused. He's really good at confused. I actually find him very similar to John Reilly in a very twisted way.

John C. Reilly

“There’s a lot of what he’s really like in John Reilly performances in my movies just because I know him so well. We’re best friends.”

Porn Director Paul Thomas

They fucked me up. I don't know if this is right. I have personal friends who know Paul Thomas who is a porn star and he never went by Paul Thomas Anderson, that's not his name.

Mark Wahlberg

“When I first met Mark I sat down with him. I was excited to meet him because I’d seen Basketball Diaries. ‘Let’s hope he’s a good guy because I know he’s a good actor and can do this part.’ And he’d only read thirty pages of the script. I thought what the fuck is this. Who is this jackass? ‘Why have you only read thirty pages?’ And he said ‘Cause I love it. I just wanted to make sure that you wanted me as an actor and not because I’m the guy who will get into his underwear from the Calvin Klein stuff.’ I was like ‘I don’t give a shit about all the Calvin Klein stuff. I’m interested in you as an actor, so go finish reading the fucking script and come back.’ He loved it so much he didn’t want to be disappointed to get to the end of it and love it even more and find out that I just wanted the underwear guy. So I said ‘I don’t want the underwear guy, go finish reading it and come back and we’ll talk.’ And he said ‘I love it and I want to be in it. He called me PTA and I call him Marky. After this film he asks for $2 million a film, I can call him whatever the fuck I like, motherfucker.”

Ron Jeremy

Ron Jeremy never came to the set. He was just one of the first people that I met in the porn industry. He's just such a pain in the ass and such a fuckin' pest that I had to give him a credit otherwise he would have never left me alone. Mark met him once and Ron took him to a porn set. Ron Jeremy just wanted him to listen to his rap records. Mark was like 'Get your fuckin' rap record away from me.''

The San Fernando Valley

“I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, which is the capital of porn production in the middle of a suburb of LA. It was always around me and I was always interested in it. Film shoots would be happening around me and I was interested. I would see the outside of the houses where I knew it was going on because of the people coming in and out. I could put 2 and 2 together. It’s an industrial warehouse with no signs on it and you’d see people coming in and out. There’s no sign on the door. I think something’s going on. On top of that I had a fascination with pornography, half-sociological, half-horny young man. Just like giggly camp value. But also the filmmaking side. In the same way some people get excited about 50’s sci-fi B movies, the same kind of excitement I get from 70’s porno films. Looking at what they wanted to be, what they tried to be which was artistic. Yeah sure, a sex film but also with form of storytelling merit, and I thought it was romantic. It’s ironic that it was taken away by the video revolution.”

Seventies Porn
“I think it could have evolved into something because it was snuffed out before it had a chance to breathe. In the 70’s you had porn filmmakers trying to inject plot, story and1 characters. These were people trying to attach something to what was basically fuck films. At the same time you had mainstream Hollywood which was being so subversive, so cutting edge and so cool during the Seventies. So it was like two locomotives that were coming at each other. Porn films trying to be legitimate but still catering to their market, and legitimate films that were getting more towards Clockwork Orange and Midnight Cowboy. Momentarily it seemed like they were going to collide and straight, legitimate films would have collided with porn and it would have resulted in some really interesting stuff. Porn got derailed by video and the wonderful Hollywood stuff in the Seventies got derailed by Star Wars.”

Old Movies

“I get into 30’s and 40’s films just because I can’t do it, so I just love watching little traditional plots, you know what I mean. Because I’m so bad at it, I just love watching good stories.”
Boogie Nights: The long and short of it
No, really, it was THIS long! - "Yeah somebody said my movies are too long and I cut their fucking throat. No, New Line asked me once or twice whether it has to be this long and I said 'Yes, shut up.' It is what it is. It's long but if it was a minute shorter you'd say it was too short and if it was a minute longer you'd say it was too long." I had a three hour cut, so I cut out about thirty minutes out of it.

Dirk's Tunes

I wrote Feel the Heat. Yeah. I'm not giving up the rights to that. John Reilly wrote the music. We were very proud of that. And Mark did a very good job of singing. "You Got The Touch" I actually discovered when I was 16 or 17 years old on a soundtrack to The Transformers animated movie. I saw this in a 99 cents bin and thought this looks ridiculous, I gotta buy this. The original "You Got The Touch" was on it. So we covered it, fucked it up a bit and made it sound more like a demo. We paid through the nose for that song, not. It was great fun doing the cover. I said to Michael Penn who did the score and said ‘Listen to this song, now do the cover of it as if it’s a porn star doing a demo.’”

Shooting sex scenes

I wasn't embarrassed, I was nervous. The first scene we shot was when Heather Graham takes her clothes, gets on top of Dirk and says I never take my skates off. It was the first sex scene she'd ever done and it was the first sex scene I'd ever shot. I was more nervous than her and I was driving her crazy because I was looking out for her. After four or five takes I just snapped out of it and said 'Well, I can't do this. I have to be the director. There's something wrong with the shot but I'm too nervous talking to Heather, I'm too boyish because I'm staring at her naked body. I have to get over this because I'm not doing my job. We did. And I got to give her directions. 'Heather, you gotta kiss him like a porn star, you're kissing him too nice. Be nasty.' You get into the groove and it becomes like any other scene.

Censorship Blues

“We had a few hassles with the MPAA, which is the rating board of America. We didn’t have to lose much. At the time it was hellish to go through and I thought it was cutting up my baby. But then I stepped back and thought ‘Well this isn’t so bad. All we’re losing is a couple of frames of Mark’s ass.’ It’s not fucking up the story or losing the rhythm. About 85% of the script is in the film.”

Hard Eight

"The original title for my first film was Sydney. They thought it was a movie about Australia. I just said fuck off, you're just a fuckin' TV movie [referring to the release title Hard Eight]. It was released in America, got great reviews and nobody went and saw it."

Listen to What the Man Said…

“This has been huge. I knew it was a good movie but I didn’t think this and LA Confidential would be the best reviewed movies of the year. It made it into over 200 critics’ top ten lists. I knew it was good, but didn’t know it was that good.”

Burt and Warren

I sent Burt the script. Then I saw Striptease and it nearly made me not cast him. But I sent him the script, I met him and he said it's great, let's go. Then Warren Beatty called me up on the phone and wanted to talk. I was like 'you're wrong for this movie', but then a day later I was mesmerized by Warren and was like 'you're right for this movie, you must be in my movie' and he was like 'I don't want to be in your movie'.

A Titanic Decision

"Leonardo DiCaprio was my first choice for Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights. I met Leo and ultimately he decided to do Titanic and that has worked out real well for him. Leo is still great, a good guy and a friend of mine. Mark is great and better than Leo would have been. Leo is better than Mark would have been in Titanic. So everybody ended up doing the right thing and I'm just happy that Mark is in it."

The Robert Altman Influence

“Who? Who? Never heard of him. Nashville never heard of it. Never even seen it. I wouldn’t know it if it hit me….I know every frame of that movie, it’s one of my favourite movies and certainly the ensemble storytelling influenced Boogie Nights. It’s funny because as much as I love Nashville it wasn’t like I set out originally to tell a Nashville-like story. Because that’s not the original Dirk Diggler story which was just about the one guy. But what happened was I fell in love with so many actors that stories multiplied and the more stories I heard about pornography I kept seeing this as a sign that I needed to use the Nashville model. I used three movies as templates and structure for my script. Goodfellas, Nashville, and Battle of Algiers. I love the idea of an ensemble movie, working on all cylinders at all times because it gets so many things going and it’s a challenge balancing all that.”    


“The opening scene is not even remotely a homage to Goodfellas. There are a million other scenes that are homages but the opening scene has nothing to do with Goodfellas. I don't understand where people get it into their head that it is. I guess because it’s a nightclub and a long shot. But my inspiration for that shot came from Absolute Beginners, very glamorous. But the Scorsese influence came from the storytelling. Goodfellas is a movie about gangsters that somehow managed to become relatable an audience. So how do you tell a story to make these murderers, thieves and drug dealers acceptable to an audience. There’s something to be learned here because I’m making a movie about porno people who people don’t usually want to know anything about, so how do I tell a story about them to make them relatable.”

Loving Your Characters

“The balance was achieved because I knew I would not laugh too much at them because I had my friends playing the characters and I’m going to take care of the characters like I take care of my friends. When you hang out with your friends you laugh with them and you laugh at them, so I knew it was going to be okay. I love to fuck with Reilly as much as I love to protect him, so I knew I had the greatest defense mechanism built in already in terms of balancing that aspect of the story. There is an element of parody and I laugh as much at these people as I do with them. Ultimately I love them, so I know it’s going to be okay. So I don’t have to work on that aspect of the story, it just built in.”

What's Next?

You’ll just have to see (motioning towards his sleeves). I have a few tricks up my sleeve.”