The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Written By Bob Longino
Life after Boogie Nights
Director Anderson talks about
his new film, 'Magnolia,' and working with Cruise, Robards
Paul Thomas Anderson, the 30-year-old big gun among Hollywood's new cinematic wave of young auteurs, is finally putting his feet up in his Los Angeles home, smoking Camels, drinking Diet Cokes and getting a spy flick fix watching Sterling Hayden in 1957's "Five Steps to Danger" on Turner Classic Movies. "The vacation has now begun!" he shouts. On this day, the writer-director of 1997's Oscar-nominated "Boogie Nights" and this season's "Magnolia," which opens Friday in metro Atlanta, is happy.
Rewind to the day before, and Anderson is decidedly unhappy.
He's in his car, careening around L.A., barging into movie theaters to wheedle staffers into showing his newest movie, which has already opened there for Academy Award consideration, just like he wants it shown. Sound way up. New prints ordered if he spots imperfections on the screen.
"The job's not over when the movie's made," Anderson says. "The irony is that there's all this effort and all this money and all this time spent making a movie just so and then the theaters drop the ball. My overprotective father gene kicks in, and then I cajole the projectionists to make it look and sound just right."
Some say Anderson is a control freak. He doesn't argue the label. "Movies are my life and they mean so much to me," he says. "I just don't take it lightly."
And with "Magnolia," a three-hour whirl of a movie with nearly a dozen interconnected characters and a head-spinning plot involving, among many other things, moral choices, a TV quiz show, a motivational guru and an amphibian assault of biblical proportions, Anderson has controlled just about everything.
He wanted Tom Cruise and Jason Robards Jr. for his film and got them both. He talked New Line Cinema, which greenlighted "Magnolia, " into conceding him final cut of the film. He got his way with the movie's poster. And the theater trailer. And he's had his hand all over the TV marketing campaign.
Anderson, a film school dropout, gets all these things, in part, because he and other young, visionary directors like him --- Spike Jonze ("Being John Malkovich"), Kimberly Peirce ("Boys Don't Cry") and David O. Russell ("Three Kings") --- are creating a kind of directorial renaissance that Hollywood hasn't seen since the emergence of Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
Wall Street Journal film critic Joe Morgenstern has already anointed "Magnolia" the best movie of the year. The New York Times' Janet Maslin was decidedly more mixed, finding fault with Anderson's risky move to have each of his "Magnolia" cast members sing the same short line from an Aimee Mann song. "It's astonishing to see a film begin this brilliantly," she wrote, "only to torpedo itself in its final hour."
For the Golden Globes, "Magnolia" received only two nominations --- Cruise as best supporting actor and Mann for her song "Save Me."
"We wuz robbed," Anderson jokes, repeating the same line Warren Beatty used in 1967 when the actor's much-heralded "Bonnie and Clyde, "up for 10 Oscars, won only two.
"The truth of the matter is I was bummed out for about two minutes, " Anderson says. "Listen, honestly, getting Aimee nominated for 'Save Me' was my main objective."
Still, since "Boogie Nights," Anderson has been the "It" director of Hollywood (as The New York Times Magazine recently put it, he's "a sort of baby brother to Quentin Tarantino"). He's consistently praised for being a technical whiz and gifted writer. Even before he got a screenplay nomination for "Boogie Nights," the Sundance Film Institute invited him to its directorial workshop in Utah to help develop "Sydney," his intriguing treatment of Las Vegas gambling and a fatherly ex-mobster that later became "Hard Eight," his first feature-length film.
As Anderson recently took a brief holiday break from marketing "Magnolia," he talked by phone about an array of subjects, including working with Cruise and Robards, meeting his idol Stanley Kubrick and the reason he walked out of New York University film school years ago after just a couple of days of study.
Q: About the song your actors sing in "Magnolia." That was a risky move. Did you meet with any resistance from them?
A: I'm really surprised everybody wants to talk about the song and that they think it's so gutsy. I consider it a very real thing, a very natural thing in the context of the reality of this movie. We've all sung along to a song. When you feel good and even when you feel bad. You sit in it and wallow it, and it helps make you feel better or sadder. I had no resistance from the actors going into it, but Bill Macy and Tom Cruise admitted to me later they were wondering what in the hell was this? It was funny. But I think the best part of it was that Julianne Moore shot first. If you were ever going to do something strange, the thing to do is start with her. She can just sell it, whatever it is. She set the stage. After her, everybody got it.
Q: What was it like working with Tom Cruise?
A: It's my dream and not just because it's him but because he can do everything you ask him to do. I'm being silly, but if you say, "Can you stand on your head and do it in Yiddish," he'll say, "Yeah, sure." He's so gung-ho for the work. I was happy to meet my match in work ethic.
Q: We kept hearing how Cruise's part was small and then was later expanded.
A: The part is exactly as it was written. I actually cut a few scenes of Tom's out. We called it a cameo early on so people wouldn't't think it was a Tom Cruise movie. Actually, Tom was sweet about all of it, telling us early on about "the baggage of having me in your movie." We realized what he was trying to say when all these people just showed up on the set, all these fans that came from nowhere. He said, "I'm so sorry." We had to do a lot of safety precautions and things.
Q: Cruise invited you to the set of "Eyes Wide Shut." What did you and Stanley Kubrick talk about?
A: We talked about movies, but not much really. He kept his cards pretty close. He had seen "Boogie Nights." He asked if I wrote it, too. And when I said yes, he seemed to like me a lot more. I was really inspired looking at him and how he worked. He had a very small crew. He was someone who was doing it his way. He could shoot for two years because he only had a crew of eight. That said to me, "Pick a way that works for you and do that." I was inspired by that and certainly by seeing him control every aspect. It's a director's obligation to do that.
Q: How did you land Jason Robards?
A: I had written the part thinking of Jason. He's such a great actor. I went to Jonathan Demme and said, "Listen, I know you know him. Would you mind calling him and telling him I've written this great part for him?" Jon really liked the script and passed it along to Jason.
Q: What are the extra features on the "Magnolia" DVD going to be?
A: I'm still thinking about it. I won't be doing a commentary track. One promise that I will make is that the seminar (conducted by Tom Cruise's character) will be the full version --- you know, as one of those deleted scene extras. I'm going to definitely put the music video and the teaser and trailer on it. There was a documentary made of the making of "Magnolia." And I have to see if I come off handsome and eloquent enough.
Q: In the movie, Henry Gibson's character is named Thurston Howell. You have a "Gilligan's Island" fetish?
A: It's the same thing I did with Rollergirl (Heather Graham in "Boogie Nights"). Sometimes in the script I'll put a placeholder --- the kind of guy he is. I sort of wrote it like he was a Thurston Howell-Dorothy Parker-Truman Capote kind of character. It just stuck.
Q: You've got a dozen interconnected characters in this movie. And the way you write, you usually have three or more options that you consider for what a single character might do. And that means even more multiple options for the other characters and vice versa. Did you go mad?
A: There were maybe two or three panic moments where I couldn't't get it under control. It's much more a blur than the other movies I've done. I don't get writer's block. It's writer's block in reverse. I just remember a few moments of total confusion. The answer is always just wait. And then five days later everything is fine again.
Q: It looks like you've put everything you know into "Magnolia" --- and not just visually. You put your soul into the script. You're the cop character John Reilly plays. You've made yourself vulnerable to the world. Right?
A: Totally and completely vulnerable. But it's helping me build up good ammunition for not feeling vulnerable. It's the whole cliche of making myself happy first.
Q: But making yourself happy first doesn't usually mean big box office and Oscars.
A: I'm just hoping that at some moment in time what I'm thinking everyone else is thinking.
Q: You've referred to film school as "a complete con." What happened at New York University to make you want to leave after only a couple of days?
A: I sat in this class and this arrogant professor said, "If there is anyone here who wants to write 'Terminator 2,' you can leave now." I thought that was a rude thing to say. Plus, it's a dynamite movie. Second thing is, we were assigned to write a page of script with no dialogue. I got a page from (David) Mamet's 'Hoffa' and turned it in as my own. I got a C+. 'If Mamet's getting a C+, I thought, I ought to get the hell out of here.' "
Q: As part of your Sundance workshop, you got to talk a lot with John Schlesinger ("Midnight Cowboy"). What did you learn from him?
A: He said something to me that I always forget until after I've finished a movie. "With background action, it must always complement whatever the movie is about." And I'll always forget to do that while I'm making a movie. Then I'll discover some Schlesinger film on TV and see what he's talking about and then I'll think, "I've got to remember to do that next time." You get little pieces like that at Sundance. It's much more helpful than any film school because the people who are talking to you are actually making movies. And you get practical stuff about how to deal with unions. At film school, they teach film in a very heady way.
Q: You just don't like film school, huh?
A: I feel bad sometimes, because I got very lucky. Maybe a little talent, a little timing and a little luck. Film school actually could be a way out of something for somebody. A way for them to get to do this all the time.
Q: Will we ever see "Rollergirl: The Musical"?
A: Wouldn't that be great. When I'm 70 years old and I've lost the rights and somebody comes along and does that. That would be my dream. That would be so funny. I could go see it. And say, "This is miserable. You people are crazy." You know, during "Boogie Nights" I actually thought for a half-second that we should make a Rollergirl spinoff.