Friday, January 07, 2000

Interview: Deseret News

The Deseret News, Written By Jeff Vice
January 7, 2000

Director Sings Praises of Unique Soundtrack

Filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson isn't one to turn down outside inspiration. "I'm always open to listening to other people's ideas," he said. "If they're good enough, I'll even steal them for myself. I'm not stupid."

That statement may sound like it was made in jest . . . or maybe Anderson is just brutally honest. The acclaimed writer-director simply admits he is the sum of his inspirations, be they authors, other directors or musicians.

This time around, Anderson's muse was Aimee Mann, the former 'Til Tuesday singer who's carved out a niche for herself with introspective pop songs. Her music — including several original songs and a cover of Three Dog Night's "One" — appears throughout Magnolia.

"The intent was to establish a singular voice, something to connect all these plots together," Anderson said by telephone from his Los Angeles home, where he was doing a string of interviews to publicize his new three-hour fantasy-drama, Magnolia (which opened in local theaters Thursday). "There are nine plots but only one story, I like to say." Anderson likened the musical approach to Mike Nichols' The Graduate, with its Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack.

Mann came highly recommended by Michael Penn, the pop musician who scored Anderson's previous two films, Hard Eight and Boogie Nights, who also happens to be her husband. Anderson didn't need much convincing. "I'm such a huge fan of Aimee's music. So to get her music for my film just unbelievable. And I let her do so much of my writing for me."

For example, Anderson claims that one of the film's most crushing scenes was "written backwards" from a line in the song "Deathly": "Now that I've met you, would you object to never seeing me again?"

In the movie, drug-addicted Claudia Wilson Gator (Melora Walters) says that line straight-faced to Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly), an L.A. cop who becomes infatuated with her after responding to a disturbance at her apartment.

"Pearls of wisdom," Anderson said. "I couldn't hope to write a line that good, that knowing. I just had to use it."

If that isn't odd enough, in one sequence the movie's multitude of characters performs karaoke to Mann's "Wise Up," in a scene that's likely to inspire some head-scratching among audiences. It's quite a risky scene — one of many in the film. But then, much of Magnolia is about taking chances, according to Anderson.

"It's very ambitious material, I'll admit," he said. "There are story elements here that a lot of other storytellers would be afraid to take on."

For instance, the movie attempts to address the problem of child abuse, both physical and mental. And the ending is most peculiar — it can be best described as biblical in nature — and it lends a mystical, fantasylike quality to the movie.

"I think they both show that I'm not interested in generic, formulaic filmmaking," he said. "That's what I'm consciously trying to avoid. Fortunately, I just don't think I'm capable of doing something like that, and I'm not about to start repeating myself."

However, Anderson does have one exception to the latter rule, at least when it comes to using some of the same actors in his films. Included in the cast for Magnolia are John C. Reilly, who was in both Hard Eight and Boogie Nights; Philip Baker Hall, also in both films; and Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman, both of whom were in Boogie Nights.

"I don't know what I'd do without them, honestly," Anderson said. "They're my on-screen family, and they represent the real me, through my films."

In fact, much of Magnolia is autobiographical in nature, since its show business subplots reflect Anderson's experiences growing up as the son of the late voice-over actor Ernie "Ghoulardi" Anderson (from "America's Funniest Home Videos," among many other programs).

"I've taken some liberties with the truth — it would be boring to just make a movie that was really like my life was," he explained. "But you can find a lot of me there. And there are parts that reflect how I would like to be. I think a lot of us would like to be as patient and understanding as Jim Kurring.

"Unfortunately, I think too many of us are more like (Frank T.J. Mackey, a sexual guru character played by Tom Cruise). And there are a lot of people who will relate to the film's more helpless characters."

Speaking of Cruise, the superstar was a surprising addition to the film's cast — even to Anderson.

"After I made Boogie Nights, I had a really inflated opinion of myself," he said. "But even in my wildest dreams I didn't think I'd get him to be in the film. Imagine my surprise when Tom told me he was a fan of my work, and what's more, he wanted to play a supporting role — a pretty unsavory one, too. That's a risky move for someone as famous as he is."

Equally risky was the move made by New Line Cinema officials, who ceded "final cut" rights on the film to Anderson. "I'm fortunate to work for someone as supportive as (New Line CEO) Mike De Luca, who's really stood by me. That's a lot of trust to put in someone who dropped out of film school."

He may be a film school dropout, but Anderson also got a wealth of experience at the Sundance Filmmakers Lab, where he worked on the earliest version of Hard Eight. "Sundance was the best film school I could go to. As it turns out I got to rub shoulders with people like (screenwriters Scott Frank and Richard LaGravenese) and (director) John Schlesinger. And it's where I first met John Reilly and Philip Baker Hall. I couldn't have gotten that experience anywhere else."

After putting his heart and soul on the screen with Magnolia, Anderson says he's now ready to make something less ambitious.

"You know what? I think I want to do something disposable, about 90 minutes long, where nothing but good things happen to the characters," he said with a laugh. "That sounds like a whole lot of fun."

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