Cinelive Magazine, Written By Sandra Benedetti
Cinelive : Why did you choose this picture?
PTA: Because it's the picture of a father and his son and because it's the picture of a star and it's going to draw people to the theater ! (laughs) Because Magnolia is based on the father/son relationship. (Pensive)
And because, like the other characters in the film, the character played by Tom Cruise says "I love you" in his own way, that is by saying "I hate you"?
PTA : Yes, that's exactly what I wanted to hear you say. Frank Mackey feels anger toward his dying father but even when he’s saying he's glad he's dying, these are words filled with love that he’s pronouncing; he doesn't want him to die, no way. What's even more disturbing about Frank is that he's full of contradictions. Here's a kid whose mother dies and whose father abandons. And he'll be mad at his mom until she dies and mad at women in general since he gives seminars on how to seduce and destroy women. There, you feel like saying "hey wait a second !Why aren't you mad at your dad? Why is your mother the mean one? It doesn't make any sense !" That's the kind of mistake we all do in our lives. It's universal. That's what makes the strength of the character played by Tom.
Is this seminar made to ridicule women who keep complaining about men in articles, magazines, TV shows... ?
PTA: You might not believe it but this show does exist in the United States !It's not very popular because it's very cracked and it makes everybody laugh. Every time I see something so absurd, I always wonder how someone can com up with this idea. What happened in his life to make him say what he's saying? And so, I used that, I invented a past to this MC who shores up his emotional confusion and turns aside his true anger.
Magnolia talks about redemption, like a lot of movies lately. Tell us, what's going on?
PTA: For me, the real redemption consists in acknowledging one's errors and doing everything you can not to do them again. In the other movies, they're just saying "OK, you made a mistake, you're forgiven". There's a margin. But that's the current trend, it's so easier this way. You're forgiven and then you can do the same crap again. It reflects an awareness of the contemporary world which doesn't really assert itself, I think.
Does the sentence "I have so much love to give but I don't know where to put it" pronounced by William H. Macy who plays Donnie Smith, reflect the movie?
PTA: Well it reflects a good deal of it. What am I gonna do with all this love? Sometimes, like in Claudia's case, you feel so bad, you're so lost that you don't want to take the risk of falling in love. You're scared you might hurt the other person. And then you start saying " all I'm gonna bring you is trouble so push off while you can". That's one of the mainsprings of the film.
What were you thinking about when you started writing the script?
PTA: I wanted to do just the opposite of what I did !I wanted to do a short film, with a small budget that I could have shot in 3 weeks. I was so exhausted after Boogie Nights, the promotion had left me dead beat,... I thought that would do me good to try to do something easy. I started to write and then I couldn't stop. I think it's because I had a lot of things in my mind that I thought I had repressed and which took this opportunity to reappear suddenly. At one point, I wondered if it was a good idea to let myself be carried away by what was fundamentally self-pity, a kind of indulgence, of laziness too. And the answer turned out to be yes.
Was your starting point, by any chance, the prelude of the film?
PTA: It was ! I had found these three stories intriguing. I thought they would be a good basis for a script about chance, coincidence whether they were good or bad ones. I still don't know what I wanted to get from them. But I know I was concocting something comic because I've always wanted to write a comedy. It turned out that my comic inclination didn't last very long.
Did you take your inspiration from real-life character, like you did for Boogie Nights?
PTA: Yes. They are my friends, famous or less famous people, people from my entourage. When I started working, I worked as a PA on game shows where I met some exceptionally gifted kids, like Stanley or Donnie in Magnolia, and who had the same behaviors because they were pushed by their parents who were only interested in the money. Even myself, I was in the same state of mind as these kids after I did Boogie Nights. Faced with the success of the film, I got out of my depth, I was feeling too young, too immature to assume this success, to take on the responsibility that people were imposing me.
Do you feel more mature now?
PTA : No I'm just pretending.
But you talk about very delicate, almost taboo topics in your films.
PTA: I do but it's not a sign of maturity !(laughs)
Magnolia is both cruel, depressing, pleasure-giving and ironic but there's no cynicism. Did you pay close attention not to be cynical ?
PTA : It's funny : that's what I realized when I saw the film : I'm not cynical. But while I was writing, it was unconscious, I hardly thought about it. I can be quite a knocker, I can kick up a fuss like kids do but fundamentally I realized recently that I wasn't cynical. Its' a good thing because I don't like cynical movies. It's easy, it's lazy.. it allows you not to go deeply into it.
The actors were said to be frightened by the complexity and intensity of their characters. How did you direct them?
PTA: It's true that each character constituted a challenge because it called for intense emotions which were often contradictory. Some actors didn't even have any indication about the reasons of their character's behavior. Julianne Moore in particular, was scared because she had to play a woman who's having a nervous breakdown when faced with death. I couldn't tell her how to play it because you need to have gone through that, everybody reacts to it differently. It's innermost and personal. Usually I'm very descriptive, I give loads of details. In that case, the only thing I could do was to tell them to draw from their own emotions, to give way but while sticking to the script.
You entertain very affectionate relations with your actors. Is it a need or a necessity?
PTA: I really love them. I love watching them play. I always have the feeling to attend a voodoo session. I don't know how they do it, they amaze me. It's a show for me. I need them to be my friends because their friendship is what makes me want to keep writing, because they make me stronger. And it's convenient, I can pay them a lot to be my friends ! (laughs)
Do you do your movies for them?
PTA: I do. I know people think that I should do movies for the public but for the moment, I'm doing them for the actors. It's true that my movies don't touch a lot of people as far as the box office is concerned but I'm in the average, even if critics like my movies. One day I'd like to do a movie which would move everyone, which would mean that I'd be in complete sympathy with everybody. If I can achieve this, without lying or cheating, I'll be happy. Spielberg is very successful, mainly because he tells fairy tales. Maybe I should do a realistic fairy tale?
Well you have a frog rain in Magnolia, that's a good start !Does it have something to do with the Egyptian plight?
PTA: Originally, it's from a book written in the 20's, 30's about strange phenomenon. The author collected newspaper articles without giving any further explanation. That was enough for me. I thought that it would be both funny and beautiful to put that in Magnolia. It's crazy to see a frog rain but at a moment in your life, you may think "OK it's raining frogs, everything is fine, and besides, it's in the Bible!".
Which movies did you have in mind during the shooting?
PTA: Ordinary People from Robert Redford, Terms of Endearment from James L. Brooks. At first I wanted to do a punk-rock version of Terms of Endearment, it'd be my big thing. In my opinion, it's a pure work of art on human relationships, it's so sad and terribly honest. It's sweet but not sentimental. It's such a great film !
And Short Cuts from Robert Altman?
PTA: It's weird, I had Short Cuts and Nashville in mind when I was shooting Boogie Nights but not during Magnolia shooting. After the event, it's true that they look like twin films. I did it in spite of myself. Short Cuts is one of the films written in my genes. You know, you don't create anything new...