Magazine article Screen International

Paul Thomas Anderson on Making the Master: 'Scientology Was the Least of Our Problems'

Magazine article Screen International

Paul Thomas Anderson on Making the Master: 'Scientology Was the Least of Our Problems'

Article excerpt

Paul Thomas Anderson talks about the inspirations for the film, Joaquin Phoenix's immersive acting style, shooting large format, and now adapting Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice.

Paul Thomas Anderson's hugely anticipated The Master, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, world-premiered in Venice on Saturday, and now heads to Toronto. Anderson's first feature since 2007's Oscar winner There Will Be Blood tells the story of a damaged soldier in post-WWII America who strikes up an unexpected friendship with the charismatic founder of a new religious cult.

Screen spoke to the director during a roundtable interview in Venice immediately after the film's world premiere.

The Weinstein Company handles international sales and US distribution.

Congratulations on a stunning film. The world was probably expecting something quite different -- this is a film about a friendship between two disturbed men.

Thank you. Yes. That was what we talked about all the time. We were concerned with the love story between these two men, about how desperately attracted they are to each other and how good and bad they are for each other. It's a romance that can never work.

Is it accurate to say your inspirations at script level included unpublished fragments of There Will Be Blood, the lives of John Steinbeck and L. Ron Hubbard and stories from actor Jason Robards?

Yes. Jason Robards told me a story about coming back from the South Pacific after VJ Day on a ship which had run out of booze. The crew broke into the torpedoes to get at the grain alcohol fuel. The soldiers would collect fruit from the islands and mix it with the 180-proof grain fuel to make 'torpedo juice'. That was quite common.

Robards woke up on the mast of the ship, teetering on the edge, one day. I always wanted to get that into a film.

And yes, John Steinbeck worked the sugar beet fields in California during the prohibition.

It was a process of collecting stories and hoping they found a home with other things. At a certain point, ideally, it starts to write itself. It's always a chore at first, but then at a point you look back and you can't believe you've written it and it's a great feeling. But it's a pain in the ass, to begin with.

Were the two lead male characters the starting point?

I don't remember. I can't even say for sure when we were making the film that the love story was the main focus. We pursued different ideas. There were characters in the script who became smaller as we went along. It didn't have a real map.

But Joaquin and Philip working together was the most exciting thing for me. There weren't five other stories, it was always about their characters.

Is that the way you usually work?

It's different each time. This seemed more confused! …

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