>He’s responsible for some of the meatiest cinema fare out there, with his latest ”The Master” up there with some of the most dramatic, emotionally-stirring epics of the year, but surprisingly, acclaimed writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s taste in film likely isn’t that dissimilar to the everyday cinemagoer. Most weekends you’ll likely find Anderson (and actress wife Maya Rudolph) plonked down in front of the TV watching a cheesy popcorn flick like ”Die Hard” or ”Flying High”.
Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a magnificent performance as cult leader Lancaster Dodd in ”The Master” – it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the role. When you’re writing, do you have an actor in mind?
It’s hard not to, but sometimes — you’d be surprised — sometimes it’s impossible to get anybody in your head.
What about, in the case of The Master? Was it always Philip Seymour Hoffman in your mind to play the lead?
Definitely Phil. I him had in mind all along to play Master. Amy [Adams] kept popping into my head as someone I wanted to work with. I had seen her her work and I was in awe. I wanted to get my hands on her. She’s terrific. I felt the same way about Joaquin [Phoenix], but you know sometimes you don’t want to get your hopes up too much either and start thinking about that stuff; somebody’s says, “Hey, you know, I can’t do your movie.” or…
Which is what happened with Jeremy Renner, right, on The Master? Because he was supposed to play Phoenix’s role originally, right?
Yeah. He became busy. But good for him. He’s on a great path. Yeah, he’s killing it right now. What’s funny too is that he kicked around doing nothing; not doing nothing, but really struggling as an actor for 10-15 years. Nobody knew who he was. Isn’t that crazy? “Hurt Locker” comes along and his whole life changes.
How has Philip Seymour Hoffman changed as an actor since you first worked with him, on ”Boogie Nights”?
He’s gotten older and more confident, more secure probably but that’s also kind of bullshit too because you don’t just.. acting is like anything. Yeah, you get more miles under your belt, but you’re fooling yourself if you think that means anything. Because you can have it one day, and it’s not there the next. You can have one take and then lose it, and you just… Suddenly there’s a downward spiral. I don’t care who you are, whether you’re Phil or Robert De Niro or any of these actors. The weird job, it’s a hard job, very elusive, and the second you start thinking, “I know how to do this,” you realize you don’t, and that there’s a great kind of risk in the industry too, why it does work when it works. Imagine if you’re an actor and you’re going along, and we’re doing a scene, it’s really going well, and we’re communicating, and we’re in this fantasy bubble. And something happens, maybe he just appears out of the corner of my eye. So now I’m over here and, okay, now we’ve got to go do it again, and it’s lost. I’m just saying I’m just talking, it’s not… See, okay, now let’s just try… Let me just ignore that, let’s just get back to this thing. And now you’re in your head and… Yeah, you’re toast. And I saw that a couple of times with Phil and things were going… Yeah, suddenly just glaze over. F*ck it, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m lost. I’m just babbling. Oh my god, yeah. And usually it was when you do something too many times, you’re just… You get tired.
What about yourself as a director then? Do you find yourself having to snap back into director mode? Do you glaze over sometimes and think “Oh, hang on, I’m just letting thing this roll.”
Oh god, I’ll glaze over all the time. Not like you just said, it’s more like… Yeah, glazing over is like… It’s the end of the day, you’re supposed to shoot a scene and fuck, you just can’t get it up or you don’t know where to put the camera, you don’t know how to light it. Yeah, I mean, but we learned. You learn your lesson. You’re just like, “Don’t start scene at the end of the day.”
Come back fresh in the morning. Usually you just struggle for scene, you glaze over, something’s going on. Usually it means it’s never gonna make the movie anyway. It’s just stinker to begin with. And you’re just throwing good fucking money after bad and wasting film. But you can’t convince yourself of that at that time. “No, I’ve got… What’s gonna make this work?” We do scene three, four different, five different times over the course of the film and you just keep at it because you think you can do something better, but really it’s just… It was bad to begin with, never mess the film. And when you don’t glaze over is when you’ve got something that it is crucial and it’s well-written. You can go into it, you know what to do with it. Things get focused on those days, everybody’s paying attention. It’s usually when the shitty ones come up, to really glaze over.
All your films, The Master in particular – what with those wide-angle lenses and the rich colour palette – look beautiful. Do you try and work with the same crew on each film?
We do, except… This was the first time we worked with somebody new. I mean, the team was the same. The cinematographer changed. So, yeah, it’s nice that you say that too, but I think we’re always trying to find ways to make sure that things don’t get too pretty or too fussy. It’s kind of like not too gourmet. Trying to make them look engaging to an audience and a strong image, but hopefully telling a story. Because yeah, sometimes you can get there and it can… You can follow bad instincts. It’s like, you can make things a little too pretty or a little too easy and… look, I try to stay away from that. It’s always a kind of challenge.
The Master looks wonderful in 70mm…
Well, a monkey could make that stuff look good, I have to say. Not being overly humble or anything like that, but yeah, a monkey could make it look good. [chuckle] It’s just great. You’re dealing with that much more negative, and it kind of helps create a kind of lushness and an intense image. I mean, all that stuff in the department store that looks so lovely, it would not have looked that way if we had shot it in 35mm.
I think I know the answer but…what’s your take on digital vs. film?
I’ve seen some films that look great in digital, some that haven’t. But truthfully, it has nothing to do with the cameras. It has to do with the care and attention to detail that somebody is putting into it. It’s just like… Just the same way that I’ve seen films that look like they’re shot through a teabag. It’s like, who’s paying attention to this? Who cares? So I don’t really care what they are using or reach for, to do it. It doesn’t so much matter to me. We were talking about this today to a guy who’s making a documentary about The Astor Cinema in Melbourne, and it’s not… I have no fussiness about that. I mean, I know what I prefer to work with just because I know it better, but I haven’t had a story to tell that would require me to use a digital camera, but I have nothing against it. But the thing that pisses me off is when something is thrown in the garbage, like these film projectors that are kind of dismantled and sold for scrap. That doesn’t make any sense to me. I’ve been in a million projection booths all over the world. There is enough room to keep the projectors and put a digital projector in. And any one of them… I hate seeing stuff get thrown away. That depresses me. But I’m a packrat too; I keep everything.
Something that might surprise people, you’re actually a big fan of Die Hard. Would you ever consider directing, like… ”Die Hard 6”?
Well, I would never want to do something like [Die Hard 6] but if I had had a chance to direct the first Die Hard? Yes. I don’t know that I could have done it that well, like John McTiernan did. But that’s one of my favourite films. I must have seen it 10 to 15 times in the movie theatre. And I would love to do something like that. Action films take a lot of time and they’re really fun to watch and to edit together, but they’re not that much fun to make. I mean, and I only say that from the experience that I’ve had doing anything that is remotely kinda action oriented, like the frog scene in Magnolia or some of the bits in There Will be Blood, that it’s so time consuming, waiting for somebody to blow up a window. I don’t know, it doesn’t float my boat as much as the of the other stuff.