Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is a guy who doesn’t do much press, but that has nothing at all to do with his personality. When Fandango met Anderson for the first time earlier this month to chat about his newest film (and second collaboration with actor Daniel Day-Lewis), Phantom Thread (in theaters now), we found a delightful man eager to talk about the film, his process, his kids (he has four) and Star Wars (yes, even PTA was itching to know who Rey’s parents are).
Like There Will Be Blood, Phantom Thread finds Anderson and Day-Lewis once again tackling a story centered on a confident, self-centered man who knows what he wants, what he likes and won’t let anyone get in his way of achieving success and notoriety. That said, the characters are very different men; in Blood, Daniel Plainview is an agressive, over-the-top oil-obsessed loon, whereas Reynolds Woodcock in Phantom Thread is way more put-together and sophisticated. He’s both soft and firm and completely in control at all times, but that control begins to crumble when a new woman (Vicky Krieps) enters his life. So how do you break through to a guy who’s so well versed in shutting himself off from emotion?
Well… you find their weakness. And that’s where our conversation with Paul Thomas Anderson began…
Fandango: So what first turned you on to this film? Was it the eccentric world of fifties fashion, or was it that love/hate relationship that we have with meeting someone to share our lives with?
Paul Thomas Anderson: That last bit, for sure. That idea of when you’re sick in bed and you look up and you … you need somebody, and … You see this either fear or joy in you, and there’s fear and joy in them as well. That thing that can happen … I have four small kids as well, too. Do you have children?
Fandango: Yeah, I have two.
PTA: So, you might have that feeling as well when they’re … You love them … but they’re running around and suddenly when they’re a little sick and they’re in bed, there’s fear. They’re going to be alright, but you’ll say, “Ah, it’s nice to have a break for a second!” Think where Munchausen syndrome comes from. I did. Maybe I’ll keep them sick a little while. That’s sick and perverted, but it’s just those moments of pause that we have … We’re all f**king rushing around like lunatics.
Fandango: This is true…
PTA: It’s hard to put your own brakes on. No matter who you are, even if you’re some obsessive fashion designer, or just anyone walking down the street .
Fandango: So then you thought this would be a great project to work on with Daniel Day-Lewis. Did he say, like, “Look, this is it. I’m gonna do my last one, what do you got? Bring me your best idea.” Did you know that he was going to retire from acting after this movie?
PTA: That would be great if it was like that. [laughs]. “I’m gonna do one more job, and then I’m out.”
Fandango: Exactly! One last job!
PTA: Just one more! If it had been that, then we would’ve all been… you know, every time a character says, “I’m gonna do one last job,” that’s when it all goes wrong, right? So thankfully, he didn’t say that. It was after the fact that he made his decision. The idea to work together was in both of us, and I think that I was really kind-of cheerleading, saying like, “Right, we have to … If we don’t … If we keep daydreaming about this, we’re going to daydream ourselves into nothing.
More: Here’s Paul Thomas Anderson on working with Daniel Day-Lewis and the actor’s retirement.
Fandango: Love the pink socks that his character wears. That stood out. Seemed a bit loud for him. What’s the story there?
PTA: They’re great, right? He would be so angry that you said they’re pink because those are the kinds of things… like they’re purple bishop socks and you get them from the ecclesiastical outfitters in Rome.
Fandango: Oh wow, really?
PTA: Yeah. It’s great. That’s just the kind of shit that Daniel can come up with that no one else is going to come up with. And that’s him. He’s got these to the side, done the research. These are the socks he has to wear if this guy would wear them.
Fandango: In the film his character has a sister and that’s it, but originally he had daughters, is that correct?
PTA: We did. We had a sub-plot that he had multiple children, and two daughters in particular. Two great actresses, Daisy Bevan and Charissa Shearer. They came and they did a scene at the dinner table where poor Alma was introduced to them, and they’re not very nice to her. She stands her ground, sticks up to them. It was a really good scene actually, we just didn’t have room for it in the film. It shaded the film in a different way that it didn’t want to go in.
Fandango: It’s fascinating to me because having seen the film, I’d love to know what kind of kids someone like that would raise.
PTA: Both of them were quite stylish… one of them, really mean… [laughs]… and one of them was an angel.
Fandango: You shot this film yourself, too. You’re billed as the “uncredited cinematographer” and that’s the first time you’ve done that on one of your movies. Why?
PTA: Well, it’s funny. We’ve … I wouldn’t even call myself the,”uncredited cinematographer,” because that’s like saying, “You’re the cinematographer.” It was collaboration — it really was, truly, this five-headed monster. Mine and Mike Bauman, Jeff Kunkel, Erik Brown, and Colin Anderson, which is the team we had closest to the camera, that group of guys. It’s funny, I live not far from Panovision — it’s five minutes away. And I love spending time there. I love working with them. I love the process of discovering the look of a film, all those kinds of things is so much fun to me. It’s one of my favorite parts of it, and it was a way to do it that was exciting and challenging, and it’s not that I would wanna do that every time. It was just a way to mix things up and make a challenge that seemed good. I’m really proud of us that we did it. I think there’s definitely moments where everybody picked everybody else up with confidence boosters, when the other person was like, “We can’t,” you know? It was a really nice collaboration in that way. Yeah.
Fandango: Of all your films, which would be the one you learned the most from, in terms of the filmmaker you wanted to be?
PTA: I felt like on Punch-Drunk Love it was a really nice moment. We had all worked together — almost all of us – on three films before that [and] that really turned out good. We learned loads on that. But by the time we got to that film, there was something that kind of clicked; of experimentation and independence and confidence. Guts, care, and hubris all just kind of came together in a nice way, allowing ourselves to discover things, or be insecure. It was a really nice moment, but it was also f**king challenging. The first couple weeks of that film was just trying to find a new way to work that was a little bit looser. Yeah, I look back really fondly on that time with a great feeling. A lot of lessons were learned on Punch-Drunk Love.
Fandango: If you could curate a playlist of movies for people to watch after they watch Phantom Thread — of films that maybe inspired characters, inspired a look or a scene or a shot, — what would be some of those movies?
PTA: Okay, I’ll try to go quick. Obviously there’s the standards. You’ve got Rebecca and you’ve got Vertigo.
Pictured: Lesley Manville in Phantom Thread and Judith Anderson in Rebecca (1940)
I Know Where I’m Going is a great film. The Passionate Friends is a great David Lean movie. There’s a great movie called Cría Cuervos, a Spanish film that I would highly recommend getting into. A lot of it takes place in a house. Gaslight is good; Dragonwyck is really interesting. All About Eve. Anything with Joan Fontaine. The Constant Nymph is a really interesting film, too. I’ll stop there!
Phantom Thread is in theaters now. You can snag your tickets right here at Fandango.