The release of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master is less than a month away, but the level of teasing going on right now is almost cruel. Anderson surprised viewers in Santa Monica with a secret premiere of the film a few weeks ago, and has subsequently had more unannounced screenings in Chicago and New York. Word has been unsurprisingly positive, and Anderson has now finally spoken out a bit about the film’s development process and its ties to Scientology. Hit the jump to see what he had to say. [Update: A new clip from the film has landed online, which is now included after the jump.]
First off, for those unfamiliar, the film stars Joaquin Phoenix as a drifter who is taken in by a charismatic intellectual (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who creates his own religion. During the script stage, comparisons between Hoffman’s character and Scientology creator L. Ron Hubbard ran rampant, and Anderson confirmed that aspects of Hubbard’s life influenced the creation of Hoffman’s character. This hung like a cloud over the project throughout its development and production, and Anderson tells Newsweek (via The Playlist) that he wasn’t exactly thrilled about The Master being deemed “The Scientology movie” before anyone ever saw a frame:
“I was naive. I should have known that’s what people would latch onto.”
Now that people have seen it, we’ve heard that the film is not exactly the Scientology expose that some are expecting. Anderson himself states that he’s become, “much more defensive and protective of [Scientology] than I would have thought.” The author of the Newsweek piece, David Ansen, notes that Anderson pulled from a number of sources in addition to L. Ron Hubbard when creating Hoffman’s character:
There were scenes he’d written early on for There Will Be Blood he’d never used. There were stories Jason Robards had told him on the set of Magnolia about his drinking days in the Navy during the war. Chunks of Freddie’s experiences as a migrant field worker and wanderer were lifted from John Steinbeck’s life story.
Anderson would share pages from his script with Hoffman during the writing process to fine-tune the story, and it was Hoffman who clarified to Anderson that The Master was the story of Phoenix’s character. The director had nothing but great things to say about Phoenix’s performance (which is already garnering awards buzz), even going so far as to compare him to a certain There Will Be Blood actor:
“At a certain point, Joaquin is just incapable of faking it. He’s like Daniel [Day-Lewis], his level of concentration. He just got in character and stayed there—for three months he didn’t stop. Joaquin is very unpredictable. A lot of the time I didn’t know what he was going to do.”
Ansen points out to Anderson that The Master shares the same “creation of a makeshift family” and alcoholic antihero story details as his past two films, to which Anderson replies:
“I know, it’s the same thing again. No matter how hard I try to set out to do something different. I wish I would have more diversity as a filmmaker.”
Somehow I think his fans would disagree. This is the first of many interviews I’m sure we’ll see from Anderson regarding The Master, but it’s great to see the somewhat elusive filmmaker talk about his process. The Master opens in theaters on September 14th.
Watch the new clip below, which announces a 70mm screening of the film in San Francisco at the Castro Theater on Tuesday, August 21st (via Cigarettes & Red Vines):