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Eating fruit, talking turkey, sick to death of frogs … Paul Thomas Anderson is not your average publicity-speaking filmmaker, as DAVID EDWARDS discovers in this interview in a Berlin hotel. Magnolia, he says, is long for a reason. (He also clarifies what Tom Cruise had in his underwear.)

Berlin looks cold, especially from the cozy confines of the Adlon Hotel, overlooking the Brandenburg Gate. Paul Thomas Anderson is eating fruit while talking about his latest film, Magnolia, which was screened in competition at the 50th edition of the Berlin Film Festival.

"no one asks Altman about the influence of say Laurent on his work."

A highly individual filmmaker, Anderson dismisses the inevitable questions about the influence of Robert Altman on his films. "Yeah," he says "sure Altman’s a great filmmaker and the influence is, I think, obvious. I mean I’m a child of the movies; he’s in my DNA. But I’m influenced by a whole lot of people – Max Ophuls for instance. Also, I think it’s because I’m young I get asked that question so much. I mean, no one asks Altman about the influence of say Laurent on his work."

The sprawling film, running at 189 minutes, covers a day in the lives of a disparate group of people in Los Angeles; a group brought together by family, by tragedy and by pure chance. It’s a film that’s difficult to pigeonhole into conventional genre.

"I wanted to deal with real issues"

Anderson believes the main style of the film is "that it’s 3 hours long. This is usually reserved for war movies or films about important social topics. I wanted to make a movie that was big; that said ‘I’m an epic’. But I wanted to deal with real issues in the lives of real people – will my father talk to me, will I fall in love, can I go to the bathroom. That deserves three hours."

Obsessed with movies as a kid, he is now re-thinking his stance. "I’m getting much more tied up with social responsibility, you know. When I was a kid, I could do anything movies told me to do. If I liked a character and he looked cool, I‘d dress like him. Now it’s turned into a really well paying job and I get to travel all over the world; but I can see the accident of being so influenced by movies a child could go pick up a gun and shoot somebody and think ‘Well, that won’t hurt’."

But it doesn’t just stop with social responsibility. "There’s this thing in the movie, and I wish I’d maybe made it a little clearer; but there’s this weird kind of anger at movies. It’s like when you grow up you start to realise, maybe they haven’t told you everything. It’s like they’ve betrayed you a little – ‘You didn’t teach me about this, and it really does hurt’."

"I figure the world’s just catching up to me."

In a film as large as Magnolia, the actors obviously played a vital role in making it. Anderson made two ensemble movies before (The Hard Eight and Boogie Nights) and has maintained a fairly close knit group of actors through them. Recently several of the cast from The Hard Eight (Gwyneth Paltrow, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Philip Baker Hall) were re-united in The Talented Mr. Ripley. "Yeah," says Anderson, "don’t think I didn’t notice that. But when it comes to my little group of actors, I figure the world’s just catching up to me."

So is it his movies that have made so many careers? "Yeah! Hell, yeah! (laughs) I mean I’m not going to be humble about it and I’m gonna shout it from the mountain tops. Do you know how hard it was to get money for a movie with Philip Baker Hall, Phil Hoffman and Gwyneth Paltrow before she was Gwyneth Paltrow? I sat there for like two years to get that movie made with these actors, so I’ve paid my dues. I knew I had good taste; I knew these were great actors. And I do have a kind of fatherly feeling towards their talent."

"chicken and egg situation."

But, he says, it’s a kind of "chicken and egg situation. If I get my movie made because I have these actors in it, that’s great too."

So was Tom Cruise a chicken or an egg? "Tom? He is God, man! He’s one of the most special people. He’s great; I swear he’s a director’s dream. So composed, so ready for work, so passionate and so creative. I can’t say enough good stuff about the guy."

Cruise accommodated the director’s needs to the letter. "You can ask him to do anything and he’ll do it. You know, you can ask him to do a shot again an inch to the left and he’ll do it."

"one of the biggest movie stars in the world has one of the biggest dicks in the world"

So what about the question on everyone’s lips after seeing Cruise in his underwear in Magnolia – is it real? "Absolutely. I mean, what can I say, one of the biggest movie stars in the world has one of the biggest dicks in the world, right."

"It was a very spontaneous thing. Like I said, he’s ready to do anything, so he had his shirt off and I yelled ‘Take the pants off’ and he did. Then I yelled ‘Do a backflip’ and he did. He’s amazing, he’s ready for anything; and that’s what’s so great about him."

The music of Aimee Mann was the starting point for, and features heavily in, Magnolia. "She’s an inspiration. She’s someone who’s been around for a while and doing her job as best she can – which is way above a lot of people. So after Boogie Nights, when I thought about what I was going to do next, I just went ‘Yeah!’"

And that other question he’s been asked a thousand times – what about those frogs. "No, no, no. Enough about the frogs. I’m sick to death of the f*****g frogs."

Note: The frogs issue was clarified by the film’s producer who said the majority of the frogs were computer generated, and the remainder were animatronics (creature effects). "No real frogs were used," she said.

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With Jason Robards, Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Melora Walters, Jeremy Blackman, Michael Bowen, William H. Macy, Philip Baker Hall

Magnolia screened at the Berlin Film Festival.

Tom Cruise


Australian release: March 9, 2000

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