A new Paul Thomas Anderson film is an event, and his latest, The Master, is already the subject of intense scrutiny even before the film opens. That opening date is September 14 in some cities, September 21 in others, but screenings have taken place in Santa Monica, Chicago, and New York. The film will also play festivals in Venice and Toronto before opening for regular engagements.
The lore of the film is already thick, thanks in part to the early reports that the movie deals with Scientology, as Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s title character is a man who creates a sort of cult following based on the strength of his own philosophy. But the movie has a lot more to it than that, or so early screening reactions lead us to understand, and Anderson seems uncomfortable with calling it a film about Scientology.
Anderson has offered few public comments about the film so far, but Newsweek’s David Ansen talked to the director, and learned quite a few interesting things, such as that scenes originally written for There Will Be Blood ended up in the script for The Master. [Update: A new clip from the film has arrived, and that is embedded below, along with info for a San Francisco screening tomorrow night.]
So where did The Master come from? Anderson tells Ansen,
I was first writing scenes that didn’t have a home. I do that a lot, and then finally they come together. I like to write every day and keep working and not wait around for something to happen. Richard LaGravenese [the screenwriter] once said that writing should be like ironing a shirt: you keep going over the same spot, and you go a little deeper and a little deeper.
And scenes come from everywhere. Ansen says there are scenes Anderson wrote early in the process for There Will Be Blood that he’d never used, and which ended up in some form in The Master. (We don’t yet have specifics, but since most of us haven’t seen the film, that can wait.) Stories told by Jason Robards while making Magnolia, of drinking during World War II, and bits of John Steinbeck’s life story ended up in the movie somewhere, too.
And there is the influence of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, acknowledged as a part of the film, but not the core: “I didn’t want it to be a biography. It’s not the L. Ron Hubbard story.”
In fact, the early label for The Master — that it would be a Scientology story — seems to get under Anderson’s skin. “I was naive,” he says. “I should have known that’s what people would latch onto.” And this isn’t an excoriation of Scientology; Anderson says he is “much more defensive and protective of [Scientology] than I would have thought.” That might help explain the reported screening of the film for prominent industry Scientologists.
(There’s a key to this, too, in Ansen’s appreciation of Hoffman’s performance as Lancaster Dodd: “The Master may be a fraud and a fabricator, but he’s no villain. He genuinely wants to heal his flock, and his belief in his own benevolence gives him power.”)
While some early talk can deflate interest in a film, knowing more little details about The Master only makes it sound more interesting.
Update: here’s a new clip from the film to promote the fact that The Master screens tomorrow night at 8pm at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. Tickets are $10 and are available here.