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Paul Thomas Anderson. Photo credit: Pal Hansen

Interview: Paul Thomas Anderson

“You’re always asking yourself those questions: how are we going to make this work? How are we going to get through this?”
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

The recipient of six Oscar nominations, Phantom Thread pairs Daniel Day-Lewis’s Reynolds Woodcock – a vain, controlling couturier who hates noise at breakfast – with newcomer Vicky Krieps’s Alma, a strange, fearless life-force who couldn’t give a fig for his routines. A strange infatuation flows like poison through the veins of director Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest movie, his first with Day-Lewis since the triumphant There Will be Blood in 2007.

Not quite as manicured as his latest alpha-male protagonist but still pretty dapper, Thomas Anderson sips green tea and fill us in on the story behind his hypnotic tale and its London shoot.

Photo: Pal Hansen

This is your first film shot outside California. What came first: the idea or the location?
I’d been searching for something to do in the UK for a while. It’s inherently cinematic, particularly for a period piece. Initially, I thought we’d film [this] in Cornwall – Daphne du Maurier country. I don’t feel like I’m done here. My first idea was to do [an adaptation] of MR James, a Cambridge professor who wrote these great Christmas horror stories, and I may still revisit that.

Is it true you had trouble with people having lunch in Fitzroy Square during the shoot?
Hollywood assholes that we are, we thought: Hang on! Can’t you guys take your lunchbreaks somewhere else? Actually, everyone on the square was really accommodating, with the exception of an American couple [laughs].

Phantom Thread feels like a love letter to London, but it’s not full of recognisable landmarks.
It occupies a twilight fairytale land. The reality would have been a bit dingier, but there’s so much ground to cover that doing the wide establisher, title card ‘London, 1955’, well, we’ve fucking seen that enough. Without it, it feels more authentic.

Woodcock does order lapsang souchong tea in a 1950s B&B. That felt like a stretch.
I will give you that. But, being an American, I will say that unfortunately English people still don’t know how to drink tea: which is iced and with lemon.

Phantom Thread

Vicky Krieps is an incredible discovery. She has an unusual energy.
She gives good stare. You’re never quite sure where you stand. The scene where she sees a Reynolds dress being mistreated was one of the most fun days I’ve had shooting. You could see her temperature rising.

Daniel Day-Lewis is remarkable, too. When the news came that he’d retired, there was a joke on Twitter that he was actually preparing to play a retired actor
[Laughs] Oh, that he was researching the role?

Exactly. Do people get him wrong?
I would bet the thing people don’t see is just how damn funny he can be. He doesn’t have that reputation, but he’s a funny motherfucker. He’s sharp and you see it in his performance.

You’ve talked about how your partner nursing you when you were ill helped inspire this story. Are there other personal parallels?
It certainly isn’t an accurate portrayal of my relationship, but I’d be lying if I said there were no parallels. You’re always asking yourself those questions: how are we going to make this work? How are we going to get through this? It’s funny, though, a disproportionate number of women come out and say, “I’m actually like Reynolds.” I’m always shocked by that.

Men and women are reacting differently?

Completely. I think people like to identify with the characters’ breakfast habits. My sister... if there’s a noise at breakfast she will snap. I have four kids and breakfast is chaos, which is how I like it.

‘Toxic masculinity’ is a phrase that’s cropped up about Reynolds. This idea of a powerful man abusing his status.
Toxic masculinity is a very modern phrase, and you can apply it, but this is more like arrested development. His mother has treated him as the golden boy, but what happens when that boy grows up and he’s still acting like a child?

Daniel said you had a great time texting each other with ideas before making the film, but then filming became quite sad.
Yeah. With a certain distance, fights you might have in a relationship can be quite amusing, but in the moment they’re no fun. We spent a lot of time mucking about in those combative scenes between [him and Vicky], but there were laughs too.

I have to ask, does he use emojis?
No, he’s got a fucking flip phone. He knows what everything is, but he’s never been near an emoji in his life. He’s still going ‘J-K-L’, typing three letters to get to the ‘L’. 

Phantom Thread is in cinemas March 8.

Read our review

Phantom Thread
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Drama

False gods strut through the movies of Paul Thomas Anderson: rapacious oilmen, well-endowed porn stars, inventors of new religions and spinners of old lies. Phantom Thread gives us a real god – or at least one who’s earned his perch.

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