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December 2007
Press Conference Interview with Daniel Day Lewis and Director Paul Thomas Anderson

Press Conference Interview with Daniel Day Lewis and Director Paul Thomas Anderson

by Brad Balfour

December 24, 2007

There Will Be Accolades With Paul Thomas Anderson's Latest Film

Though Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film, "There Will Be Blood," is based on a book published in 1927—it deals with the emerging oil business in Southern California—the film is just as relevant today. As characters such as oil baron Daniel Plainview become richer and richer stepping on all those around him, the film reveals how a lust for the black gold can and will corrupt anyone. Its obvious pertinence to current affairs becomes obvious as this simple story reveals itself.

This remarkable film offers the long awaited return to the screen for director Anderson after several years and further proof that its star Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the finest actors currently plying his trade. Within this story about family, greed, religion, such other fine actors as Paul Dano and Ciaran Hinds carefully embellish this world with their complex expression of their characters.

Having made only a few films so far, Anderson has nonetheless established himself as a much anticipated creator who has made such intense and memorable works as "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia." But with this bank of fine actors, he has now made a film that transcends his reputation for making memorable films; he has made one that could be called an instant classic. And thankfully this quartet—Anderson, Day-Lewi, Hinds and Dano—took some time to discuss the genesis of a film that is going to be a magnet for this season's awards.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus to make a film based this Upton Sinclair novel, "Oil?"

Paul Thomas Anderson: The inspiration from the movie comes first and foremost from the book. I had been trying to write something, anything, just to get something written. I had a story that wasn't really working that was about fighting families, and it didn't really have anything. It just had that premise.

When I read the book there were so many ready-made scenes, and the great venue of the oil fields and all that. Those were kind of the obvious things that seemed worth making a film about. The desire to work with Daniel, once that presented itself as a possibility, certainly drove the engine for me to write it and finish it and get it to him.

Q: Your character, Daniel Plainview, goes through an arc of being miserable at the beginning and moreso at the end of the movie. What was the challenge in making this work?

Daniel Day-Lewis: No challenge [laughs].

PTA: I think the arc goes like that [shows a descending line]. He goes from miserable to more miserable, hopefully.

DDL: I never really saw him as a miserable prick, but… I don't know what the challenge is. The challenge, I dare say, is the same as it always is, which is to try and discover a life that isn't your own. And Plainview as he came to me in Paul's beautiful script was a man whose life I didn't understand at all. It was a life that was mysterious to me, and that unleashed a fatal curiosity which I had no choice but to pursue.

Q: Did you see him as descending into madness?

DDL: He's just a fellow trying to make a living. I'm not really the best person to say this, but I believe you see the seeds of the man you meet at the end in the man you meet in the beginning. It never occurred to me to think that his journey was a short one.

Q: Paul [Dano]'s characters has an underlying socio-political commentary imbued in him. How aware were you [Dano, Anderson, Day-Lewis] of the context of class warfare, religious issues, and other concerns of the time?

PTA: Aware of it enough to know that if we indulged it or let that stuff rise to the top it could get kind of murky. It's a slippery slope, when you start thinking about something other than just a good battle between two guys who see each other for what they are. Just to sort of work from that first and foremost and let everything that is there fall into place behind it.

Paul Dano: I would leave any of that for Paul to bring up in the film if that's what he wanted, but I certainly didn't look at it as anything more than a story and as something to try and tell. I think it would have been dangerous for me to worry about trying to bring out some political theme, something other than being truthful to the characters.

DDL: I feel the same way.

Q: It's very relevant today...

DDL I totally understood you asking the question. In a way part of our job is to ignore any... The focus has to be narrower than that or selfish or introspective, to focus on a particular world and a very particular group of people telling a story within that world. Whatever greater significance it may have there's no harm in that... You leave that to the audience.

Q: If thought about it, you would corrupt the character...

DDL: You immediately then objectify it. which is a fatal error, the one thing you can't do. Going in to that personal experience you take wrong course and therefore you tell the story in a way that people can understand but it's an honest mistake to do that. If you stand outside of the story and have a little guess about what's going to happen, how it's going to be perceived, you stand outside of it; then you might well stay at home [if you do that].

Q: Paul, what would you not let your lead actor do?

PTA: Nothing! He was required to do it all.

Q: Daniel, how did you prepare for the physical parts of the role?

DDL: The thing about those lads—when you discover Plainview at the beginning, he's almost learning himself how to do it. Anyone who can swing an ax or a sledge, which almost anyone can do, can dig a hole in the ground. In terms of the physical preparation there wasn't really anything to do except just stay fit and then just start digging holes. They kind of made it up as they went along.

As you see in the story, before even cable drilling, rotary drilling, came into common use, they began by scooping this muck as it erupted naturally out of the earth, scooping it up in saucepans and buckets and stuff. That was the first way of gathering oil. And then someone had the bright idea of trying to set up an A-frame and to plunge the equipment of a telegraph pole down into the ground, to see if that would help it along. It's incredibly primitive. As the story progresses there's something to learn about, because the drilling procedure is a fairly complicated thing, but at the beginning it's sheer blood and sweat, really.

Q: Why did you choose a different title for the movie from the book? With its futuristic implications, were you talking about our own times as well? What were you trying to say about the impact of oil lust on human behavior?

PTA: I changed the title because at the end of the day there's not enough of the book probably left to feel like it's a proper adaptation of the book. I'm probably selfish—I wrote the title down and it looked really good. I grew up in California, and there's a lot of oil out there. I don't live that far from Bakersfield, which is where the initial discoveries of oil were in California. They're still pumping away. I suppose I've always wondered what the stuff is, how we get it out of the ground, why we like it so much and what the story was.

The story of oil in California in particular, and in this country, was really well-told in the first couple 100 pages of the Upton Sinclair book. He started to write the book in the '20s when he went with his wife to the Signal Hill area, which was essentially set up to be vacation homes overlooking the Long Beach bay. Somebody decided instead of building vacation homes it was time to start drilling for oil, and they struck oil. So this community went absolutely mad.

When Sinclair witnessed this community trying to get this lease together, he said he witnessed human greed laid bare. He saw these people go absolutely crazy. He knew what he wanted to write about. And that's what started him on the road of that story. We just picked up where he left off. At the core of the story was the drive and ambition, not only from this independent oil man but also from the people that he was supposedly getting the better of in leasing their land. The ambition was on both sides.

Q: Did you cast Paul Dano as Eli/Paul Sunday because of his work with Daniel in "The Ballad of Jack and Rose?"

PTA: It was, because the first time I had seen Paul was in "The Ballad of Jack and Rose." I called Rebecca Miller [the director and Day-Lewis' wife] to tell her how much I loved the film and to tell Daniel how much I loved the film. But really the first question on my mind was 'Who the hell was that?' I thought he was so terrific.

I think I had just finished writing the script, so I knew I had to find somebody to play part. I had originally, insanely though that we should have a 12 or 13-year-old boy. And that kind of seemed ridiculous. He certainly got a good recommendation from Rebecca and from Daniel. I had to meet Paul for myself to know, and it was pretty clear that he was a terrific young actor. I was very lucky.

Q: Paul, what research did you do for your role?

PD: It first started with just trying to learn a little bit about the time period. I think whenever you're doing a period piece that's important, but especially, to me, sharing a lot of scenes with Daniel and how well he immerses himself within the period. I've seen him working, and it was something that I really wanted to pay attention to.

I looked up some stuff about evangelical preaches, but I sort of had a privilege with Eli. He didn't have radio or television, and I don't think he had the opportunity to see a tremendous amount of preachers, except when somebody traveled through his town or a town close by. He didn't have a lot of books either, so I think he sort of made himself up once he found what his gifts and his savviness and charisma could bring him. I think that slowly took over in him, and through the words of the Bible and loving to hear himself talk, he found some way to be spiritually seductive via himself.

As an actor, I don't know if it was an excuse on my behalf, but it was a way for me to run with the material that Paul gave me and not have to base it on one person or a group of people in particular, and sort of try to run with whatever instincts I had for the character.

Q: Originally Paul was only supposed to play the role of Paul Sunday, and then it was expanded for him to play Eli. What made you decide to do that?

PTA: We had an actor, and it didn't really work, out, and we had Paul, and he was in a small part. We though, 'God, why is he in such a small part?' And then, better yet, maybe because of my obsession with "East of Eden, I thought, 'Well, they've got to be twins, right?' I had actually been talking to a friend at the moment that all this was happening, who was telling me about his twin brother. I thought it was too good to pass up.

Q: Did you bring Paul in for that because of his experience with Daniel from before? He auditioned for the role of Eli…

PTA: Yes he did. And I was too dumb [at first] to give him the part.

Q: In the New York Times profile on Daniel it came up that the other actor [who was to play the part] was intimidated by Daniel.

DDL: I'm probably not the right person to speak about it anyhow. I was quite surprised when I read that comment. Whatever the problem was during that time with that particular person, I absolutely don't believe that it was because he was intimidated by me. I happen to believe that; I hope I'm right.

Q: Paul, what was your reaction when you found out you would be playing both parts.

PD: [Deadpan] Double the pay. I didn't have a lot of time to think about things like that. I certainly didn't relish the idea of getting a bigger part in this film because of trying to throw myself into the character, and that was the priority. I have to say in retrospect, yeah, it was wonderful to get to spend some more time in Texas with these guys here. I feel very lucky, and hopefully I was able to contribute to it in so short amount of time. That was my main concern, to try and make a contribution without a lot of time to prepare.



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