PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE - Q&A with PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON
What was the inspiration for PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE?
These are usually nice triggers that get you going on a path more than anything else. You get into a situation, you have a bunch of ideas floating around, and you want to make a movie. So what do you need? With this it was a story I read in Time magazine about a guy who finds a loophole in a frequent-flyer promotion. It was just a piece of inspiration really. It's nice to wave that story around too and say it's true, it really did happen.
What made you think of casting Adam Sandler as your leading man, Barry Egan?
I thought of him when I was editing MAGNOLIA. I love his movies, I think he's a terrific performer, very handsome and really funny. When I met him I found someone that I shared a similar work ethic with. And that's always nice, to go to work with someone you have that in common with. I've heard horror stories about some actors, you want to make sure that the people you work with are right there with you. I've heard of actors who do three takes and then say that's it. But meeting Adam and hanging around with him I thought he would be a great person to have as a collaborator.
Are you surprised that people have made so much of his casting in the movie?
I would hate to think that it feels like stunt casting. You're aware of his place in the world that he's supposed to make this kind of movie and I'm supposed to make another kind. That's bull really, but I can understand how there can be some confusion. I think now that the movie is out there and that people are seeing him doing what he does it's not very confusing. It's very clear that he's really terrific.
Was he surprised at all to be asked?
I think he was at first. Maybe he was surprised having seen my movies, but sitting in the same room as me I don't think he was. We're really similar guys, we live very similar lives outside of Los Angeles. We have this established group of people that we work with and we both love making movies. We're really in similar situations really. I think that he was happy and excited to be an actor, especially in not having to generate the whole movie from scratch. And also I'm a good director so he knew it would be a good movie.
Was there not a moment's hesitation on his part?
No, none. When I first met him I didn't have much of the script, I just had a little bit. But I told him what I was going to write for him and it always seemed that it was going to work out and be great. We knew that people would say it was weird, but when you're working and doing your stuff you don't think about that at all. Whenever I'd see a friend of mine and tell them that I was making a movie with Adam Sandler, they'd look surprised. But then the proof is in the pudding as they say.
Your work has attracted such a loyal audience, and has proved so diverse, that there must be a lot of pressure on whatever you choose to do next, isn't there?
That doesn't seem like pressure that seems wonderful to have. That's great. I feel pressure on myself to do good work, but I don't feel it in a bad way at all. It would be silly if I was always comparing what I was doing to what I've done. People will like one movie more than they like another, the audience is always going to have their preferences but I have no control over that.
Do you not have any fear of failure though?
I think everybody does. I know when I'm honest with myself and I know when I'm proud of my work and I know when it's going good and when I've done what I set out to do. I know if I stop doing that it'll be pretty bad. But I love what I do, and I love to make movies. I think as long as I'm writing stories that are personal to me and an accurate reflection of who I am then I'm doing my job. You do different things, and maybe something will be more successful than something else, but I think I know enough about myself to know what my standard is. Just the level of quality I attain. Did I do it how I wanted to do it? Yeah I did. And after that you see if people go for it. But of course you have movies that are going to be more successful than others financially, or critically.
Was PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE made in reaction to the darkness of MAGNOLIA?
I did want to make a lighter movie. It's a bit like if you've been in your house all day, you just want to go outside. It's like that kind of feeling. Wherever you were last you generally want to go somewhere else next. And there are so many stories to tell, I wanted to try to make a real love story, a romantic picture. I certainly don't want to repeat myself. I have so many interests and so many genres that I would like to do, and stories to tell. It's nice to make movies that are funny. I wish this movie was funnier, that there were more laughs, but it was fun to make.
Will this film have answered your critics who were not keen on the ambitious, multi strand storyline of your previous two films, MAGNOLIA and BOOGIE NIGHTS?
Well let me tell you, it's harder to do a stripped down straightforward story like this. That's what I found anyway. You've got to stay in the boat - you can't really go anywhere else. It is nice to see what you can do away with, wonder what economy you can work with, but on the other hand how much can I cram into 90 minutes to tell the story effectively to make it entertaining for an audience? What it does is help focus in on what you really want to say, on what your real point is. I've brought the audience to this point, so what am I trying to say? That can get a bit muddled in three hours. I wish I could take ten or fifteen minutes out of MAGNOLIA. I don't know where from, but it might help pinpoint what it was saying a bit better. But in 90 minutes you have to get to it, say what you've got to say and get the hell out of there.
Have you experienced 'punch-drunk love' yourself?
I certainly remember the experience of punch-drunk love. So many of the emotions in this movie are personal. I come from a large family too so I know very well the insanity and craziness that goes on there. They're not all sisters in my family though, thank God. That would be a nightmare, to have that situation that Barry has in the film. The smack you and kiss you thing would really screw you up. But a lot of big families are like that, that tendency that siblings have on each other to have that push and pull thing going on all the time. Being completely aggressive toward each other but then completely protective from any outsiders. It's a crazy dynamic.
Years ago you dropped out of film school. Any regrets?
I think it's worked out pretty well for me, all things considered. It might have worked out differently if I'd stayed there, sure. The problem is when I was growing up people like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese went to film school and they preached in its favour. It made a lot of kids think that the only way you could make a movie was if you went to film school. But that's nonsense really, you basically get a lot of kids who love movies going to watch more movies. That's the last thing that they should be doing, because they're going to be watching movies anyway. I don't know if it would be different if there are great teachers there. My experience with the teachers I had was not so good, so that's what turned me off of it. But I also think that it's silly to make someone think that they have to go to school to do this job. It should be a little bit of a broader base of abilities to get it done, it shouldn't be school related.
What, if any, cinematic influences did you draw on in PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE?
I was trying to steal some Blake Edwards stuff from this movie, and Jacques Tati. Tati stuff is always in my brain, I can't help but escape to his stuff. I love Edwards' stuff, S.O.B. and VICTOR VICTORIA included, and I remember watching those PINK PANTHER movies after a day of writing, sitting around and watching those and really having fun. And musicals - those Astaire-Rogers musicals. I tried to steal a bit of that and wondered how they did it. Even though they were musicals they're really romances more than anything else, they're always about him getting with her and her getting with him, and fighting it out.
You have developed a terrific repertory of actors over the years, some of whom appear in this movie. Is that part of the fun of the whole process for you?
It is like working with a family, it's a great way to go. But they're also great actors. It's not nepotism in the family - they're great. It's nice too because in the movie business the big drag is that you spend time with these people and then they go off to work. You're always separated. You talk over the phone all the time but that's it. It's great to come back together and hang out for a couple of months, because it is a bit of a circus life really.
Do you ever look on the internet to see what people think of your work?
I'll check around on that stuff here and there, kind of for the guilty pleasure of seeing my own name somewhere. There are people who do really nice websites that are fan sites, that kind of thing. That's very flattering. I just like to check those out here and there. But it's a little bit like staring at yourself naked in the mirror after a while. Put some clothes on!
Can the degree of analysis of your films that exists in cyberspace be a little unhealthy though, do you think?
No I think that that degree of fan interest is nice, I think it's a good thing. In a healthy dose of ego you could say that I know I collaborate and work with people and we put everything there and have thought about everything in the movie. But so many other things come from not a very intellectual place half the time, from an instinctual place that feels good and right. So it's nice to have the attention to detail identified because we have cared about the details in making the movie. That's great, thank you for paying attention because we were thinking about that. That's very flattering.
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