Un spool­ing the Thread

‘Oh God. It’s not my fault. What do you think? Do you think it’s my fault?’ Paul Thomas An­der­son’s lat­est with Daniel Day-Lewis is the ac­tor’s last. The film was emo­tion­ally drain­ing to make, but that’s hardly the rea­son for his re­tire­ment. Is it?

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - PATRICK FREYNE - WORDS BY TARA BRADY

Paul Thomas An­der­son on di­rect­ing Day-Lewis one last time

There is no Hall­mark card or self-help brochure that says “so you’ve ru­ined Daniel Day-Lewis”, but if there were I’d be hand­ing one over to Paul Thomas An­der­son right about now. The Amer­i­can au­teur slinks down into his chair, and half-jok­ingly – though only half, mind – hides be­hind his fin­gers.

“I know, I know. I know. I’ve killed off the world’s great­est ac­tor.”

He fum­bles and laughs through var­i­ous ex­cuses. “I’ve been do­ing all these ret­ro­spec­tives as the film is com­ing out. It’s tir­ing, right? And he has been do­ing this for 40 years. So fair enough. And it’d be crazy to think that he won’t do some­thing else cre­atively.”

He slinks again: “Oh God. It’s not my fault. What do you think? Do you think it’s my fault?”

Hmm. Maybe? Last June, Wick­low’s most fa­mous thes­pian an­nounced that his role in Paul Thomas An­der­son’s Phan­tom Thread would be his last. The film, which stars Day-Lewis as a freak­ishly fussy 1950s dress­maker, was un­doubt­edly emo­tion­ally drain­ing, although, com­par­a­tively speak­ing, it’s hardly up there with one of the three-time Os­car champ’s great feats of method act­ing.

This is Daniel Day-Lewis af­ter all, an artist that comes with his own mythol­ogy. In­dus­try lore tells us he re­mained in his wheel­chair on the set of My Left Foot, learned Czech for The

Un­bear­able Light­ness of Be­ing, sparred for 18 months for The Boxer, slept in an aban­doned prison dur­ing the shoot of In the Name of the

Fa­ther, and who, by stay­ing in flimsy pe­riod cos­tume, caught pneu­mo­nia while mak­ing Gangs of New York.

For the pur­poses of Phan­tom Thread, the 60-year-old ac­tor con­sulted Cassie DaviesStrod­der, the for­mer cu­ra­tor of fash­ion and tex­tiles at the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum, in Lon­don, and ap­pren­ticed (for months) un­der Marc Hap­pel, the cos­tu­mier at the New York City Bal­let. Still, that beats pneu­mo­nia, surely? If any­thing, Day-Lewis’s 2007 col­lab­o­ra­tion with Paul Thomas An­der­son – on the epic

There Will Be Blood – looks like a far more ex­haust­ing busi­ness. The pair have re­mained firm friends since Day-Lewis birthed the “I drink your milk­shake” meme, none­the­less.

“We’ve kept in touch reg­u­larly,” says the writer-direc­tor. “We have a friend­ship. But there was al­ways this idea at the back of our minds over the years. That we should work to­gether again. And I grabbed the op­por­tu­nity just af­ter I fin­ished In­her­ent Vice and he fin­ished

Lin­coln. The project was very thin at the time. I didn’t have much. But he was up for it.”

Phan­tom Thread es­chews the Alt­manesque shapes we’ve come to as­so­ciate with An­der­son through such cho­ral, well-staffed movies as

Mag­no­lia and In­her­ent Vice. His eighth fea­ture harks back to cham­ber-piece weird­ness of his curve-ball 2002 film Punch Drunk Love.

Like that odd Adam San­dler ve­hi­cle, the new film concerns a per­verse ro­mance be­tween a prissy, ego­ma­ni­a­cal dress­maker named Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his younger Euro­pean muse Alma (the Lux­em­bour­gian ac­tor Vicki Krieps).

Typ­i­cally, muses are a dis­pos­able com­mod­ity for the in­tol­er­ant fash­ion de­signer, but the qui­etly steely Alma has other ideas. Var­i­ous satel­lites – no­tably Reynolds’ en­abling sis­ter (Les­ley Manville), his de­ceased mother, the aris­to­cratic ladies he dresses, and the al­most word­less seam­stresses who toil on his plainly out­moded cre­ations – or­bit the cen­tral re­la­tion­ship. Noth­ing, how­ever, truly im­pacts on the strange S&M drama, a ri­valry pitched some­where be­tween a PG-cer­tifi­cate Fifty Shades of

Grey and Roald Dahl’s The Twits. In keep­ing with that last great work of lit­er­a­ture, all of the char­ac­ters on­screen, par­tic­u­larly the lovers, are ut­terly mon­strous.

Reynolds is driven mad by the sound of oth­ers’ chew­ing or – heav­ens for­bid – but­ter­ing toast. His sis­ter has en­tirely in­ter­nalised his un­wa­ver­ing body fas­cism (“You have the ideal shape,” she tells Alma, “He likes a lit­tle belly.”) And, with­out delv­ing too far into po­ten­tial spoil­ers, Alma may well be the worst of the lot.


“I can un­der­stand why you would think that,” nods An­der­son. “Let me cor­rect that. I can see Reynolds is in the mon­ster cat­e­gory. He’s so de­mand­ing, so im­pos­si­ble to live with. He has all these rules, and those rules are gov­erned by other rules. But even though Alma does the most das­tardly things, I never once saw her as a mon­ster. Iron­i­cally enough, I think it’s per­fectly rea­son­able what she re­sorts to. In the cir­cum­stances.” He laughs: “I think.” What Alma re­sorts to in­cludes the mean­est use of mush­rooms since Colin Far­rell got served (in all senses of the word) in Sofia Cop­pola’s The Be­guiled. An­der­son says the un­ortho­dox use of fungi was in­spired by a bout of flu. As he lay re­cu­per­at­ing, he no­ticed that his wife, the Satur­day Night Live star Maya Ru­dolph, look­ing at him with the sort of pity he had pre­vi­ously only wit­nessed when one of their four chil­dren was sick.

‘‘ There was al­ways this idea at the back of our minds over the years. That we should work to­gether again. And I grabbed the op­por­tu­nity just af­ter I fin­ished ‘In­her­ent Vice’ and he fin­ished ‘Lin­coln’. The project was very thin at the time. I didn’t have much. But he was up for it

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