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?
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