Phantom Thread: Paul Thomas Anderson about his Collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis

Phantom Thread, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, stars three-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis, in his last screen role (he had announced his retirement from acting in August).

Focus Features releases the movie on Christmas Day.

Inspired by?

Paul Thomas Anderson: Daniel Day-Lewis said something nice the other day, he said the world of clothes and courtiers was irrelevant really.  What he meant by that was, we knew what we wanted to make, a film about a man and a woman, a romance, a look at a relationship, at how romantic relationship can fit in a familial relationship.  So we had some of these ideas, a vague idea of a story and we had the notion of need, what it means to be sick in bed and look at someone and need them, and maybe your personality day in and day out when you are healthy acts as if you don’t need anybody.  So we had this premise and we knew we needed someone creative because that was the kind of lead to a character that we needed, somebody that was a bit self-obsessed and an enormous amount of self control.  Honestly, we talked about everything and he could have been a writer, he could have been a painter, he could have been a sculptor, but there was something so decadent and luscious about this world of couture dresses and we knew that that would create a beautiful backdrop and at the very least it would be quite beautiful to look at, even if it meant that our characters might be kind of harsh with one another sometimes and that it might be easier for an audience to take.  You discover those things after the fact and then once you start reading a little bit about what it takes to make these dresses.

Day-Lewis’s Multiple Talents

PTA: Day-Lewis is very obsessed with his hands and making things, and he is very good at that kind of thing.  Once we read about Balenciaga and we read about Dior, it just led from there.  The next thing you know, we were discovering all of these English designers who started to really speak to us.  And I think it really spoke to him in terms of his English heritage.  And whether he will admit it or not, but he has a great appreciation for clothes, but I think secretly inside is fashion designer wanting to get out, because he is very artistic with his hands.  He is a great painter and he was making shoes.  So the role was not far away from his experience.


Real Collaboration?

PTA: I did the typing and I had the basic premise.  But we were really–it doesn’t say it on the film–in conjunction working together.  I would write ten or fifteen pages and I would present them to Day-Lewis, and he would make some ideas.  Because I speak more American than English, it was very helpful to have his words shape the screenplay as it went along.


Obsession and Family

PTA: I can absolutely recognize the obsession with work and the preoccupation with work.  On the other hand, as I get older, my life has changed because I have four small children and I certainly couldn’t live a life that the character lives, so my priorities have shifted.  He’s maintained bachelorhood and he has made it very clear, so there are similarities to any artistic personality I would suppose. But I think that at a certain point, the person that you are meant to, if sympathy is important in the story for you, which I think it is for most people, I would follow Alma, that’s someone to sympathize with.  With Reynolds, he is so set in his ways and he’s very interesting at first, but that becomes very repetitive his behavior and very unsympathetic and he’s quite mean.  But as she says, why are you acting so tough, I know you are not.  And, she is meant to be the person that we are following through the story.  She is our heroine.  And it’s up to her to figure out a way to dismantle this person, who probably deep down is desiring to be dismantled and taken apart and who has kind of reached the maximum capacity of his own self interest.

Day-Lewis Last Film?

PTA: We worked together before we also have a friendship and we spoke a lot about wanting to work together again, we had such a nice time doing it the first time.  So it was a mutual feeling of wanting to collaborate again.  And it’s Daniel, so there was never any question about his skill level or anything like that.  But I kind of wanted to write something that I thought would be interesting for him to play and not necessarily fun, but I thought about him what I know of him, and I wanted to apply that.  I love seeing him handsome, when he is dressed up.  He has played quite a few roles where he is dirty or he is not handsome, certainly in the last film we made together, that wasn’t what was required.  There’s a gentlemanly and a part of him, and a very, very handsome part that I wanted to exploit and bring out.  So once we started and once I started talking to him about it, it just became pretty clear quickly that we were enjoying what we were writing and thinking about and until it seemed impossible to stop.  And I think we were also getting excited about the possibilities of working with other actors in parts that I was creating, and it gave him an opportunity to work with people like Lesley Manville, to find a relatively unknown actress, and that was exciting to us.  So all these things started making it just a more interesting thing to us to pursue.


Casting the Lead Actress

PTA: It’s funny, Meryl Streep was just in here, doesn’t she look like a young Meryl?  She does.  It was just one of those feelings, like wouldn’t it be a good idea to find somebody that we have never really seen before?  Because it could help the story, here you discover this girl in this tea shop and for the majority of audiences, they are seeing this woman for the first time and the danger with that, especially opposite someone like Daniel, is that where are you going to find somebody who has the ability and skill to go toe to toe with Daniel.  But not just go toe to toe with Daniel, but to go toe to toe with Daniel, and then win?  So we started looking in the traditional way and you start looking for every film that you can possibly see that might have an actress between the ages of let’s say 25 to 32.  And one of the first films I saw was a film called “The Chambermaid Lynn,” and it’s a very small German film that Vicki was in and she was very, very good in it, and that coincided with getting an audition tape, that we wrote some scenes out and we sent them out and these actresses would put themselves on tape, and that was very early on that we saw Vicki’s tape.  And it was pretty clear immediately to both of us that she had something very special that we were looking for, because we didn’t, Vicki is obviously incredibly beautiful, but what I like about her is that you can believe her as a girl in a tea shop and you can believe her in these gowns and this woman who rises to the top of high society I suppose.  She is a remarkable actress and I think, a lot of people have asked her, were you nervous around Daniel Day Lewis?  He came to me about a week in and said, she scares me, which is really, really good.  And he was definitely on his back for it, because she is really, really good.

Mushrooms and Asparagus

PTA: think you should take the mushrooms very literally and not metaphorically.   I don’t think that she wanted to kill him, but I think that she recognized in this man who was incredibly self-obsessed and impossible to break through, that in his moments of weakness, he was vulnerable and he was generous and he was open.  And logic would lead her to think, well how could I possibly recreate some of those moments?  Maybe with a small amount of mushrooms I can put him flat on his back, and I can kind of reset him and bring him back down and to try to rekindle our romance that way.  It’s a very peculiar way of going about things, but it worked.  And I never thought as specifically as something like Asperger’s, but he is definitely not like everybody else. There’s definitely, the rules that he has, even the rules probably have rules and those rules are governed by other rules.  And it’s just a very spoiled way of living and it’s probably the kind of thing that is granted to an artist, a designer like this, which generally they are given what they want.  They are given a house to behave as they want as long as they continue to provide the designs and things like that, that they are allowed to act like the worst kind of children really.  And I would imagine that growing up, he was spoiled by his mother and that the sister was absolutely marginalized and told that she wasn’t good enough but she was good enough to run the business and that she should be in charge of it.  And that was the dynamic that we dreamed up and hopefully is clear in the film.


Day Lewis Retirement

PTA: He is very good at speaking for himself.  But I also thought that article was very good.  And I think he expressed himself as clearly as he could at this time, in which he is, I don’t want to quote him, but he is just not feeling it right now. And I think that there was a certain amount of sadness that came along with the film that we didn’t anticipate that has to do with loads of things, the nature of the story was very difficult at times and very sad, very melancholy, to have to behave that kind of way for many months I think probably took its toll on him.  And naturally I think Daniel is probably a much more upbeat person, and I think many people would be surprised to think that he is incredibly funny and generous with his laughs, he has got a wicked sense of humor.  So some of that, obvious I think in the film that is still there and there is a great sense of humor to the film.  But some of the sadder parts just took hold of him I suppose.  I think that article says it all and I don’t know that I have shed any more light on it.  And I am only hoping, I am trying to take it seriously, but hope that there is an asterisk and that he will reconsider and do it again, because he is so good at it.



PTA: It was great fun everyday to kind of go through, not much of it was planned, he just basically had a great closet of Reynolds Woodcock clothes.  And he would decide each day what it would be, and we would get in and he would present something and say what about this? Or he would say or what about this?  And we would kind of have like a mini fashion show every morning and kind of decide like that is the one.  And he has a great sense of style Daniel and he is terrific with that stuff.  So sometimes I was too busy down on the set and I would say just surprise me.  We became like two girls playing around in the costume box.  And it’s a great combination of actually some of his clothes and clothes that he went and found and some stuff that we had made for the film.  So I am glad that you noticed his great sense of style.  But you can’t have a character named Reynolds Woodcock who is a fashion designer, and not expect that he is going to be turned out, a pretty high level of style.


Writing Impulses

PTA: I have been lucky enough to never have what people call “writer’s block.” I know it’s a real thing and it exists and I could probably have the opposite problem, which is sometimes you get excited by an idea and then you just can’t stop writing and then you get further and further away from what a very simple and good idea is to tell and maybe you just start muddying the waters and it all gets a little bit confused.  Having a collaborator, and in this case it was Daniel or my producer JoAnne or my editor Dylan, is very helpful in guiding you back towards the stuff that is probably the most interesting.  And especially when you end up researching something that has some historical context, every new story that you discover in a book about London fashion suddenly becomes so exciting and you think oh, well let’s take the movie in this direction, when in fact, it shouldn’t have gone in that direction and that is a great story, but it should be left aside.  And this was always meant to be about this relationship between this man and a woman.  And anything else was just going to be window dressing to prop that up.  So anytime I would start to get excited about something else, Daniel was very, very good and JoAnne and Dylan, at just making sure to guide back.  So that’s kind of the process of writing and it’s always helpful to have a collaborator in that way.  But the truth is, as you as a writer may know, that there’s that horrible moment where you have to just like sit and clear the desk and do the work.  And sometimes it’s fun and sometimes it’s no fun and sometimes it feels like homework and other times it really feels like genuine inspiration that is coming your way.  And then I always try to make room for lying around on the couch, because good ideas can come from just lying around on the couch.


Noise at Home

PTA:  I don’t have that problem.  I grew up in a very, very large house, in a very noisy house.  And I kind of, I am the opposite, I thrive, if it’s noisy, I can concentrate and in fact, I kind of even like a little bit of noise going on and it kind of helps me settle down funny enough.  That said, growing up in a large family I can remember, and this is still a work habit that I have to this day is that I, very early on, even when I was a kid when I was writing, I would wake up as far in advance of everybody else as I could.  I would get up a couple of hours before I knew that my sisters were going to wake up because I knew the house would be quiet and I could get some work done.  Now many people have the opposite thing, they will stay up all night cause it’s a quiet time, and I think we all try to carve out our quiet time.  But, carving out my quiet time is also in the reality of my life.  Reynolds Woodcock, I think it’s a 24 hour job living with him, and the rules are strict, severe, to be obeyed, and I couldn’t live like that.  I really couldn’t live like that, no, I am much more chaotic and messy.  I mean you should come over and see my office, it doesn’t look like Reynolds Woodcock’s office. It’s a mess.  But I have to say something, that is actually a great, going back to the collaboration with Daniel, that is a great example of the writing collaboration. I would write a scene where Alma is bringing tea in, and I probably wrote something like no, I don’t want tea, can you take it out?  Yes, I am taking it out, but okay, just get it out, get it out, let’s say it’s something like that  Having Daniel come in, he can come up with a fantastic line of, yes you are going out, the tea is going out, but the interruption is staying right here with me.  Daniel would actually write that, so I would write everything else and he will kind of come up with something great like that.

Writing with Day-Lewis Again

PTA:  At the moment, I’m just trying to let everything settle and I don’t have thoughts like that just yet.  I think we are just trying to see this film into the world. But probably yeah, nagging deep back, there is just the thought of, I couldn’t let Day-Lewis go.  There will be an itch and I can’t imagine not wanting to call him back again and say come on, let’s try it again.

Beautiful Milieu

PTA: That is a great question, and the truth is, we knew that we were in a world that was just beautiful, it’s inherently beautiful and the dresses are beautiful and the fabrics are beautiful and the lace is beautiful.  But what becomes less beautiful in these houses that we researched, these Georgian townhouses in London, they are immaculate and they are beautiful when you walk in, but the further you get upstairs, the workrooms, they are still polished and they need to be cleaned and you need to be able to eat off the floor.  But they are all living like mice and they are on top of each other. And it was kind of like a Beatrix Potter story a little bit, like “The Tailor of Gloucester,” we were kind of thinking about that.  And beautiful in a film works both ways I think, and we talked about this a lot and sometimes it can just be like chocolate on top of chocolate and it can kind of overwhelm you and you wonder if you are looking at a fashion show or are you watching a film and a story? So, funny enough, we were actually always trying to make it a little less beautiful and we were trying to do things with the film stock like pushing it and adding smoke and low cons and trying to get a kind of an older texture to it, which inherently is actually quite pretty as well. But I think we are less familiar with seeing that these days, whereas we are used to seeing more crystal clear images, which I kind of find difficult to watch after awhile and harder to concentrate on.  So the answer is probably sort of loads and loads of testing, film tests.  And in terms of the credit, I work with a group of guys, Michael Bauman, Colin Anderson, Erik Brown and Jeff Kunkel, a key grip gaffer, and we had done a lot of smaller projects together and we have done Radiohead videos and and things like this, without a cinematographer, a classic cinematographer credit, and that’s just what we did here.  So everyone was a participant, and if it was like the U.N., I would be America I suppose, but Mike was really the person, it’s a lighting cameraman and he is a gaffer by trade, but terrific working relationship that we had.  But it was basically, we were just missing one person, and I think you can do that over in the UK and you couldn’t do it here, we would have to give a cinematographer credit.  But I can go on and on about this stuff and I don’t want to hijack the time, but you are onto something that was discussed so endlessly and endless.  And these photographs, the fashion world is so well documented, because that’s what they do.  There’s no shortage of books with beautiful images, whether you are talking about Irving Penn or whoever it is, great photographers, Norman Parkinson.  And while wanting to sort of emulate a little bit of that, we never really wanted to try to do that, A because we are not them, and we are not going to try to be Irving Penn, but to be in a more practical place.  And we had a story to tell that wasn’t about fashion.  That was the other thing too, to make sure that you don’t get over-weighted by the beauty, but to help it stand your story up.


Passion On Screen and Off

PTA: It’s very hard for me to settle down once I finished a film, I get very excited about thinking about another film.  But what naturally does happen is that after a few weeks, you do settle down and you are able to calm down and rest after the two years that it’s taken you to do something. And also it’s very easy to then start to kind of get lazy and lay around.  But for me, I always get itchy again and excited about what’s next.  I love to write but writing is different than acting.  Writing, I can do anytime, anyplace and I can do it all the time, and it fulfills me and it makes me happy.  I would do it even if I didn’t get paid for it.  But can I understand Daniel’s decision?  Absolutely I can, because I know him and I know his feelings pretty well and I didn’t see it coming, but I am not surprised. He has talked off and on about it for many years, so it’s not wildly out of left field.  But as he said in this article, that is was uncharacteristic for him to announce something, because look, ten years could have gone by and we never would have know that he had retired because he works so infrequently.  But whatever it was inside him that is in that article, he said that he needed to do it.  And there’s nothing I can’t respect about that.  He is a smart man, a strong man, so that is his choice.  We finished shooting in April and I think he announced that in June.  I didn’t know.


Definition of Strong Man

PTA: The two have a conversation earlier by the fireside and the word strong comes up.  He says, this is what I know about my life, I will never be married, and that’s that.  And she says, you are only acting strong, who are you acting strong for, not for me I hope?  And he says, no, I am strong.  You know, this is a classic case, if I was writing this, I could write a great answer, and I would have days to think about it.    I think what she is talking about there is the difference between being strong and being overbearing, the difference between being strong and a monster.  I think every relationship wants somebody to be in charge and every relationship needs the balance of power to keep balancing and to not overwhelm one way or the other.  So she is trying to say in that moment and I can only speak through her, sit down, shut up, settle down and then go back to work and maybe take with you something from it.  Because you don’t have to do this work and behave this way, they are not tied together.  There is a way to be creative and to be my partner without all these rules.