Paul Thomas Anderson On The Master

No director's cut for the '50s drama

paul thomas anderson

Paul Thomas Anderson's sixth film, The Master, is perhaps his most off-kilter to date. With its Scientology subtext, it's also likely to be his most headline grabbing, although the modest filmmaker, you feel, would rather avoid all that nonsense. Nonetheless, when Empire met up with him, Anderson was happy to nip one of them in bud: Yes, Tom Cruise has seen it. Well? "The rest is between us."

Fair enough. So how did L. Ron Hubbard's singular sect inform the movie? "Listen. I know there's a long history there, but when you're investigating something, and working on it for a film, you have to learn what it is about it you like. It's just not worth it to go and make a film just to poke a hole in something."

The idea for The Master, explains Anderson, predated his loose adaption of Upton Sinclair's Oil!, There Will Be Blood, as a clutch of formless scenarios "that would kind of peter out or I wouldn't know exactly what direction it was going in".

They finally came together in a narrative that unites demobbed Marine Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and charismatic demagogue Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in a devil's dance of morality, faith and turps-based cocktails.

Not all of the Cannes show reel made the final cut - there's a scene that nods to John Steinbeck - but Anderson quashed any hopes of a director's cut down the line. "No, this it it."

The Master reaches these shores on November 2. Pick up the new issue of Empire from Thursday for more in the meantime.