Paul Thomas Anderson on The Master

We speak to eccentric auteur about award-winning movie

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There was so much early talk about your film’s relationship to Scientology. Did that amuse, interest or distract you?
All of the above! You have to swat it away like a fly. It’s just that word – ‘Scientology’ – that people applied to us. It makes people’s ears start to grow and little antennae come out of their head and their eyes get wide. I was concerned that there was an expectation that the film would be something that it wasn’t.

Your leading man, Joaquin Phoenix, doesn’t seem particularly comfortable with the public side of acting. He dealt with those issues – fame, celebrity, perceptions of him – in the 2010 mockumentary I’m Still Here.
Completely. I loved that film, although there’s some inherent problem with it that I can’t put my finger on. But I loved watching him perform and run around in it. How mad can you be at an actor that’s that good at his job and that bad at promoting your film? I wouldn’t change it for anyone. I want my movie stars to be dangerous, annoyed and incapable of taking [rubbish]. I prefer them that way.

How did you react personally to your research into the early processes of Scientology doctrine Dianetics?
This might sound strange, but it’s pretty hard to sit there and learn about that stuff and not be affected by it in positive ways. You don’t have someone shoving it down your throat, and you’re reading some deceptively simple ideas, little things that you can apply to yourself. I’d find myself coming up for dinner and perhaps being frustrated and I’d find myself implementing rule number 43 or whatever it was.
The Master screens on Saturday December 15, 5.15pm at Madinat Theatre.

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