Daniel Day Lewis is a genius of an actor, but a poor salesman.
After completing Phantom Thread for director Paul Thomas Anderson, he announced that during the production he was overcome with “an overwhelming sense of sadness,” that he spent the last day weeping in Anderson’s arms, and he subsequently announced his intention to retire.
When I spoke to Anderson, I mentioned I was surprised that his movie — about a perfectionist fashion designer (Day-Lewis) who meets his match in an ambitious young model (Vicky Krieps) — is often very funny.
(Keep in mind I also laughed at Day-Lewis’ Bill the Butcher).
“That’s music to my ears!” Anderson said. “Yes, we’re going to need your help on this. This has been something [Anderson and the studio] talk about a lot, trying to come up with a way to market the movie. I think it’s important for people to know that it’s freaking funny. Daniel is very serious about this character, but in the movie, it’s in the service of this battle of wills that ends up having an enormous amount of humor in it.”
Day-Lewis plays a Londoner and ’50s fashion designer named Reynolds Woodcock — and, really, how seriously can you take a character named Reynolds Woodcock? — famous for the way he makes gorgeous and meticulously crafted dresses, and also for the way he dates and dumps the models who wear them, often assigning the unpleasant breakup duties to his fearsome sister (Lesley Manville).
Then he meets Alma (Krieps), who works her way into his life first as a lover, then as a model, then a collaborator who disrupts Woodcock’s routine in a way the designer both hates and …
The rest is best left to Phantom Thread, which surely ranks among the year’s weirdest love stories.
“Let’s just say the character is accessible to me. It’s easy for me to understand the obsessive workaholic. I don’t think I am an obsessive workaholic, but if you ask my family, they might say, ‘No, you’re exactly like that.’ I think where we intersect is in this question of work and life, and the blurry line that exists between the two,” he said.
That line has moved in recent years, edging toward family. Anderson is married to actress Maya Rudolph, and they have four children.
“I have such a different life now than I had when I began making films. And I’ve seen a lot of unfortunate situations — the way the movie business separates people,” he said. “Things happen, there are just long hours, and obsessions that take hold when you’re making a film, especially with a long and difficult schedule. I think at some point I said to myself, ‘I can’t see that being my entire life. I can’t see wrecking my home for the sake of my work.’ But having said that, I have an easy time accessing the heart of a compulsive work-oriented character like Reynolds.”
Are there other similarities? Reynolds makes fancy, high-style, classic dresses and feels threatened by the chic fashions that promise to transform the industry in the 1950s. I asked Anderson how he felt about the primacy of motion pictures as a medium as platforms like Netflix and Amazon encroach.
“I don’t know whether you can attribute this to ego or to being old-fashioned, but I want my films to be seen in the movie theaters, where it’s big and loud and there are lots of people. I love that,” he said.
On the other hand, he’s made some short films (recently, documentary videos for the band Haim) that have streamed on different platforms, and he sees the potential and the allure.
“I’m kind of being dragged kicking and screaming into something else,” said Anderson, “but I’m not screaming very loud. There are a lot of great things being made on those platforms. The worry is when you add it all up, there’s so much of it that it all just becomes too much noise.”
In the meantime, Anderson will continue to make motion pictures, and he hopes people will continue to gather to watch them.
“Get up and go to the movies,” he said. “I know it’s a pain to pay for parking, but it will all be worth it.”