Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Thomas Anderson, Paul Dano and Ciaran Hinds – There Will Be Accolades For There Will Be Blood
by Brad Balfour
Originally posted on December 26, 2007.
Though Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, There Will Be Blood, is based on a book published in 1927 which dealt with the emerging oil business in Southern California, its underlying themes are just as relevant today. As characters such as burgeoning oil baron Daniel Plainview become richer and richer, stepping on all those around him, the film reveals how the lust for the black gold can and will corrupt anyone. Its obvious pertinence to current events becomes obvious as this simple story reveals itself.
A remarkable film, it is the long-awaited screen return of director Anderson after several years’ absence and is further proof that its star, Daniel Day-Lewis, is one of this generation’s finest actors. Within this story about family, greed, and religion, other fine actors such as Paul Dano and Ciaran Hinds carefully embellish this world with their complex renditions of their characters.
Having made only a few films so far, Anderson has nonetheless established himself as a respected creator who has made such intense and memorable works as Boogie Nights and Magnolia. But with There Will Be Blood, Anderson has made a film that transcends his reputation for making wry quirky cultish films; he has now made one that should be called an instant classic. And thankfully the quartet of Anderson, Day-Lewis, Hinds and Dano took some time to discuss the genesis of a film that is going to be a magnet for this season’s various award nominations.
What was the inspiration and impetus to make a film based on this 1927 Upton Sinclair novel, Oil?
Paul Thomas Anderson: The inspiration from the movie comes first and foremost from the book. I had been trying to write something, anything, just to get something written. I had a story that wasn’t really working that was about fighting families, and it didn’t really have anything. It just had that premise. When I read the book there were so many ready-made scenes, and the great venue of the oil fields and all that. Those were kind of the obvious things that seemed worth making a film about. The desire to work with Daniel, once that presented itself as a possibility, certainly drove the engine for me to write it and finish it and get it to him.
Your character, Daniel Plainview, goes through an arc of being miserable at the beginning and moreso at the end of the movie. What was the challenge in making this work?
Daniel Day-Lewis: No challenge [laughs].
Paul Thomas Anderson: I think the arc goes like that [shows a descending line]. He goes from miserable to more miserable,
Daniel Day-Lewis: I never really saw him as a miserable prick, but… I don’t know what the challenge is. The challenge, I dare
say, is the same as it always is – which is to try and discover a life that isn’t your own. And Plainview, as he came to me in Paul’s beautiful script, was a man whose life I didn’t understand at all. It was a life that was mysterious to me, and that unleashed a fatal curiosity which I had no choice but to pursue.
Did you see him as descending into madness?
Daniel Day-Lewis: He’s just a fellow trying to make a living. I’m not really the best person to say this, but I believe you see the seeds of the man you meet at the end in the man you meet in the beginning. It never occurred to me to think that his journey was a short one.
You establish a very interesting dialect for Plainview and sustain in the film. How did you go about creating that aspect of his character?
Paul Thomas Anderson: Well, the first speech in the movie is taken very directly from the Upton Sinclair book. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve traveled over half our state…” It was just incredibly simple; very direct. I can remember thinking, “Just keep it simple. Keep the language simple.” I couldn’t imagine these guys using more words than they had to use, anybody in this venue, which became a nice way to attack it. Ideally it gets to the point when it’s just going well, you write something and wake up the next morning and say “God, who wrote that? That’s pretty good.”
Daniel, how did you get that voice for Plainview? It sounds so natural…
Paul Thomas Anderson: We ran it through a machine. It’s all digital voice stuff [laughs].
Did you model it on something?
Daniel Day-Lewis: I did model it… I did this in a number of takes and a few people asked me about… [where it came from… think it’s a little like John Huston’s.] This [sort of thing] emerged over a period of time [until it felt right.] You do all the work yet these things take care of themselves without any decision being made. I tried to allow the voice to make itself heard and then once I hear it I try to make those sounds.
You do it for a couple of months then it just leaves?
Daniel Day-Lewis: Uhhh… Yeah… [laughs].
Paul [Dano]’s character has an underlying socio-political commentary imbued in him. How aware were you [Dano, Anderson, Day-Lewis] of the context of class warfare, religious issues, and other concerns of the time?
Paul Thomas Anderson: Aware of it enough to know that if we indulged it or let that stuff rise to the top it could get kind of murky. It’s a slippery slope, when you start thinking about something other than just a good battle between two guys who see each other for what they are. Just to sort of work from that first and foremost and let everything that is there fall into place behind it.
Paul Dano: I would leave any of that for Paul to bring up in the film if that’s what he wanted, but I certainly didn’t look at it as anything more than a story and as something to try and tell. I think it would have been dangerous for me to worry about trying to bring out some political theme, something other than being truthful to the characters.
Daniel Day-Lewis: I feel the same way.