Paul Thomas Anderson called The Master a “love story” between its two lead characters and addressed the issue of Scientology and its relationship to the film at a press conference in Venice this afternoon. The movie screened this morning and certainly calls to mind the controversial religion, but Anderson said it wasn’t the “whale in the room” that people thought. He said he based Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s character, Lancaster Dodd, in part on Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard, but added, “I really don’t know a whole hell of a lot about Scientology.” He also confirmed that he had shown the film to Hollywood’s most famous Scientologist, Tom Cruise, whom Anderson directed to an Oscar nomination in Magnolia. “Yes, I showed it to him. We’re still friends and the rest is between us,” he deadpanned.
The Master‘s stars, Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, were also present at the standing room only press conference – Hoffman more so than Phoenix who chain-smoked on the dais, didn’t answer any questions and disappeared for a few minutes in the middle. Harvey Weinstein, who’ll release The Master on Sept 14, looked on from the front row. Hoffman, excellent in The Master as in his other collaborations with Anderson, called the director a friend “first and foremost… When we work together, it’s kind of like gravy.” Anderson noted that he had asked Phoenix “to be in every other movie I’ve done which is kind of a pain in the ass,” since the answer was always no until now. But, he said, “it was worth it.” Though the movie is complex, and may require repeat viewings, it is being praised as a master stroke of filmmaking and a tour de force for the leads.