Memorable meal paved the way for Amy Adams' role in 'The Master'

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TORONTO -- Amy Adams has many reasons to recall meeting director Paul Thomas Anderson at an unspecified restaurant.

"We said we'll always remember this moment because an exterminator is walking out of the kitchen," the actress quipped, turning to the director of "The Master" during a Toronto International Film Festival press conference this month.

Clad in a belted green print dress, with her long, wavy red hair parted in the middle, she was carrying the flag for the actors that day.

Philip Seymour Hoffman had flown to the Venice Film Festival to accept the acting prize shared by him and co-star Joaquin Phoenix and although Mr. Phoenix had been listed as participating, he was absent. The director said (perhaps joking, perhaps not), "He's too unpredictable."

Take, for instance, a scene in which Mr. Phoenix's character of Freddie Quell -- a volatile World War II veteran who falls in with a fledgling movement called "The Cause" in 1950 -- is hauled off by police.

"We knew that probably Freddie would not want to be in a jail cell," the director said. "It was the first take and we started rolling and Joaquin went crazy and you know, I think that you have to be concerned for your actor's safety but you have to be sure that you've lit it properly and there's film in the camera."

That way, when the actor (with his arms cuffed) bangs his head against the upper bunk and stomps a museum toilet so hard that he shatters it -- and then kicks the shards across the floor -- you will capture the moment on the first take.

Mr. Anderson had worked with Mr. Hoffman, who here plays the title role, multiple times but never, until now, with Mr. Phoenix.

"I've wanted to work with Joaquin for many years and we've talked about the possibility and it never really worked out," the director said. Mr. Hoffman shared that sentiment and by the time Mr. Phoenix finished the "I'm Still Here" mockumentary, Mr. Anderson was ready with his project.

"It's kind of a miracle every time things just fall into place and you look back, whatever plans you try and make about when to start or not start, it just ends up being what it should be. And we ended up with the right person there to play this part and thank heavens.

"I knew he was great but this is something else, what he did."

As for how he juggled, on the page and while directing, two intense characters, he said, "They are really strong hitters but also team players. ... The mistake of a young actor is to kind of dominate something but the sort of sweet spot of a mature actor or maturing actor is one who really gives over and knows when to squeeze in and knows when to slow down."

Ms. Adams, who previously played a nun to Mr. Hoffman's priest in "Doubt," is the wife of the Master. It's post-World War II America, she's pregnant for much of the story and suspicious of the newcomer and lost soul who has come into their lives.

More than one critic has likened Ms. Adams' character to Lady Macbeth, given her single-minded belief in The Cause and her husband.

"I'd worked with Philip before and I adore, worship, love Philip. So to get to play someone who adores, worships, loves Philip was not a big stretch for me. It was fun to try to get to kind of go toe-to-toe with him, as a person of power. In the past roles, I've been a bit more submissive. So it was great to get to overpower Philip, so that's the only time that's ever going to happen in my life."

Her expectations of "The Master" and her experiences ended up being vastly different.

"There's a line in the film where Philip talks about it's going to be very, very serious and that's what I thought this experience was going to be. ... It was actually a lot of fun. We laughed a lot, there was a lot of exploration," she said, with freedom to experiment and fail.

If Ms. Adams turned to a book she had previously read -- Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" about post-World War II American women -- the director relied on a famous time capsule.

John Huston's once-suppressed 1946 documentary, "Let There Be Light," about the mental health of troops returning from war, proved an invaluable inspiration for the story along with its production and costume design. The portrait of emotionally traumatized GIs was pulled by the War Department; its first public showing finally came in 1981.

"They just had this amazing footage, amazing in this way it was very graphic, showing what these fellows were coming back with and so there's stuff we ripped off line for line from that film," Mr. Anderson said. "It was the best source of material that we found to show what these VA hospitals were like at that time."

As for other influences, he said, "I just kind of keep TCM on around my house 24 hours a day, like I'm sure a lot of us. I kind of put it on in the kitchen and it's always on. So even if I'm not watching anything, it just kind of soaks into your veins."

Ms. Adams, the mother of a 2-year-old girl, countered that she has Sprout, a channel for preschoolers, on 24 hours a day. That means the Wiggles instead of war movies.

As previously reported, Mr. Anderson rejected the word cult to describe "The Cause" and assiduously avoided talking about the Church of Scientology and founder L. Ron Hubbard on this day.

"I don't consider that we're dealing with a cult. The area of the story after the war is like food and drink to me in terms of an opportunity for a lot of good stuff to tell a story," he said, although he wasn't able to precisely pinpoint why the film has resonated with audiences.

"Maybe it's the climate we're in at the moment," producer JoAnne Sellar ("There Will Be Blood") suggested.

"It's a film that you really have to think about," and when moviegoers leave it, they want to see it again, she added. "I think people want to see films like that, and I don't think there's a lot of them around at the moment."


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog:


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