‘Inherent Vice’ Is a Profound Work With the Best Fart Jokes, Says Paul Thomas Anderson at NYFF
"I don’t want to say ‘literary,’ because that’s a bad word," said Paul Thomas Anderson, attempting to describe the essence of Thomas Pynchon's 'Inherent Vice.' It's "beautifully written and, sort of, profound and deeply felt stuff mixed in with just the best fart jokes and poop jokes and silly songs and stuff that you could imagine." As he says, he was "trying to be as faithful to the feeling of the book as possible" in adapting it for the big screen.
Anderson's film version of 'Inherent Vice' screened at the New York Film Festival for press and industry members on Saturday morning, and, afterwards, the director, known for such works as 'Boogie Nights' and 'The Master,' hit the stage surrounded by his cast. Unfortunately, Josh Brolin and Reese Witherspoon were not in attendance, but such talent as Joaquin Phoenix, Benicio Del Toro, Maya Rudolph, Owen Wilson, Martin Short and Michael K. Williams were there to answer questions and talk about adapting such an oddball novel.
"I had my assistant read it to me," joked Short. "That counts where I’m from."
Narrated by the voice of actress Joanna Newsom, who had the obligation, she said, of being the voice of the text, 'Inherent Vice' follows the general plot of the novel. Doc Sportello, a ganja-loving hippie and private eye, is mysteriously visited by his ex-girlfriend one evening and listens to her crazy story about how her billionaire boyfriend's wife and his wife's lover are plotting to take all his money. Shortly after she leaves Doc's house, she goes missing, and her boyfriend is nowhere to be found. This sets Doc on a mission to find out what happened, leading him to encounters with dopers, loan sharks, an undercover saxophone player, and one hippie-hating detective known as "Bigfoot."
For Jena Malone (known for playing Johanna Mason in the 'Hunger Games' movies), who plays a character named Hope Harlingen in 'Inherent Vice,' the importance of respecting the original novel and being more attuned to "the words" was a new experience. "I’ve never been able to collaborate in that way, the director just sit down with the words and just see what feels right, which is a very structured process, I think, and then getting to sit across the table with Doc and become a wild animal. That’s where the chaos comes from, and that chaos can only come from a grounded, logical base, in a way, because you have to know where you’re going to be spinning from."
"I saw ‘The Big Sleep’ and it made me realize that I couldn’t follow any of that, but it didn’t matter because I just wanted to see what would happen next anyway," said Anderson. "That was a good model to go off of."
"I didn’t think Paul liked me," giggled Michael K. Williams. "I came into the project a huge fan of both Joaquin and Paul, and I think I hadn’t slept for like 48 hours -- I came from another job to this one. The process was -- it was different. ... Most of my credits are in television where you crack the whip and things are just time, time, time. And then I get to this kind of situation and it’s like, 'Let’s sit down and talk about this.' I’m like, 'Really?! You don’t want me to just perform?' And he’s [Paul] like, 'No, let’s talk about this.' And Joaquin was so generous, and I came in very intimidated to come to be invited to this table, to play with such amazing talent. So I came with a nervous energy
"I think Paul is just trying to make you paranoid," responded Hong Chau. "It worked!" said Williams.
As for Phoenix, what did the leading man have to say about working with Anderson and his cast on 'Inherent Vice'? Well, not much. In fact, the only thing he said was quietly off-mic when Katherine Waterston started passing him the microphone, after the other talent went down the line in discussing putting their own spins on the characters. He calmly raised his hand and said, "I'm okay, thanks."