A Minute With: Philip Seymour Hoffman on "The Master"

By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Since the release of directorPaul Thomas Anderson's new movie, "The Master", talk byfilmgoers and critics alike has spanned its link to Scientology,themes of control and its Oscar hopes.

Much discussion has rested on the film's main performancesby Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, who plays hisunhinged protege. Both actors split the top acting award at theVenice Film Festival, where the film debuted.

Hoffman spoke to Reuters, dispelling suggestions that hischaracter of Lancaster Dodd was purely based on Scientologyfounder L. Ron Hubbard and discussing the broader themes of thefilm.

Q. You seem to just roll from one great role to the next.

A. "Yes, it's going awful, I mean, Paul Thomas Anderson ...giving me these opportunities. I just can't bear it."

Q. How did you create your character, Lancaster, and who didyou base him on?

A. "Ultimately it was just knowing what we didn't want todo. I think most people have been interested about theScientology and L. Ron Hubbard stuff, and the thing is Paul usedthat stuff to have a venue to write the story. And a lot of ourdiscussions early on were like, 'I don't want to play L. RonHubbard because that would be very distracting because that isnot the movie.' So a lot of the choices had to do with how notto be L. Ron Hubbard.

"It is pretty clear we made choices to make sure that theway I behave, the way I talk, it is all very different from L.Ron Hubbard ... One person's religion is another person's cult.We know that. And so we didn't want to be too on the nose aboutit ... Ultimately it was about creating a unique person that wasa piece of fiction."

Q. Perhaps fueling that fascination were mysteries aboutScientology to begin with?

A. "That's a worthy discussion, that is a worthy article towrite. People's feelings and what Scientology brings up forpeople and how would you compare that to other movements of thattime and how would you compare that to religion or Catholicism?That is very interesting because to me this guy is the head ofanything you want him to be. You know what I mean?

"We always talked about this film being a life-changingmoment for both of them, and things happen in your life tochange your life. After they happen you think, 'Did thatactually happen? Did I actually go through that?' Something thatis so profound is sometimes so elusive and so hard to nail down.And it becomes a memory and an anecdote and some weird dream."

Q. People are fascinated by broader themes of what this filmis about. What are your thoughts?

A. "It is about an intense emotional connection between twomen and how they both need each other, and are both the mirroropposite but ultimately very much alike. So I think all that isvery specific and clear in the movie and it creates a strongemotional attachment that both of them are scared to walk awayfrom for fear of finding out they are nothing without the otherperson.

"I think that is what the movie is getting at. And then whathappens, that Paul does so brilliantly - that he doesn't do insuch a simple, banal or obvious way - is he brings in that timeperiod, post-World War Two. He brings in a movement that issomewhat like Scientology, that time-warp kind of movement ...It is about all those things and how they feed into the corething, which is this relationship."

Q. People also seem focused on the scene where yourcharacter sings to Joaquin Phoenix. Can you shed light on that?

A. "I think it is beautiful. And it is not about ... sex. Itis about intimacy and obsession and wanting to control somebody,because you are so scared to lose them. Anyone who has been inlove before understands that. Again, there is a lot of like,well, it must be homoerotic. No. No, can't men love each otherlike that, because they do. They really do."

Q. Was it difficult to establish your own presence oppositePhoenix?

A. "It's not an everyday occurrence, no, but when I see it Iam happy because it makes my job easier. He (Phoenix) isactually playing the part, which is a guy who is obviouslyseverely damaged.

"Lancaster isn't a walk in the park either. He is a bull ina China shop too. There are a lot of similarities between themif you look hard enough. But they are both pretty volatile guys,but one realizes he wants to control it and the other onecan't."

Q. What do the Oscars mean to you now that you have one?

A. "I think it is important to respect the attention thatgets brought to something that everyone worked really hard on."

Q. Talking about respect, actors like Meryl Streep sometimesjoke about actors' current high stature. What do you think?

A. "No one wants to be pretentious about what they do ortake it seriously, because that is just weird. But I think, too,you have to respect it and to realize where it can take you andwhat power it can have, I think is important. But that is trueof anything."

Q. Salman Rushdie said recently that movie stars havereplaced writers since the '50s in terms of their influence.

A. "I do feel that there are some really smart people, whoare doing that, who are actors. And I think they do it well, Idon't judge that so much."

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Dale Hudson)

((christine.kearney@thomsonreuters.com)(+1 646 223 6056))