Daniel Day-Lewis plays another intense, obsessed character in his new film, “Phantom Thread,” which re-teams the actor with director Paul Thomas Anderson. The first New York screening of the film took place Sunday evening for SAG members and selected press at the DGA Theater in midtown.
The movie is hotly anticipated, especially since the actor’s announcement that this would be his last film. Day-Lewis has three Oscars, so the question is will this earn him his fourth little gold statuette? The last outing for Day-Lewis and Anderson was a decade ago for “There Will Be Blood,” for which the actor received his second Oscar. His last film was five years ago, Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” for which he also received an Academy Award.
There is a strict embargo on reviews of the film so I’ll only tell you what you can discover by the trailer, which has been out for a while. “Phantom Thread” is set in 1950’s London, primarily in a beautiful townhouse where couturier Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) designs and creates his luscious and exquisitely made gowns with a cadre of seamstresses. His tough and loyal sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), is his right-hand delegate and makes sure her brother’s business and personal life are running smoothly. For one thing she helps him discard of his women once he tires of them.
The prickly dress designer finds his fastidious life turned upside down when he meets Alma, a young and beautiful strong-willed woman who becomes his model, muse and lover, in that order. She presents Woodcock with emotional demands that disrupt his obsessive focus on his art and work. But he has met his match in the obsession department. Alma is played by Vicky Krieps, who should receive an Oscar nomination for her wonderful work. The actress, who is from Luxembourg, is largely unknown here but has a long list of movie credits in mainly German films.
After the screening, Anderson, Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps participated in a hotly-anticipated Q&A, which was moderated by W Editor Lynn Hirschberg.
On the inspiration for the film, Anderson quipped, “I was very sick in bed and my wife looked at me with affection I hadn’t seen for a long time. So the next morning I called Daniel and said ‘I think i have a good idea for a movie.'”
Day-Lewis, who is now 60, has changed his appearance drastically and looks like a cool punk rocker. The slender actor has shaved his head, wears numerous ear piercings and has large tattoos all over his arms. But as always, he still totally immerses himself in his roles. He spoke about how he researched the world of designers who were working in London during the 50’s, rattling off their names and contributions. He is also knowledgeable about fabrics and where they come from. (Fans of the actor will recall the world of fashion is of some interest to him; he took time off from acting before making “Gangs of New York” and went to Italy to learn how to make shoes.)
Most of the action of “Phantom Thread” takes place in a gorgeous townhouse that features a large spiral staircase that leads to tiny rooms. “It was awful,” said the actor about working in the small, enclosed spaces. “It was a nightmare because we were living on top of each other. There was no escape.” Space was so tight it was like “that entire house was like a termite nest,” he said, adding that because there were no elevators it presented a logistic problem for the crew who had to lug their equipment from floor to floor.
The director, who also shot the cinematography, said he was inspired by films from the 40’s, especially Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” and “Vertigo” along with the British 1945 romantic drama “Brief Encounter.” The opening shot of “Phantom Thread” is a homage to “Vertigo,” in which there is a a long shot of the winding staircase that brings the Hitchcock movie to mind.
The film is about a number of things, including artistic obsessions and the sacrifices it enacts in terms of personal relationships. People want and need relationships and yet they also need their own space. How do you navigate that complicated human need? It is also about family, a theme the director said was bottomless to explore and which endlessly fascinated him.
Said Day-Lewis at the conclusion of the Q&A, “perhaps I shouldn’t say so, but this could have been anywhere… the movie didn’t have to be about fashion. The world itself is kind of immaterial.”
In a classy move, the end credits note that Anderson dedicated the film to his late friend, director Jonathan Demme.
“Phantom Thread” opens December 25.