NYFF Report: Joaquin Phoenix and Cast Helped Make ‘Inherent Vice’ a Noir-Nonsense Affair

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NYFF Report: Joaquin Phoenix and Cast Helped Make ‘Inherent Vice’ a Noir-Nonsense Affair

Posted on: October 5th, 2014 by tommyj

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NYFF Report: Joaquin Phoenix and Cast Helped Make 'Inherent Vice' a Noir-Nonsense Affair
NYFF Report: Joaquin Phoenix and Cast Helped Make ‘Inherent Vice’ a Noir-Nonsense Affair

Earlier this week, the first trailer for writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, Inherent Vice, took the Internet by storm — and you can expect a similar online explosion tonight, when the entire movie makes its world premiere at the 52nd New York Film Festival. But if viewers occasionally have trouble following exactly what happens during the course of this two-and-a-half-hour slice of sunny California noir, don’t worry: The director doesn’t expect you to piece everything together. Although Inherent Vice is adapted very faithfully from the 2009 book by Thomas Pynchon — the first of any of the famously reclusive author’s novels to reach the big screen — Anderson was equally inspired by an older example of a labyrinthine detective flick, Howard Hawks’ 1946 version of The Big Sleep, starring Humprhey Bogart as Raymond Chandler’s iconic gumshoe, Philip Marlowe.

"That movie made me realize that I couldn’t follow any of it and it didn’t matter," Anderson remarked at the press conference Saturday afternoon, following the very first screening of Inherent Vice. “That was a good model to go on, to just throw that stuff out the window.” Anderson was flanked by numerous members of his star-studded cast, including leading man Joaquin Phoenix, who stars as Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello, a stoner P.I. caught up in a case that may (or may not) involve his missing girlfriend, a real estate mogul, and a boat and/or drug syndicate known as the Golden Fang. While the actor remained resolutely silent, his director and co-stars —including Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Maya Rudolph, Jena Malone, Martin Short and Joanna Newsom — picked up the slack. Here are some of the mysteries of Inherent Vice they solved for us:

Owen Wilson is Playing a Muppet

Inherent Vice takes place in Los Angeles circa 1970, and the film vividly recreates that bygone era, from the beer cans, to the TV shows, to the hairstyles (check out Phoenix’s hippie curls) and outfits. Anderson allowed the actors to provide some input into the way their characters looked…though he didn’t always take their advice. “I met with Paul and started figuring out what my character was going to be wearing,” remembered Wilson, who plays the rumoredly (but not actually) dead saxophonist, Coy Harlingen. “But Paul didn’t go with any of my ideas! I had one shirt that I really wanted to wear and I guess it wasn’t ’70s enough. Eventually we landed on overalls, because Paul was looking at a photograph of [Beach Boys singer] Dennis Wilson wearing some white overalls.” Anderson was also inspired by another legendary sax man: Zoot, the blue-haired wailer in the all-Muppet outfit Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. “He had that hat and those glasses,” Anderson laughed. “Zoot from the Muppets — that’s a good answer.”  

The Set Was Organized Chaos

Pynchon’s book is distinguished by the author’s typical ability to juggle multiple tones. Or, as Anderson put it, “You have deeply written and beautifully profound stuff mixed in with just the best fart jokes and poop jokes that you can imagine.” In order to preserve that wild mix of material, the director maintained a freewheeling mood on the set. “It was a very loose way of working,” Wilson said. “Sometimes I woudn’t necessarily know what I was doing. We were encouraged to kind of do anything.” Define anything? “There was a point where Joaquin and I started clicking at each other for five minutes,” recalled Malone, who plays Wilson’s on-screen wife. “It was pretty incredible. [But before that], it was nice to sit down with [with Paul] and see what felt right. That was a very structured process. Then I got to sit across the table from Doc and become a wild animal. That chaos can only come from a grounded, logical base because you have to know where you’re going to be spinning from. The logic becomes the chaos and the chaos becomes the logic.”

'Inherent Vice' Trailer
‘Inherent Vice’ Trailer
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