Boogie Nights began as a teenage boy’s wet dream. Nearly a decade before its 1997 release, it was a fantasy to chase. The year was 1988. The boy was a precocious, plotting 17-year-old named Paul Thomas Anderson. He was growing up in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley, obsessed with the studios all around him. He wanted in and hustled plenty — sneaking onto sets, working a Betamax camera from the age of 12, filming everything — but he also gained entrée from his father, Ernie, who was famous from his voice-over work for ABC on shows like The Love Boat. The Andersons had a pool — where funny-guy actors like Tim Conway and Robert Ridgely frequently lounged, cracking jokes and pouring drinks — and their own Shetland pony. The absurd and the domestic were one and the same.
Anderson also became consumed by porn and the Bizarro Hollywood industry that claimed the Valley as its Fertile Crescent. His relationship to the material differed from that of the average high schooler. There was the fucking, sure. But the real seduction was in the imagined backstories, the circumstantial tragicomedies of the casts and crews, which inspired Anderson to write and film The Dirk Diggler Story, a 32-minute mockumentary-style short about the pursuit, delusions, and costs of fame.
When he was 26, Anderson’s first full-length feature, Sydney, had run into problems. The production company Rysher Entertainment made its own cuts to his Reno-set gambling story and released it under a different title, Hard Eight. During the process, Anderson squabbled with producers, barred them from the set, and refused to show any edited footage or make any significant suggested changes. But he didn’t have final cut and was eventually fired and locked out of his own editing room.
In the fallout, Anderson told a reporter that his experience on Sydney "created a sort of paranoia and guardedness in me that I'm glad I have because that will never, ever happen to me again." When he set out to film Boogie Nights, it was with a resolve bordering on arrogance. Compromise wasn’t part of the plan. Still, after an intense production and postproduction period — one in which the director had to manage a cranky, confused Burt Reynolds and an untested, rapping underwear model named Mark Wahlberg — Anderson was forced once again to fight studio heads for his cut of the film.
But Anderson’s vision prevailed this time. Nearly 20 years later, Boogie Nights endures. For its beautiful portrait of nontraditional families; for Reynolds and Wahlberg, the surrogate father and son, who were never better; for Philip Seymour Hoffman, squeezing into character and breaking hearts; for its prodigy director sticking to his guns and nailing it; for John C. Reilly’s hot-tub poetry; for Roller Girl. Is everybody ready? This is the making and near unmaking of Boogie Nights.
Have you read the script for Boogie Nights?
The script was 185 pages.
Most movies these days are 90 pages.1
It’s the best script I’ve ever read.
Vibrant. Full of balls and cum.
Paul knew how to write to an audience who reads scripts. You have the title page, then you open up to the second page and it’s like, “This movie will be shot with anamorphic lenses.”
I saw the Valley the way David Lean saw the desert in Lawrence of Arabia.3
Paul visualized the whole movie. He had everything, all the camera moves, the lighting.
I felt it should maybe resemble my personal experience of watching a porno film: incredibly funny one second, turns me on the next, then incredibly depressing and so on, up and down.4
The whole “porn is cool” thing hadn’t happened yet.
I didn’t send the script to that many people because there weren’t that many people that would make a movie like that. I kept it under wraps.
We were going through a big boom at New Line. We had had a big successful year [between 1994 and 1995] with Se7en and Dumb & Dumber and The Mask, and we had started expanding and doing more artsy stuff.
Mike De Luca was this hotshot executive at New Line. He was a bad boy. He loved that life and he lived that life and the fast cars and the blow jobs and the pretty girls and all of that stuff. Mike championed Boogie Nights and championed Paul.
I was talking with John [Lesher] about the movie Kids. I passed when he brought it to New Line; then I saw the movie and was really impressed. Just as a joke, I said to him, “Don’t let me pass on something this cool again,” and later, under those auspices, John said, “Remember when you said don’t let you pass on something cool?”
We met, had a beer, and I gave him the script. I said, “Listen, I’m not gonna give the script to anyone else, but you gotta read it tonight. You can’t submit it for coverage. This is not something that you give to your story department." He called me the next day and said, “I love it, I want to do it.”
We hadn’t committed to doing the film yet. Mike De Luca had told Bob Shaye and I that this young guy he’d met had an intriguing script. He told us that right before Sundance.
My boss, Bob Shaye, was a big proponent of provocative art films. I knew he would dig it. He liked stuff on the edge.
So Bob and I got to Sundance. The evening we arrived, we were meeting some people at a restaurant and a young guy introduces himself to us as Paul Thomas Anderson. He’s holding the largest script I ever saw in my life. It looked like a telephone book.
“It was easier for us to take chances with new people than compete for the already-established top-five directors in town. We tried to zig when the majors zagged.” —Michael De Luca
Paul was bundled up in wool caps and mittens. He was pretty quiet, actually. I didn’t get his passive-aggressive side at that time, just the passive.
It was a typical Bob meeting — a very obnoxious meeting. They’re both lawyers asking a million questions, wondering why they’re making the movie.
We were interested but not wildly interested. We hadn’t read the script. We had a series of people we were meeting at different places in Park City that evening and we were bar-hopping. Everywhere we went, there was Paul, following us.
It was a great subject and had interesting characters, but it was ridiculously long and the way it was characterized with Dirk’s 13-inch penis was questionable: How were we actually gonna depict that?
It was easier for us to take chances with new people than compete for the already-established top-five directors in town. We tried to zig when the majors zagged.
We had to seek out things that were unique or unusual or that other people and other producers weren’t drawn to.
Before we made the deal on the project, we agreed on a few things: The movie had to be under three hours and it had to be R-rated, not NC-17. And Paul didn’t have final cut and he didn’t have control over the marketing or the distribution plan. We agreed to take our chances with each other.
It’s true [that I saw my first porno at 9 years old]. My dad was the first guy on the block to have a VCR. The Opening of Misty Beethoven. Very, very, very well made — one of the best. It terrified me at the time, really scared the piss out of me. A blow job was a blow job, but the sex stuff was a bit confusing. I was trying to figure out: Is that in her butt or what?5
Paul grew up in the Valley, where a lot of those films were being made.
He was this really wonderful, smart, amazing kid. I went to his little apartment, where he was living with his girlfriend and a dog, and he showed me The Dirk Diggler Story, a short film he had done in high school.
I was so influenced by Spinal Tap that it was in my brain, so it was like, “Let’s play it as a documentary.” I’d seen this piece on A Current Affair on [adult film star] Shauna Grant, which was the clichéd-but-true story of a girl from Iowa who comes to Hollywood on the bus, looking for her dreams.7
Paul and I met through our girlfriends. He was going out with a girl; I was going out with her sister. I drove him home from our girlfriends’ house and we’re just making each other laugh, and a couple weeks after he’s like, “I have an idea.”
I remember sitting on my bed, I was 17 years old, I was watching TV, and I swear to God, it just was like — bang! Dirk Diggler. Hey, that’s a good porno name, and I wrote it on a little index card. And I still have the index card.8
It was a very dirty room. There was a lot of film stuff everywhere and two VCRs hooked up to one TV. Paul had this Academy Award poster right in front of his bed. I was like, wow, every night before you go to sleep, you memorize all the Academy Award–winning films.
I was working at Ed Debevic’s — a ’50s diner in Beverly Hills. Paul came in with a childhood friend, Kelly Conway, who is Tim Conway’s daughter. I thought Paul was about 13 or 14 years old. He was 17.
Our girlfriends’ dad, Peter Guber,9 was this big producer, so they thought it was great — like, “Now you’re doing a film, you’re trying to do something with your lives.”
Paul said, “You’re an actress?” I was like, “Yeah, we’re all actors here.” He said, “I’ve got this script I want you to read.” I read it and thought, How can this 17-year-old be so sophisticated about sex?
The comedy came from Dirk so badly wanting to be on top of everything and having no idea how oblivious he was.
Candy Kane was the one chick Dirk Diggler always did movies with, and so she would put up with his drug use and highfalutin ideas. She understood he was bisexual but didn’t care. The original Dirk Diggler was bisexual.
The first shot is Paul’s dad doing a voice-over. He had this great voice. He was the voice of ABC. He did the voice-over work for the miniseries Roots.
He was born Steven Samuel Adams, on April 15, 1961. His father was a construction worker. His mother owned a popular boutique shop. They lived outside St. Paul, Minnesota. They attended church every Sunday. They believed in God. The world won’t remember Steven Samuel Adams. Or his parents. Or where he grew up. Or his religious beliefs. To the rest of the world, this is the face of the world’s greatest pornographic film star. To the rest of the world, this is the face of Dirk Diggler. This documentary is dedicated to his spirit. —Ernie Anderson, narrator, The Dirk Diggler Story
Reed met Dirk at a falafel stand. He became Dirk’s lover, Dirk’s best friend, Dirk’s cohort in movies. He really cared about Dirk.
We shot a bunch of scenes in a hotel room on Ventura Boulevard. It didn’t smell great. I think Paul was really proud of himself. He was like, “Yeah, I got this hotel room rented and this hotel room is gonna be awesome.”
We were on an eight-hour shoot and ordered a pizza. A delivery guy comes there, and it looks like we’re shooting porn.
“It’s inconsistent to be in Boogie Nights and a full-time Christian ministry.” —Eddie Dalcour
Bob Ridgely, a good friend of Paul’s dad, played Burt Reynolds’s part. He was the director. And he was hilarious.
I didn’t even realize Bob was an actor. I thought he was just one of Paul’s dad’s friends.10
We filmed a couple things at Paul’s dad’s house in Studio City. I remember a hot-tub scene.
I was wearing a Gold’s Gym tank top and shorts for the whole shoot. I was supposed to be this bodybuilder guy. I was 6 foot and weighed 250.
I remember Paul telling Eddie to do push-ups.
For the hot-tub scene, I turned to Mike and I said, “Hey, I wrote a poem.” I improvised a lot. It cracked Paul up. You can hear him laughing in the background all through the movie. John Reilly does the same poem in Boogie Nights. Paul asked me to be in Boogie Nights, too, but by then I was doing a full-time Christian ministry called the Power Team, doing things like breaking bricks and tearing phone books in half. It’s inconsistent to be in Boogie Nights and a full-time Christian ministry.
In our movie, Dirk Diggler dies of an overdose.
A lot of our friends saw the movie and thought it wasn’t that great. But whenever somebody saw it that didn’t know us, they thought it was amazing.
It started circulating around the San Fernando Valley. The Dirk Diggler Story became, like, some cult film.
I don’t know if the whole cast of Boogie Nights ever saw it, but I do know Paul showed it to Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly because they came up to me when we were filming The Perfect Storm together and were both like, “Nice tits.”
There were only a couple of people who could play Dirk Diggler. Mark Wahlberg was my first choice. Paul loved Leonardo DiCaprio.
Joaquin Phoenix was someone we thought about, but [Phoenix’s brother] River passed away right before this all happened.
We were still a month or two away from filming. And Leo was never 100 percent committed to the movie. He dropped out to do Titanic.11
I don’t think he really left to do Titanic. People were terrified of Boogie Nights.
It took me a couple months to get through to Mark. I would call Mark’s agent, Sharon Jackson, every week at United Talent.
I was reluctant to even read the script because of the subject matter. Showgirls had just come out. That movie was a disaster. And you know coming from the underwear background, the music stuff, I was like, “Ehh, I don’t want to do this.” But there was just so much hype around the script.
When I first met Mark I sat down with him. I was excited to meet him because I’d seen Basketball Diaries. “Let’s hope he’s a good guy because I know he’s a good actor and can do this part.” And he’d only read thirty pages of the script. I thought what the fuck is this. Who is this jackass? “Why have you only read thirty pages?”12
Photo: Getty Images
So finally I started reading it, I got 35 pages into it, I put it down, I said, “I’ve got to meet the director.” I said, “This guy either finally wants me to take the Calvin Kleins off, or he wants to make a really serious movie.”
He said, “Listen, I love these 30 pages, and I know I’m going to love the rest of it, but I just want to make sure before I really fall in love with this and want to do it, that you don’t want me because I’m the guy who will get in his underwear.”13
Mark hadn’t done much yet. He hadn’t skyrocketed to fame. There was an essence about him: his economic background growing up, his street quality. There was just something about him that was likable.
There was such great talent attached to it. Sean Penn to the Alfred Molina role, Robert De Niro was in talks at one point …
Boogie Nights had that unique magic that happens when a project is simultaneously the talk of the town and nobody’s heard anything about it. It had this strange buzz that transcended the casting process.
Paul gave the script to Michael De Luca and Michael was dating Julianne Moore at the time, or had dated her previously, and gave her the script. When she said, “I really love this,” the entire thing got going.
Paul said he’d written [the role of Scotty J.] with me in mind. I didn’t have the first idea how to go about doing it, but I remember being excited about trying to figure that out.
My wife read it and she said to me, “Please don’t do this movie,” because there was a certain amount of specific nudity and the descriptions of all the sex are all kind of bizarre. But I gave her this spiel about how the movie is all about family — love, acceptance, redemption — and how it’s a classic form of American film, and she looked at me and said, “You’re so full of shit, you just want to see the naked girls.”
Casting the female roles was difficult. Roller Girl had to get naked. People were very much afraid of it.
We had Drew Barrymore as Roller Girl at one point.
We put Tatum O’Neal on tape for Roller Girl. She gave a terrific audition and I think that she may have done something really brave with Paul. That tape was top secret, you know what I mean?
I thought Heather Graham on her roller skates was great.14
She would roller-skate the whole night around everybody, and usually did. And in one scene, she started roller-skating outside the film perimeter. And I remember her crossing Van Nuys Boulevard. She was fairly far away and basically wearing next to nothing, just enjoying her character.
I hadn’t really done very much, but my agent sent me this script. I said, “I wanna play this Todd Parker character.” He was so well written in just a few lines. I kinda knew guys like that from high school — the guys that drove the Trans Am and dealt a little pot on the side.
Tom is one of the most serious, most intense actors in this business. It oozes out of every pore of his body.
When I auditioned for the part, they brought in Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly. We would do these scenes where we would just start riffing, acting like we’d been on coke for 48 hours straight. Philip was great at improv, John Reilly is a great improv guy, and I just kind of slipped right into it. We all kind of clicked.
I had known the New Line executives for a long time and they said, “Would you please do us a favor and help us out? It’s not a big-budget movie.” I went to meet with Paul and I was like, “Where is the adult? Where is the person who’s making the movie? Why am I meeting with you, child?”
My dad was a postproduction sound editor and he worked with Ernie Anderson, Paul’s dad, every single day. Sometimes Paul and I would end up at ABC on the same day, having come to work with our dads. When I got the call to interview for Boogie Nights, I said, “Absolutely.”
Paul seemed to have interviewed everybody in town before he got to me. He presented the picture to me as either — and I can’t remember which it was — I think Robert Altman doing a John Cassavetes movie or John Cassavetes doing a Robert Altman movie. Either way, I thought, Well, those are two favorites. That’s an interesting take from this young kid.
Paul sent me the script. Months later, I’m cleaning out my office and I found the script at the bottom of a pile one day. I couldn’t put it down. I called Paul and I said, “Dude, this is amazing, this is the most amazing thing that I have ever read in my life. It’s so well written, it’s so character-driven, and it’s an incredible story.” And I go, “Dude, are they gonna let you do this movie?”
We ended up having a casting session where we just met porn stars, and that was really an eye-opener. One of them came in, a young girl, she took the script literally and started to touch herself right in front of us. The casting department was just screaming, like, “No, no! You don’t have to do it!”
I got called in because Paul had been a fan of mine when he was younger.
Finding some of the adult film stars was like trying to find a runaway at night. That world is so unpredictable. The phone is down, drug addiction, somebody has gone missing. That was the hardest part of that whole movie.
The draft of the script that I read was even racier than the final. I called my agent and said, “This isn’t a joke, is it? Because this isn’t even NC-17; this is X-rated. Are they really going to shoot this?” And he said, “No, it’s real.” I loved it. I loved the subject matter. I loved his loopy, lush storytelling style. I was used to playing these glorious losers. That was the only thing that I was a little reticent about. I went through a period where I was the go-to guy for any loser in any film. But with a script like that, you think, Well, sure, I’ll do that one more time.
They set up a meeting with Paul and myself at the Formosa Cafe. I had my phrases about what I thought the movie was about, the tone of the thing, what the movie means, you know? I could bullshit with the best of them. And then more specifically, how I would play the role of Little Bill. We sat down, Paul started talking, and I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I realized, Oh my god, he’s selling me. And so I hunkered back and let myself be sold. He was doing a screening of Hard Eight that night and invited me. After the screening, I said, “Dude, I’ll do the Yellow Pages if you want. If you’re directing, I’m in.”
Joanna Gleason was a highly regarded New York theater actress who was well known for her work in musical comedies.
I thought, Wow, why? This is amazing that this door would even open to read for a part like this.
Paul was very aware of Joanna Gleason, very interested in her.
When I met with [Anderson], he was jet-lagged and very, very tired, and I remember after chatting for a while he said, “OK, would you like to stand up? Walk around? Do anything you want.” And I said, “No, I’d like to sit.” And I had the guy. I said to him, “You stand. I’m just gonna inhabit this woman right now. I am in a room full of younger men and I am the mom here and I’m just gonna make myself as unpleasant as possible.”
I never read for the part Paul actually offered me, but I screen-tested for Roller Girl. I sat in the producer John Lyons’s lap. I wore this satin skirt that pops off in the front and these crazy panties.
So I sat there like she sits in the movie and I did the whole scene from a seated position. Read it just as it was written. It was powerful. And at the end of it, I asked Paul if this was based on his mom. He was so jet-lagged that his little eyes were watering. I thought, Never mind, we don’t need to go there. I didn’t mean to push a button. And he didn’t answer, but I said, “If it is, you never have to forgive her.”
I offered the role of Jack Horner to Sydney Pollack.
I got sidetracked for a moment with Warren Beatty. If you’ve ever talked to Warren Beatty, you can get sidetracked real quick.15
We offered it to Harvey Keitel. He could not understand why.
Burt was someone that I was thinking of when I was writing it, and then Warren Beatty read it and called me and said, “I think I want to be in this.” We talked for a couple of weeks until ultimately he decided against it. I started to figure out that Warren really wanted to play Dirk Diggler. “You don’t really want to play Jack Horner. You want to be the kid in this movie.” He said, “Yeah.”16
Bill Murray had been offered that role. Albert Brooks too.
Burt was nervous about playing such a ribald part. To his credit, and to the film’s benefit, he played Jack with such heart, which is the way Paul wrote it.
Paul had already seen my stuff, and I guess he had been trying to get in touch with me and [Ron Jeremy]. Ronnie got him in touch with me. That’s how I got the gig — through Ronnie.
Veronica Hart was a huge star and the best actress in the porn business in terms of just sheer acting chops.
Bob Shaye, the president of New Line, suggested [casting Traci Lords], so I guess I rebelled. I must have a problem with authority. [Pauses.] However, I did cast Veronica Hart. She’s not only a great person, she’s the Meryl Streep of porn.17
Paul would never, ever cast me as a porn star, as anything like that. He said if he cast me as anything, it would have to be against type. He said he wouldn’t do that because he considered me an actress, which I think is lovely.
Alfred Molina’s part was the last part we cast.
I’d just come back from Russia, from doing Anna Karenina. I have always tried to make the next job as different from the last as possible. That hasn’t always worked out, but this time it really did.
We were already filming and did not have that part cast. I think there were ninety-something parts. I do remember that we offered it to John Turturro, but Alfred Molina is one of those people: a chameleon. Alfred Molina can do anything. If I could cast Alfred Molina in every project I do for the rest of my life, I would be happy about it.
John Lyons called me and just said, “Look, we’ve got this small, little part, it’s four or five days’ work, it might be a lot of fun.” He got me on the phone with Paul. And I said, “What’s the role?" And he said, “Well, it’s a coked-up drug fiend on a shotgun rampage.” And I thought, Well, I’ve never done that before.
The prep period on Boogie Nights lasted eight weeks. We watched every existing porno that was ever shot on film. We went to see guys who had vast libraries, and some of it was shot on 35-millimeter film, like period gangster films. It was astonishing. They cost like $100,000.
I got a package in the mail from Paul and I opened it up and it was some research movies.
A John Holmes film, some interviews, a magazine article, a lot of stuff.
Paul could probably describe shot-for-shot every John Holmes film. He bought the last 20 laser discs of The Jade Pussycat on earth and was giving them out to selected people. I got one.
I remember Julianne on the set of The Myth of Fingerprints, which we shot right before, watching a lot of vintage porn.
I went to a place with a name like Voyeur Video. It was not a disreputable place. It was staffed by cinephiles.
The films that some people made were actually little stories. Everyone forgets that.
I interviewed Gerard Damiano. He was the best of the hardcore directors, and he went through a period of believing he could make art films about sex. Home video came along in 1979 and destroyed that illusion.18
Paul wanted to deal with the transition between people really making movies — shooting them on motion picture film, projecting them in theaters, having audiences come and see them — and then what porno turned into.
I drove around the Valley with Ron Jeremy for days. I had to go out and actually [find out about] Adult Video Awards and period video covers and see where this stuff was filmed.
We gave Paul a budget of around $15 million.
I thought it was high.
$15 million then is probably, I don’t know, it must be like $25 million now.
All the various places the movie takes place had to be real. We couldn’t really afford to build sets or go on a soundstage.
We built the inside of Rahad Jackson’s house.
[That’s] where we shot the big drug sequence with Alfred Molina dancing around in his silk kimono and his underwear.
The house was real on the exterior — it was in the Hollywood Hills/Laurel Canyon area, somewhere up there — but we built the interior of his house onstage because we had to shoot guns and blow holes in it.
The trick was finding locations which still looked period-correct.
Paul picked the neighborhoods we shot in. He looked for neighborhoods and things that obviously suited that era, or pretty close.
The one we ended up finding outside of town was the Jack Horner house. We never found a house that would let us shoot that hadn’t been completely remodeled. And we just came upon this fantastic house in West Covina. It belonged to a family who never had enough money to remodel. They had a kidney-shaped pool, a flagstone fireplace, all the original electric appliances, all the original light fixtures and almost the original draperies.
The house Dirk buys after he becomes successful, that was in North Hollywood, a wonderful little spot. We put mirrors on the ceilings and really put some time and attention into his closet.
I used ’70s magazines for inspiration, GQ; I watched a lot of films from ’77 just to see how people wore clothes. I used a couple of Hustlers, but not any Vogues.
Mark Bridges had the hardest job. He traveled around the Valley with a giant truck, filling it with ’70s clothes, whatever he could find.
Paul outlined how he wanted people to look. He said that Scotty J., played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, should dress like a 14-year-old boy.
He’s a young man, basically living a very adolescent life. He’s obviously a gay man who hasn’t really accepted that or said it out loud. He feels safe enough to start coming out of his shell and saying he likes somebody and it happens to be Dirk Diggler.
So that’s how we came up with Philip’s look, that’s how I interpreted a 14-year-old boy. And there’s such a conflict throughout the whole movie about who he is and what he is — the clothes illustrate that.
Photo: Kobal Collection
I wanted to wear stuff that was really tight — as if he’s still wearing stuff that he wore when he was a teenager. I remember having to keep trying on stuff that was smaller and smaller. And [Bridges] had to go get clothes from William Macy’s rack.
There was so much attention to detail. Every feather, every rhinestone stud, every cowboy fringe, every glittery ankle strap, every high-heeled shoe, the disco shorts that Roller Girl wore; everything was right from the time period.
My assistant and I flew out to this one place in the Midwest called Hullabaloo. They had a 35,000-square-foot warehouse of unused clothes from different periods. We spent $12,000 grabbing up incredible suits and pants. I found roller skates with red Lucite wheels and we got so many things: Scotty’s red jacket and a lot of stuff the cast ended up wearing in the New Year’s Eve scene.
I think Don Cheadle wore, like, original Sonny Bono vintage performance clothes. One of my dresses belonged to a Pointer Sister.
A bunch of us visited a porn set one day.
It was a female director running the shoot, really a tough cookie — a former porn star, I think. She was a real serious director in jeans, a T-shirt, and a baseball cap giving the actors direction about positioning. It was a very authentic film shoot except for the two people having sex, doggy-style, by a pool.
She looked like any director I’ve ever worked with. She had X amount of hours to shoot X number of pages, and she had that same frantic gait. And the actors are sort of la-di-da, having a grand old time, you know, not worrying about the clock. Looked like any other shoot. It could have been Masterpiece Theatre.
In the hair and makeup room, I was having a conversation with a girl who was completely naked, sitting Indian-style in front of me on the floor, curling her hair and talking completely normal about what the lineup was for the day. And she said it was her character’s birthday in the scene and they were having a pool party. And first she has an orgy scene in the pool and then the guy scene and then a girl-girl scene, a girl-guy-guy scene and then a girl-girl scene. I was like, “Wow, that’s a full day.”
Paul hung out with Ronnie [Jeremy] for about a year. Nobody knew who Paul was or anything and Ronnie just, on good faith, immersed him in our business. And Ronnie ended up getting screwed19 out of the movie.
We were all crammed into this 10-by-10-foot motel room in Fairfax. There was Julianne, Ron Jeremy, some old guy, a girl, and the girl’s husband and me — all shoved up against the wall watching this guy do the girl. At one point Julianne turns to me and says, “It kinda smells in here.” I thought she’d quit after that.20
We went to the shoot in a production van. We got out and we walked into the house. They said, “Be very quiet,” and they sent us up to a balcony. “You can watch from here.” There’s a guy and he’s banging this chick. The next thing you know, the guy looks up at the balcony, and he points to me. He yells up, “Hey, I know you!” I go, “That’s fucked up.” Next thing you know, he goes limp.
Paul knew he wanted to open the movie on Reseda Boulevard, across from the roller rink, at a club called Hot Traxx.21 It was owned by a guy from Iran, a guy called Medi.
I had gone there as a kid. My brother was in a rock-and-roll group called Dr. Hook and I had seen them there when I was in high school. The first time I ever did cocaine, the first time I ever smoked a bong pipe, was backstage.
Paul and I had fights about the exteriors, about how much you’d be able to see. Seeing more means lighting more. It also requires more extras to fill the shot, more period cars. It means more money.
Paul and I were standing there on Reseda Boulevard. And we looked down the street. We know the Reseda Theater is there but it’s out of business; it hasn’t been torn down yet, but the marquee is destroyed, the neon doesn’t work anymore. We wandered down there and we were like, “We gotta start here. We gotta see ‘Boogie Nights’ on this marquee."
Paul had to open the movie inside the club because those were the hubs where these people hung out. Where they drank, they did coke, they partied, they fucked.
We walked it over and over and over again. Everybody had a clear understanding of what we were doing. It’s by far the most complicated thing we did in the movie.
That first scene is a masterpiece. That Steadicam operator, he’s on a crane and he steps off and follows Luis Guzmán inside, and looping all around. Those are not easy shots to set up. It calls for exquisite planning and writing where you don’t just get to the crux of the scene and then cut. You gotta write your way through it. And it’s a joy to act.
That was a 12-hour shoot day, just getting that first shot.
I think we only got seven takes of it.
“I think [Burt] Reynolds was like, ‘What the fuck are these people doing?’ ” —Luis Guzmán
We had a second guy standing by in case the Steadicam operator broke down because we didn’t know how many times we’d have to shoot it.
I remember that shot because I’m a Scorsese fan and I love that shot in Goodfellas where he goes into the Copa. And here’s Paul basically … he never said so, but the way I read it was he’s trying to one-up that Goodfellas tracking shot. And he did.
I think Burt [Reynolds] was like, “What the fuck are these people doing?” [But] he just went with the flow. He had no choice.
Paul doesn’t sit in the video village. He doesn’t watch monitors. He’s by the camera.
The director? I always like to pay special attention to the director and give him what he sees. It’s his view. But if I remember correctly, whatever the director said, the director of photography, Robert Elswit, would be very dominating and have a lot of control of the director. I hope this doesn’t get me into trouble, you know, telling all this. But Elswit was the dominant organizer of everything, the DP. He was very strong. And if the director said something, he would remold it.
It’s an industrial process on most films. There’s a little bit of rehearsal, a little bit of planning, camera rehearsal, the actors rehearse, you make a decision you’re going to actually shoot. There is an announcement made — last looks or final looks and hair and makeup and wardrobe come on and start fucking with the actors’ hair and faces and wardrobe. And a bunch of P.A.’s scream at the top of their lungs “Rollllllling!” and the A.D. says “Rolling” and everyone screams “Rolling” and if you’re on a stage there’s a horn, maybe there’s a small cannon that goes off, and there is this giant world that starts happening. The slate goes in and, bang, you’re shooting. With Paul, none of that happens. It’s the camera crew, a boom person, script, props, the assistant director, a dolly grip, and a camera assistant, and that’s it. There’s never a moment where he wants anyone to interfere with that process. What Paul wants is for life to break out. He just wants it to be alive.
The pool party sequence was one of the first things shot. Roller Girl and her Polaroid. John C. Reilly saying people mistake him for Han Solo. Reed meets Dirk.
It was 107 degrees around the pool in West Covina.
We were there forever. It was brutally hot.
I was telling people, put a lot of salt on your salads. People were starting to get heat stroke.
Wardrobe handed me a wire hanger with a foliage-pattern Speedo. I had brought a couple also and they’re like, “Oh, no, no, this is what we like for you.” One rather small Speedo as my wardrobe. That was a first.
I’m talking to Julianne Moore’s character, Amber Waves, about having Jack put me into one of his movies, and you know what? For me, that was real. Maurice is trying to leave his legacy. But I wanted to leave my legacy, too: show everybody I could get laid.
My scene was sort of strangely famous for such a brilliant line on Paul’s part, which was, “This is the second time in two days that a chick has OD’d on me.” I inhaled a lot of whatever fake powder they set up for me that day. It was definitely enough to cause a nasal drip.
People still stop me on the street, “Hey, Chocolate Love.”
There is the famous scene in the driveway where I’m on my back and I say the immortal words, “Go away, Bill, you’re embarrassing me.” Which seems to be everybody’s favorite line of mine from the movie.
This is what happened. Ricky Jay stops me and I said, “Listen, do you mind, I’m a little distracted. There’s a guy with his dick in my wife’s ass.” And that was take one. And then a second take, I said, “My fucking wife has an ass in her cock.” And Paul said, “You said, ‘ass in her cock.’” And I said, “Oh, I did? Sorry. Ha, ha, ha.” So take three, I think I did it right. Take four, he said, “You said it again.” I said, “No, I didn’t. I didn’t. I’m sure I didn’t.” He said, “You did.” I said, “I didn’t. I’m pretty sure.” We did another take. And then when I saw the film, he’d decided to use the “ass in her cock.” And that’s the genius of Paul Thomas Anderson.
There was a time at the house, at Jack’s house, where Paul and Burt got into it a little bit.
Burt was frustrated because Paul was not allowing him to do free takes, you know, a sense of going off the page. There was also a bit of jealousy about the attention that Mark was getting as Dirk Diggler, a part that Burt probably would have loved to have played when he was younger.
Burt did not think Paul was respecting him. And you know Burt — respect is extremely important to him. Like many actors, he is frail in terms of his ego, and Paul didn’t really understand that. He probably understands it much better now.22
Paul and Burt Reynolds saw things in a different light. They went in a room and we heard hollering and yelling, cursing and everything. I thought, Oh, Christ.
Burt got so frustrated he pulled Paul outside into the backyard and started yelling at him, like a father, you know? “You fuckin’ little punk kid, don’t tell me what to do. You let all the other actors do free takes and you’re not letting me do any.” He read him the riot act. Paul stood there and took it in and then argued back with him. And then when they walked back into the house, Paul had his sly little smirk on his face.
Photo: Neal Peters Archive
All of a sudden we saw fists flying. We saw some fists flying from Burt Reynolds. I hope I don’t get in trouble for saying this. But it was like he was trying to punch our director in the face.
I had to pull Burt’s arm back when it was cocked. I was in the middle of it. Burt was getting ready to slug him and I was like, “Burt, Burt, no, no, don’t, don’t do it.” And then I had to take Burt back to the trailer. And I spent a lot of time in Burt’s trailer. A lot. I love Burt. I thought he was incredible. He was old Hollywood; there were a lot of people on that set that just didn’t really have the time or the interest in it.
Reynolds thought he was in a dirty movie and wanted out and wasn’t happy.
He was absolutely perfect for Jack Horner, but I don’t think he understood what he was getting involved with at the time.
I just remember somebody on the crew saying, “Yeah, well, Burt’s got a thing in his contract that if he punches the director in the face, he can’t get fired because he’s got a temper. It’s just known that it’s gonna happen.”
In that particular case, Paul bit off a little more than he could chew. Burt scared the shit out of him that day. I don’t think Paul was smirking. I think he was literally shaken by it.
Burt had a temper, I gotta tell ya. He doesn’t suffer fools. And I think there’s something about actor’s pride. And I get it. Maybe you can’t get rowdy or rough it up like you used to and so it kind of hurts a little bit, you might take offense, take it out on somebody.
The reason I [think] that Paul baited Burt is that the next day we shot the scene in the backyard by the pool where Jack tells Dirk to do the scene and Dirk says, “It’s my big cock, I wanna do whatever the fuck I want,” and the two of them get into a shoving match. And all of that energy between those characters was real energy that had been building and manifesting over the weeks prior. And then it exploded all in that scene on camera.
Paul was directing this big, sprawling movie. And I just think for whatever reason he was like, “I don’t have the mental or emotional space to give Burt what he needs from me.” By the time we got to that moment, Burt was just like a tinderbox and Paul provoked him slightly and he fuckin’ blew. I think Paul was physically afraid that day.
After that, Burt went to work on his end of the deal and Paul went to work and they were gracious to each other. They seemed very professional about everything and it went swell from then on in.
In between setups, all the actors would sit on the floor, all around Burt Reynolds in a big puffy chair. Luis Guzmán and the Roller Girl girl and all of us, ya know, we’d all be there. We’d all sit down and Burt would tell stories about acting in the ’50s and New York City and Marlon Brando and James Dean.
When you work with some of the Hollywood icons, it can be a little challenging for everybody else. They expect and are entitled to a certain amount of respect by virtue of their years of producing these interesting characters.
He would definitely have us all captivated when he told us a story.
I had no intention of messing with Burt Reynolds, believe me.
I had worked with Burt Reynolds way back on 12 O’Clock High, when he was just a bit player in ’64 or ’65. He was happy to be working again.
He put on what I’d made for him for the New Year’s Eve scene, which was a navy blue shirt and pants and a neck scarf. I was so thrilled because he said, “I haven’t looked this great in years.” It was very satisfying to me because he is such a dear man. And he worked so hard on that film.
Everyone had to kind of walk carefully around Burt because he seemed ready to explode. So I was very careful doing that scene that I did with him. But as I say, he was, to my own surprise, it went off very well and he was friendly and very complimentary when we finished.
We were in one of the scenes, the bedroom, and I made some crack about Smokey and the Bandit. It’s the kind of humor that’s gotten me in a lot of trouble before, where I’m basically just insulting people. But the idea being, everyone will laugh, and you’ll realize my insult is hyperbole. Whoo-ee. I thought he was going to come across the bed and knock my teeth out.
Me and Burt Reynolds got into it somehow and we started this shoving match.
Other than in Deliverance, Burt Reynolds has never been as good.
It was like the scene would happen and then we would break into improv as to how the fight would break out. And I started pulling some karate stuff and Burt Reynolds got a little … somebody kicked somebody in the ass with cowboy boots on and we almost got into a fight, me and Burt Reynolds. We literally almost went fisticuffs and Paul was breaking it up and stuff. And then the paper picked it up and they said that there was fisticuffs between Mark Wahlberg and Burt Reynolds. So they substituted Mark Wahlberg for me in the paper. It was pretty funny … But Burt was cool enough to apologize. The next day Burt Reynolds bought me a bottle of champagne. It was sitting in my trailer, my little two-bit trailer, with a note that said, “I’m sorry.”
A lot of funky stuff that happened in the West Covina house, a lot of stuff that was right on the line between the porn world and the [real] world was being re-created.
Paul and I were having lunch, shooting the breeze, this young girl who weighed about 90 pounds soaking wet sat beside us, and she was from the porn industry. And she says to Paul, “Can I ask you a professional question?” He says, sure. She says, “You’ve seen me in these scenes; you’ve seen what I can do. In your professional opinion, should I go legit or should I go anal?”
You know, Nina Hartley was a real porn star. She educated women about how you carried yourself, what was your prep like before your workday, how you recovered. There’s anal sex all day sometimes, you know, there’s a physical toll taken on your moneymaker. That’s how that line, “You want it clean, don’t you?” came about. It was an ad-lib.
The set was divided. There was the little group of the porn actors, who really were just sort of heartbreaking I thought because they were so, so insecure and kind of thrilled and excited to be there but never, ever felt legit.
I think Paul used me for a couple of reasons. He was a fan of mine and certainly wanted to give me the chance, but also because all of my scenes involved sexuality or sexual display. He knew that as an adult performer, nudity is my uniform, and so he wouldn’t have to coddle me.
I walked into the trailer the first day and she had her legs up on the counter shaving. And she said, “Hi, Bill, I’m Nina. I’m going to play your wife.” As memory serves, she had on nothing, buck-naked in the trailer. She’s a stitch.
Macy didn’t treat me like a leper. He treated me with respect and professionalism. And I really appreciated that, because except for the people in the makeup trailer, no one else really spoke to me. Wahlberg, on my first day of shooting, came up and said hello; he talked to me for five minutes and then walked away and that was it. And Julianne Moore came in the makeup trailer one time, looked in my direction; I couldn’t read the expression on her face and she left quickly thereafter. But none of the female performers came up to me and said, “Hi, hope you’re having a good time.”
Nina was quite a character. She didn’t have any inhibitions.
“He knew that as an adult performer, nudity is my uniform, and so he wouldn’t have to coddle me.” —Nina Hartley
The crew really enjoyed having Nina around.
We created a certain couple dynamic. My character wants Little Bill to be more forceful, and when he cannot live up to that desire, my character gets meaner and meaner, trying to goad Bill into standing up and acting like a man already. By the time he does that, he is goaded all the way to murder. But she was not trying to goad him to murder, she was trying to goad him into standing up and being a man, for goodness sake.
She’s a porn star and he’s an assistant director. I don’t know how they got together.
The day that really set everybody on edge was when Nina’s character was murdered in the laundry room. It was brilliantly shot but it was deeply, deeply disturbing, which is why ultimately it didn’t make it into the cut of the movie.
That scene when I go in and blow their brains out, at one point the actor in the laundry room with her was a guy from the adult industry, and I walked in there and she’s got his joint in her hand. And I remember she went to Paul at one point and said, “Do you want us to be doing it? We could be doing it when he walks in.” And Paul said, “No, I don’t think so.”
Nina said to Paul, “It takes so much more time to simulate the sex scenes.” Like laughing, not being serious, but she was like, “Why don’t we just do it for real? It’s so much quicker.” I’m like, “Well, honestly, we can’t do that in this movie.”
We took an hour, an hour and a half just to rehearse the shot because there were probably 50 people in and about that party.
After each take, my partner and I had the paint squibs on us, the fake blood. And so after every take, I had to jump up, run to the makeup trailer. Every time it’s like, “Put on a robe, put on a robe, Nina, put on a robe.” I had to tell myself this because I would have run back and forth naked because that’s just easier. And it’s like, “No, robe, robe, robe, robe, robe” — people are very uptight. I don’t want to be seen as that trashy porno chick who is upsetting everybody.
Nina Hartley didn’t really want to put her gown on. I guess she just wasn’t used to doing it. I had to ask her to make sure that she put her robe on.
In one take I walked in and realized that that guy is actually fucking Nina Hartley. It’s clear that his dick is in her. So I think the producers and Paul went in and, ya know, “You have to be simulating having sex. It’s not a porno movie. We can’t do this.”
But there’s like 30 crew members standing outside the house looking into the laundry room. And the two porn stars are really doing it. They just thought it would be easier to really have sex. The producer went crazy.
We were not really having sex. But my partner was not, you know, taped down. His penis was not taped to his leg. We hid it in the old-fashioned way — not in me but between the tops of my thighs.
The look on Little Bill’s face when he closes the laundry-room door is the saddest thing you’ll ever see in cinema. You see him slip into psychosis. He walks back through the house out to his car. He puts his glass of champagne on the roof, opens the door, grabs his gun. But then he locks his door and leaves the champagne. That is the sort of extremely telling detail that Paul writes into his script.
We used this thing called a gore gun. It’s a backpack that’s hidden behind me and it blows out the gore. I operated it. The trigger to the thing was on the trigger of the pistol. They don’t allow that anymore.
It was almost impossible to watch. It was so violent. And it really in some completely strange way almost seemed like it had crossed the line and it was real life.
I remember watching Paul and the D.P. and a couple of other people looking at the monitor watching the thing. And when you hear the shot on the monitor, all five of them just sort of leaped back and covered their mouth and went, Oooh.
As her wrap gift, Nina gave people her deluxe boxed set about anal penetration. I mean, it was really sweet on some level, but so alarming on another level, because she was on the videos, demonstrating everything.
The “Sequences” that you’ll see listed through the script were mile markers for the production crew … Sequence D was our favorite because it was a free-for-all. No matching. No rules. No anything. D for debauchery, D for drugs, D for down, D for do anything.23
Reed and Dirk, they’re innocent. And like I said, my character, Todd Parker, represents the reaping. Man, he is the fuckin’ day it all comes home.
Alfred Molina’s house with the kid with the firecrackers. That’s the most tense scene I’ve ever witnessed, and it goes on forever. I was leaping out of my skin when I saw that scene. I couldn’t stand it.
Me in my Speedo. My dressing gown.
Paul does a lot of takes when he needs to. That whole firecracker sequence was miles and miles of footage. There were, I don’t know, a hundred camera setups.
“Alfred Molina’s house with the kid with the firecrackers. That’s the most tense scene I’ve ever witnessed, and it goes on forever.” —William H. Macy
We shot the exteriors out in the Valley and then we shot the interiors at some little studio in Hollywood. I remember even though it was inside, we still shot at night. I loved it.
When I said yes to the part, they sent me those two songs, “Sister Christian” and “Jessie’s Girl.” I knew neither of them because neither was released in England. So I had to sit down for like three days on my own, playing those songs over and over and over so that I knew them backwards because they became so emblematic for the character.
Come on! That much porno and cocaine is gonna lead to “Sister Christian.”24
That was the scene where I was like, you know what, we’re making a really interesting, good movie. I hadn’t even done that much work and I could tell.
The young man who was playing Cosmo,25 Paul basically told him just to keep lighting [firecrackers] willy-nilly. P.T. had that weird kind of tension. He didn’t want the guys on the sofa to know when they were coming and they were pretty much full blast. The guys were constantly jumping out of their skins, but Rahad, my character, was completely still. Paul gave me an earwig so I could hear the dialogue and the music but it dampened the sound of the firecrackers. I was able to not react.
That idea came from a scene in my movie Putney Swope. It’s one of Paul’s favorites. My thing was the Asian guy who’s throwing around firecrackers and just doesn’t say a word. Paul’s thing is different. It’s violent.
“Jessie’s Girl” comes on and things get really dark. It’s the last song you would have put in that scene. It was genius.
This was the first time in my life as a film actor that the director was actually saying, “A bit more, please.” P.T. kept coming from behind the camera going, “Bigger, make it bigger.”
There’s this moment where we sort of hang on Mark and Mark just flatlines. It was such a perfect thing. When we saw it in dailies we were like, “Holy fuck, holy fuck, gotta use it.”
Mark is stunning in that. Paul was smart enough to just put the camera on his face for so much of it and just watch him.
All that shit’s going on and the camera just keeps pushing in on Mark Wahlberg. You’re not even seeing anyone anymore.
He was a nice guy, you know? He was real sweet to everybody. He was an outsider, just because the other actors were grown-up as actors and he was a guy that was coming out of the music business. But that was a quality that Paul wanted, a guy who was not quite fitting into this world.
That was completely real. That is Mark Wahlberg on the set after three days of firecrackers. It was also Paul off-camera with two two-by-fours, slapping them together to simulate the firecrackers. It was making the actors fucking crazy. And it was smoky and it was hot and they were just on set like that for days.
It happens at a very crucial moment. P.T. knew that he needed a change of tone or some sort of change of energy to keep the film going, to carry it through to its conclusion. So he created this scene. It’s that beautiful shot. That long, long shot where he stays on Mark’s face and you can see the madness in the room through his eyes and the decision he makes, when he finally just stands up and goes, “OK, we gotta go, we gotta go.” All that was just phenomenal.
And the reality is, when I wrote the movie and when we shot it, I wasn’t sure what to do — whether we should see it right away, like within the first forty-five minutes — get it out of the way, sort of mortalise it — or whether it should stay to the end.26 I wasn’t going to subject you to 157 minutes without showing it to you.27
I went to Paul’s office in Hollywood and it was wall-to-wall porn. Paul said, “Howard, let’s sit down. I want to talk about what we need.” And the big thing we need on this film is Mark Wahlberg’s penis. We sat and watched a couple John Holmes compilations. People were coming into his office, women and so forth, and I started feeling really uncomfortable. I left the meeting and on the way home I was thinking, I don’t know if I really want to be a part of this.
When we were shooting it I kept thinking, This is exactly like seeing the dinosaur in Jurassic Park or seeing the shark in Jaws or seeing E.T. for the first time.28
The first hint of this thing the viewer gets is right before Roller Girl puts it in her mouth. Her eyes go wide and then she leans back a little bit before she moves in on him.
Sheryl Lynn was the girl next door. The script originally said something like, “Do you know who John Holmes is?” And she’s all kidding and laughing and she’s like, “Yours is bigger.” But Paul said, “You know what, I don’t want to talk about John Holmes and New Line doesn’t want to talk about it.” And he’s like, “Well, let’s just pull everyone out of the room and we’ll improv a little bit.” He really wanted a lot of innocence and fun. Eddie and Sheryl Lynn smoke pot together. There is nothing staged about it. They’re goofy and young. Paul wanted that sex to be very different from porn sex. Kind of playful. We just started jumping on the bed. “Your cock is so beautiful” just flew out of my mouth. Paul came over to me and gave me a big hug. He was like, “Oh my God, that is it.”
We started creating the prosthetic by building a wire frame armature and then sculpting the penis in clay. And then we took a three-piece plaster mold and split it right down the center so it was one side, one side, and then there was a back plug that had the core that created the receptacle in the testicles.
Ridgely, the Colonel, just stares at it. He does a quadruple take.
The guys from KNB [EFX Group] came out to the set one day when we were shooting at the West Covina house and they did a fitting on Mark to see if the size and everything was what Paul wanted. Mark proceeded to parade around the set with the dick hanging out of his jeans. He’d pose with his hands on his hips and everybody was laughing and oohing and aahing.
We sculpted a version that was 12 inches long, and we tested it and it was just way too big. It looked just like a weird monster penis. The next one was seven inches; that was the penis we went with. One of our artists, Garrett Immel, sculpted this penis to be slightly erect and with the testicles and everything. We made a core that created a void that Mark could put his own anatomy into. And so we’d give that to Mark and he would go in the bathroom and he’d do that and he’d come out and Garrett would glue it all down. We had a little merkin, a very finely made wig that somebody actually ties one hair at a time into this very fine lace. We took a pattern around that area around the penis and tied that lace piece and matched the color to Mark’s hair. That was the final thing. We spent two weeks making the penises.
We watched a lot of porn with the special effects people when we were doing the prosthetic for Mark because we didn’t want it to look too unreal.
It was the size of John Holmes’s penis, but Mark is like eight or nine inches shorter than John Holmes. It was more than one-sixth of his body.
“When that movie came out, and years and years afterward, we were known as ‘those are the guys who made the dick in Boogie Nights.’ ” —Howard Berger
Mark wore the prosthetic during the first sex scene that he does with Amber, where he comes into the little office set and all the people were reacting. There was a little bit of motivation in terms of being able to react to the actual dick because it was there on the set. So when he undid his pants, he pulled it out and he was wearing it.
There’s this wonderful shot where John C. Reilly kind of turns sideways and leans way to his left.
We also made our own little trouser augment and just put it in the pants because you could see the outline in those very tight polyester pants. It was basically a woman’s stocking knee high filled with birdseed. One of our set gals thought of that. We did the whole pool party scene and everything and went away for the weekend, and over the weekend in the warm wardrobe trunk the seeds sprouted, so we had to start over.
At the end of the show, we gave Mark [one of the penises].
I have to say, what Mark Wahlberg did in that movie was all sorts of things that he had to absolutely commit to. Any actor would have a difficult time without trusting completely in Paul. He had to put a prosthetic cock on his own cock, you know what I mean? That’s asking an awful lot of an actor, honestly.
We made multiple casts of it just so we had three or four “hero” penises in case — let’s say something happened to it, it got torn during shooting.
When I really sat back and watched it for the first time without seeing it early in the movie, I sat there not caring! I’d gone through the whole movie and I’d gone through it emotionally without having to see the dick! I don’t know if I can really verbalize that well but I just thought it was funny to me as the guy that wrote and shot every frame and sat through my movie and didn’t even care to see it at the end, and didn’t even know it was coming. And then got there, and kind of had this weird reaction, like a true audience member would, just in my gut, going “Oh fuck, it’s just this stupid piece of meat.”29
We have done over 800 movies in the last 25 years. But when that movie came out, and years and years afterward, we were known as “those are the guys who made the dick in Boogie Nights.” For a while we had the dick on display in a little shadow box, but then we decided to take it off the wall and box it up and keep it safe.
The money shot … the thing about the movie is, it has to present it in such a way that you completely believe it, but it has to be about the wider part of the story. This is the center of who he is. That moment for him, he was coming back, he was going to re-create or make himself into something he fucked up earlier. And that’s who he is, that’s how he defined himself. And I think that was a great, wonderful emotional moment that expressed that and at the same time didn’t make you think he was a complete fucking idiot. He was just sad, but maybe things will work out for him. This is his whole sense of his whole life.
He stands in front of the mirror and does that Raging Bull thing.
Imagine if your whole life was just about your dick.
There were six or eight postproduction supervisors already at New Line. None of them wanted to do Boogie Nights. One post supervisor called it child pornography. I couldn’t believe it.
We worked all day, every day.
No editors really resonated. We had been setting up in the production facility over in Hollywood. And I get a call: “There’s a guy here and he says he’s the editor.” I said, “Nobody’s been hired yet, that’s impossible.” And he’s like, “He’s sitting here. He’s cutting.” So I ran over and that’s how I met Dylan. He was the post supervisor on Sydney, but he’d never cut a film before. I called New Line and they were like, “We don’t even know who this guy is.” Dylan was Paul’s guy.
Our main battles about violence were with the MPAA. They were particularly hung up on a few sex things, too: humping, clenching butt cheeks. They would say, “Dirk’s butt, while he’s having sex with Amber, too much.” And so we would cut whatever, 20 frames off it, and send it back and they would say, “Dirk’s butt, while he’s having sex with Amber, too much.” And we’d cut another six frames.
Postproduction is a very specialized job, and a wide scope of things go on. But the daunting thing for me was that this was my first time doing it. That’s kinda right where Paul and Dylan were as well. So we all hit it off, not necessarily right away, but by the end of it we were like brothers.
Photo: Getty Images
I had done a cut and I was nervous about showing Paul. I made a lot of choices about performance and I was going to show him the cut, and as my hand hovered over the play button, I sorta went, “Ugh.” He was on the couch behind me and said, “It’s OK, man, it’s gonna be great; don’t worry about it. Just press Play.”
We had some serious disagreements, not shouting matches or anything like that, about the length of the movie and scenes that were good but just took the movie to an unsatisfactory viewing experience. I remember it was running close to three hours.
We set the record at the MPAA for submissions. I think it was eighteen. Paul was submitting the Nina Hartley–Little Bill scenes with full nudity. It was wild some of the stuff that he had in there. I sat down to lunch with him one day and I was like, “Dude, pick and choose your battles.” And he looked me square in the eye and said, “Graziano, you never pick and choose your battles. If you feel passionately about something, you go after it, no matter how many things you’ve got on the table.”
We couldn’t have an NC-17 rating, but we also didn’t want to cut off all the elbows so that it became boring. So we went about doing it step by step and not throwing the baby out with the bathwater just because the MPAA said, “Oh, can’t do that.” I mean, they have their reasons for doing what they do, but they’re not the arbiters of art.
Six months after we were done with Boogie Nights, Paul sent me a rough cut of the movie, or what he thought was really a director’s cut. I remember we were in our little house in England and I’m sitting there, looking at it, and Helen, my wife, gets up after an hour and a half and goes, “This is such a piece of shit. What the fuck is this?” He had put every single thing that he loved in that movie and it was, cumulatively, just a disaster. But moment by moment it was wonderful, and you could see, God, there’s a movie there. I said that to Paul on the phone, “It’s a rough cut, right?” And he goes, “No. That’s what I want to do.” And I went, “Well, it’s really long and unfocused.” He didn’t talk to me for a long time after that. Dylan, bless his heart, Dylan forced Paul.
This being Paul’s second film and my first film as a solo editor, we just wanted it to be as big and as alive as it could be.
The screening room for this one was packed. There were people laying on the ground. The cut was three hours and one minute, exactly the length of the original script. You get to see Becky and Jerome after they’re married. You get to see Dirk’s parents dead in a car crash.
[That] was edited out of the movie. A car is flying through an intersection and another car just fuckin’ broadsides ’em. There was a test screening when we still had it in. Paul and I were sitting in the balcony and Paul was very nervous and I had the volume knob and he kept telling me, “Turn it up, turn it up, it’s too low, it’s too low.” When Paul gets nervous, he gets deaf. So I kept turning it up.
Dirk comes back to his mother’s house and Sheryl Lynn has moved into it with her husband. All Dirk’s porn movies are stacked above their TV and the husband is eating a TV dinner. It’s after the big, crazy coke bust at Alfred Molina’s, and I have to tell him about the death of his parents.
It was this very quiet scene where somebody tells Dirk, “Hey, your parents died in a car crash.”30 And then we just cut to like screech, smash. And when this happened in the screening, the guy behind us in the balcony launched out of his seat. He flew in the air and he screamed, “Oh my god!” and ran out of the theater. I asked the guy next to him, I said, “What was that?” And he said, “He was just in a really bad car accident a month ago.” It was just this insane sense-memory flashback.
I know at one point Bob Shaye and the guys at New Line were trying to get Paul to focus on Dirk and Burt Reynolds’s character instead of making it an ensemble. I prefer the ensemble version. Every time I see Paul I say, “Oh, free of charge, man, I’ll jump in and help you reconstitute that version, because you should put it out.”
Graziano was just fabulous with us because he wouldn’t come to us and say, “That’s it, time’s up,” or, “No more money.” He would say, “What do you guys want to do?”
We’d go out to dinner, we’d hang out at the hotel bar, we’d go into San Francisco. We’d do stuff like that all the time. And I’ll tell you, it was a real funny thing, too, because I had just come off of Se7en and I really had a great experience and I really dug Fincher. We went out to see The Game in Oakland and Paul was just drilling me about Fincher. I think he was, I don’t wanna say jealous, but it’s like anytime you express an affinity for somebody like that he was a little challenged, which is totally crazy ’cause he’s just such a genius.
Film Comment asked me to do something on Boogie Nights before it was released. I went down to Los Angeles and met Paul and Paul’s editor, Dylan. Dylan had worked on Altman’s Kansas City jazz film and so they had kind of come up together. They very much had a secret language and this amazing network or set of ideas and inspirations they were working on.
Paul is not a control freak. Paul is great at allowing people — actors, cinematographers, editors — the people whom he hires, to bring his vision to life. He allows them to breathe their own essence into it.
The original music needed to establish a tone that contrasted the escapist disco vibe, and the first thing that I was talking about was just the notion of this dysfunctional family, this sort of cobbled-together family that in a slightly altered reality would have been almost circus folk. So I allowed that to be my little germ, sort of, to create the theme — almost a circusy kind of a piece of music. I wanted it to be sad but I wanted it to be odd.
It was mostly about running time. I think the final running time, minus the credits, was two hours 25 minutes.
Somebody jokingly suggested the idea of an intermission and Paul just jumped on that. Like, “This is brilliant, and the exhibitors can sell more popcorn and soda. It’ll be a bonanza for them!” And Bob was like, “Paul, if they can only show the movie twice a day, that’s not a bonanza.”
We had several unsatisfactory test screenings for the film. So I just was reacting to those.
It’s not a film that one should really test, do you know what I mean? That kind of thing works for big-budget romantic comedies or horror movies or just the straight kind of studio fare. I think it can be very helpful. But in the case of Boogie Nights, it wasn’t helpful at all.
Anytime you have something provocative or disturbing, it really runs afoul of that testing system.
The only time I’ve ever been involved in a movie that a studio didn’t test was Brokeback Mountain because everybody watched the movie and was like, “This is fucking good.”
Screenings are usually done in a theater. It’s a recruited audience. The composition of the crowd is dictated by the film company and the research firm tries to deliver as best they can — male, female, young, or old, or whatever the requirements are.
They recruit with a paragraph in a mall or somewhere. You don’t have the benefit of a marketing campaign to tell you what kind of movie it is. So if I’m the recruiter and I’m in a mall with a paragraph on Boogie Nights, I’m gonna get a lot of people who may assume they know what kind of movie it is. But then they come into the theater and watch a movie that in the middle of it features Bill Macy putting a gun in his mouth and blowing the back of his head out.
I was at the Beverly Center on the night of one of our test screenings and overheard one of the recruiters say to a crowd of people, “Do you want to see Mark Wahlberg’s penis?” I walked up to him and went, “What the fuck are you doing? This is ridiculous! That’s how you’re recruiting people?”
The studio just wanted the test audience to say, “The movie’s too long.” That’s what they really wanted, which of course the audience did because at that point it was.
We had 40 or 50 walkouts in the first screening. And then you get a hundred and fifty other people who are like, “Wow, I kinda hate this movie.”
I read the comment cards and they were like, “More tits, more sex!”
Also, people didn’t want to admit that they liked a movie about sex and about the porn business.
The scores were really low. So then the studio starts losing the backing of the marketing guys and the guys who didn’t get it on the level that Mike De Luca did. They were looking at the numbers going, “Oh god, what are we gonna do?”
When you are just blindly following numbers and trying to make everyone happy, it’s a terrible experience.
Bob Shaye had done his own cut. He challenged Paul and said, “Let’s do what we can do to show this and if it scores less than yours then I’ll give it up, I’ll quit trying to convince you.” We ended up doing it. But the group was so loyal that nobody wanted to be a part of that new version. Once you’re down with Paul, you’re down with Paul.
I came up with what I thought was a viable solution to bring the movie closer to two hours, and Paul reacted, I wouldn’t say violently, but he reacted very negatively to the proposal, and to the cut that I had actually made for his benefit.
I think Bob’s reaction to Paul was like Burt Reynolds’s reaction to Paul. It’s like, Really? Are you not even gonna listen to me? It wasn’t big, philistine studio guy. It was more like, Wow, we gave you the money and now you’re not even going to listen to us?
We previewed it in Pasadena. As the line was forming outside the movie theater, Paul was walking up to each person, and they didn’t know who he was, saying, “This movie sucks. You’re gonna hate it. This movie sucks.” He went down the line. And that version, which was a way inferior version of the movie in my opinion, scored like 12 or 18 or 20 points lower.
I actually had a lot more experience with film than Paul did and we had put up the money, and I was just trying to not use coercion but just persuasion to help him see what I thought the issues were vis-à-vis the audience. That’s what a producer does.
[Bob Shaye’s] a lawyer and he’s a fighter himself and he can argue anything. We didn’t stop fighting. I don’t think [Shaye] knew what he was dealing with. We were not ever gonna give up. Ever. We weren’t anybody, but we weren’t gonna ever stop fighting.
Paul’s gamesmanship is off the charts.
It’s more of a passive-aggressive approach. He’s very low-key, doesn’t scream and shout like some people, so it’s hard to know what he’s thinking.
I have to give Bob Shaye credit, because if he was a typical studio president, and if he was relying on test scores, that movie would have gone straight to video.
I think the movie ended up about two hours and 37 minutes.31
There was one chunk we did that didn’t make the final cut. After Mark drives away in the car, Rahad goes back into his house and the police arrive, and there is a helicopter and there’s this whole gunfight where I’m pulling out one weapon bigger than the last. I end up with some kind of anti-tank thing and I’m trying to blast a police helicopter through the roof of my house. Then they shot me to bits and I wound up lying there as if I’d been riddled with thousands of bullets.
We have a scene that got cut where the Young Stud, he’s still freaking out after that girl overdoses [at the pool party] and I’m kind of talking him down. And as I told him on the set that day, “You better be the best you’re ever gonna be.” And he said, “Why?” I said, “Look around. It’s just me and you, pal. There’s no Burt Reynolds, there’s no Mark Wahlberg. This is getting edited out.” And Paul got really angry at me. He said, “It’s not true, I’m not gonna edit it out.” But I’d been around long enough by then to know it would take a lot for the scene to stay in the film.
I think my suggestions were correct, but as they were tendered to Paul they were just suggestions, and even though he didn’t have final cut, he got the benefit of the doubt and pretty much the film that he wanted.
Paul doesn’t let it go when he’s done with the movie. He goes to the theaters to make sure that they’re presenting it properly. We would go make sure they were playing the film at the right luminance, that if there was a scratch on the film they would replace the reel, that the focus was right, that the sound level was right.
Jeff Lynne from ELO came to the screening to approve the use of a song for the end title.
Paul really wanted “Livin’ Thing” as the song at the end of the movie. He was really, really nervous to show the film to Jeff Lynne, but Jeff came down to a screening and Paul was just sort of watching the back of his head while he was watching the movie. Then the film ends and “Livin’ Thing” comes on and Paul just sees both Jeff Lynne’s arms shoot up triumphantly.
The movie had this incredibly successful premiere at the New York Film Festival. At Q&A afterward, Burt Reynolds came out like a proud papa.
Burt Reynolds was the badass movie star that he was and he was engaging and hilarious and interesting. You never would have known that there was any kind of problem in the making of the movie or any kind of dissension. And I’d heard, by that point, that Burt had fired his agent, his manager, everybody that was associated with his career, and then basically said that he wasn’t gonna do press for the movie.
He was acting like it was his movie, like he’d made it, kind of getting all the praise and presiding over the Q&A session like this benign father presence, like he was happy as a clam.
[Burt Reynolds] hated [the film]. He would’ve won the Oscar had he not dug such a hole for himself.32
I just happened to duck into the Westwood screening with the public on the first night. And it just so happens that Paul picked my theater to duck into. And I’m telling you, I will never forget it. It was sold out. The excitement was so great. It was electrifying. You could have levitated that theater.
Paul’s movies are about really one thing: families. They’re about someone trying to create a family, find a family, get rid of the one they have, create a new one. But it’s everything everybody is seeking — love, acceptance, redemption — it all happens inside a family. And the family that they try to create in Boogie Nights are these people making these porno movies. It’s very much like 42nd Street or Gold Diggers of 1933. It’s a classic form of American film. It’s actually an American backstage musical. There’s literally like 12 movies like that, and that’s the format of Boogie Nights. And without really even trying to imitate it, it was just part of Paul’s DNA.
Boogie Nights has been real good to me. It gave me my career. I hadn’t done jack shit before. It’s the reason why I have a house and a car and a kid and a bunch of art on the wall, ya know?
Boogie Nights became a sacred text. I’ll tell you one thing about a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, the larger meaning of the movie is not really apparent until you see it in the theater. It was devastating when I finally saw the whole thing. It’s a fascinating, poetic force. I remember doing one scene with him and I was down near the floor and Paul came down there and laid next to me. And he’s looking at me and I remember I said, “What are you doing?” He was like a foot away from me. He was looking me right in the eye. I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m looking for the truth.”