THERE WILL BE BLOOD joins a pantheon of American motion pictures that explore the powerful confluence of ambition, wealth, family and the magnetic lure of the West. Paul Thomas Anderson's fifth film plunges the audience into an astonishingly raw and real turn-of-the-century California and revolves around one unforgettable character: Daniel Plainview, a rough-and-tumble prospector who transforms himself and an entire town through oil. As he ascends from a rugged miner to an imperious tycoon, in the mold of such historical oil pioneers as Edward Doheny and John Rockefeller, Plainview will bring progress and riches to a land that has never known them, at a cost that will blacken his very soul.
As portrayed by Academy Award®-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis, Daniel Plainview is a man whose charm, aspirations and uncompromising obsession with remaining self-made will stir up a maelstrom in the Central California town of Little Boston. As oil gushes up from the ground, Plainview will bring changes of operatic sweep to this insular world - pitting belief, hope, love and hard work against cynicism, greed, seduction and monstrous corruption.
Shot in Marfa, Texas where the legendary oil-themed GIANT was filmed decades ago, Anderson and a devoted cast and crew have crafted a symphonic tapestry of images that appear to come to vivid, visceral life right out of a sepia-toned photograph -- yet are completely original and intimately specific to Daniel Plainview's meteoric rise and bloodcurdling descent.
Paul Thomas Anderson, a two-time Academy Award® nominee, has previously directed four films set in the West, though each has been its own entirely distinctive exploration of the territory. His first film, HARD EIGHT, was a crime thriller set amidst the casinos of Las Vegas. This was followed by BOOGIE NIGHTS, a kaleidoscopic look at the adult film industry; MAGNOLIA an interwoven tale of one devastating and magical night in the San Fernando Valley; and PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, that rare fresh take on the romantic comedy. THERE WILL BE BLOOD marks Anderson's first journey into the foundational days of California's lavish wealth and power, before movies, before high-tech, when oil was the driving force of the land and brought hungry, ambitious men Westward in search of fortune and a new future.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD began with Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil!, although the tale took off in its own cinematic direction from there. While in a London bookshop, a homesick Anderson spied the novel and its California-themed cover instantly drew him. Once he began reading, he was compelled by Sinclair's view of the state in a time when tenacious, risk-taking oil prospectors were changing the then-rural landscape with derricks and oil fields. "The novel is set in an area, Signal Hill, I know well and that part of California's history has always been interesting to me," says Anderson. "Reading the novel was quite exciting."
Upton Sinclair, of course, is best known for his still widely read 1907 novel, The Jungle, a triumph of muckraking fervor set in the slaughterhouses of Chicago that forever changed the American food industry. Two decades later, he would write an epic intended to similarly probe the corruption and exploitation at the heart of the then-burgeoning American oil industry. Set in California, Oil! follows the relationship of a millionaire oil tycoon named J. Arnold Ross - modeled after several of the nation's wealthiest oilmen from the era, including Edward Doheny -- with the son he hopes will take over the family business. Instead, his son rebels against him and begins organizing oil workers in collusion with a dirt-poor family of holy-roller fundamentalists, which includes a charismatic and power-seeking boy preacher named Eli Watkins.
Paul Thomas Anderson was primarily inspired by the 500-page novel's first 150 pages, wherein Sinclair delves in exquisite detail into the gritty, precarious lives of oil prospectors and oil workers. He was also drawn to Sinclair's pitting of unbridled greed against unchecked spiritual idealism, each with their own insidious consequences. From that foundation of inspiration, he found his own characters of Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday wending in their own directions, towards their own intertwined fates.
Anderson began to do further research - prowling through the oil museums that dot California - letting the era's plentiful, richly atmospheric photographs further fire up his imagination. "You get giddy looking at all those amazing photos," Anderson notes, "getting a real sense of how people lived their lives. There's so much history in the oil areas around Bakersfield -- they're filled with the grandsons of oil workers and lots of folklore. So we did an incredible amount of research and I got to be a student again and that was a thrill."
In addition, Anderson read numerous books and was especially influenced by The Dark Side of Fortune, an acclaimed biography of Edward Doheny by Margaret Leslie Davis, which recounts Doheny's rise from an intensely driven son of immigrants to a failed silver miner in Silver City, New Mexico to an icon of fame, power as well as corrupting greed as California's first big oilman. To further follow Doheny's trail, Anderson made his own trip to Silver City, immersing himself in the old pictures and yellowed newspapers that fill the town's libraries and museums. Ultimately a mix of history, landscape and the very nature of bringing this slippery, precious substance up from the ground became the propulsive force in Anderson's screenplay, melding lyrical frontier dialogue with intensely visual sequences of escalating suspense.
Now, the research ended and, as Anderson says, "it was time to pick our heads up out of the books and get out on the road." He did so in concert with his long-time producing partners, JoAnne Sellar and Daniel Lupi. Sellar had known that, following PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, Anderson was looking "to do something completely different," and was drawn in by the world he hoped to create in THERE WILL BE BLOOD, though she knew it would be their biggest challenge yet.
"Paul had sent Daniel Day-Lewis the script when it was about three-quarters of the way done and Daniel committed to it immediately, which was wonderful because I don't know if Paul even would have made the movie without Daniel," recalls Sellar. "Now we had a script and we had Daniel and the trick was to figure out creatively how to do this."
Inspired by his extensive research of the time period and geography, Paul Thomas Anderson came to see Daniel Plainview as a silent, self-reliant man - formed by a deeply individual early struggle for survival - who is suddenly thrust into the chaos and cacophony of gaining tremendous power once he strikes oil.
When Daniel Day-Lewis came on board to take the role, Daniel Plainview immediately took on even deeper human contours, in a breathtaking pendulum ranging from dark humor to terrifying insanity, from moments of surprising tenderness to outbursts of dastardly menace. Day-Lewis, an Academy Award® winner and multiple Oscar® nominee, has been called the most gifted actor of his generation. Director Jim Sheridan, who has worked with Day-Lewis several times (and directed him in his Oscar®-wining performance in MY LEFT FOOT), once told the New York Times: "He feels like he's betraying himself if he doesn't give it 100 hundred percent. It's not possible, the obliteration of the self, but he comes as close as anyone could."
Two years elapsed between the time Day-Lewis accepted the role and production began, giving the actor time to contemplate both the life of a turn-of-the-century oilman and the crevices of Plainview's soul. He became fascinated by the primal nature of digging for oil and by the feverish frontier dreams it inspired in many - only a few of whom succeeded in attaining the ultimate in power and fortune. He closely studied Doheny and other oilmen of the era. Then, on the set, he inhabited the character completely, utterly, frighteningly, just as Paul Thomas Anderson knew he would.
Says Anderson: "It's a privilege to work with Daniel Day-Lewis and few directors have had that privilege. I had to work up the courage to ask him, but I always knew there was only one man for the job."
Adds co-star Paul Dano, who tangled repeatedly with Day-Lewis as Plainview's chief nemesis and rival, Eli Sunday: "He blew my mind consistently. I would say daily. 'I don't know where the stuff that comes out of him comes from, but it's an amazing mystery.'"
The performance would resonate through every aspect of the film and remain a mysterious force even to those who watched it unfold in-the-moment on the set. "I still see something new in Daniel's performance every time I watch the film. It is an amazing thing," comments JoAnne Sellar.
It would be easy to say that THERE WILL BE BLOOD rests on Day-Lewis's and Dano's shoulders, but Anderson asserts that the power of the film's performances lies equally in the secondary cast of supporting roles and extras, many of whom were cast from among locals in West Texas, who bring a rawness and authenticity that accentuates and colludes with Day-Lewis's disappearance into the role.
"Without exaggerating, I believe that a film lives and dies by its extras," says the writer-director. "The locals in the film had that West Texas flavor that can only come from living in that place, and they were all so generous with their time and humanity. I'm so proud of the work they did. You can have a great actor like Daniel Day-Lewis, but if the person who is standing behind him is all wrong and a distraction, you're dead."
When Daniel Plainview arrives in Little Boston, it quickly becomes apparent that his greatest rival in the town will be Eli Sunday, who looks like a child but is a bold and fervent preacher in the charismatic tradition with designs on building a large, devoted congregation - one he knows could be threatened by the coming of oil, wealth and new blood to the town. Sunday is played by Paul Dano, who on the heels of his critically acclaimed portrait of an angst-ridden teen in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, spins a full 180 degrees into a bracingly different kind of portrait, one that draws out the raging inner conflicts between a young man's yearning for love and adulation with his desire to be a man of God.
For Dano, the attraction to Eli lay in his words - the florid, zealous monologues that Anderson had written for him in the screenplay. "There's a lot of fun stuff to play around with in Eli because he loves language and he's so grandiose," Dano explains. "For me there was a lot of osmosis between what Paul wrote on the page and doing research and looking at pictures and reading the Bible -- and I think that all kind of came into play subconsciously in creating him."
Dano became fascinated by the power and the peril of evangelical preachers, whose lives and myriad styles he studied. "They are often soft-spoken people, but they have that fire on the pulpit or on stage that can captivate an audience. There's an element of seduction to it and when you feel people reacting that way it is very empowering," he notes. "But I also think once you have that kind of power and control, you are very tempted to keep using it and you can lose your sincerity. Just like Daniel, who loves power, I think Eli loves being the center of attention, and that's why they are destined to have an epic struggle."
As Daniel Plainview grows more powerful, so too does Eli grow more popular and more infuriated at the way Daniel dismisses him and his importance in their community. His rancor boils over in a chilling sermon sequence wherein he begins to wreck a little personal vengeance in the guise of religious fervor. "That scene is a big turning point for my character, as it is for Plainview whether he knows it or not," says Dano. "Plainview has embarrassed Eli, he's hurt Eli, and he's not respected him or his church so it's really important for him to feel the tide start to turn."
Paul Thomas Anderson was especially gratified by the working relationship that developed between Dano and Daniel Day-Lewis, who had worked together once before on Rebecca Miller's THE BALLAD OF JACK & ROSE. "Paul was not only familiar with how Daniel works, he was up to the task," says Anderson. "He had the confidence to go head-to-head with Daniel. Despite the incredibly tense relationship between their characters, they also had to find some real mutual enjoyment - and I think they came to share the thrill and the joy of jumping in and pretending. They had to feel very safe with each other because things could get out of control, and they did at times."
Adds JoAnne Sellar: "They did keep their distance from one another and maintained that sense of rivalry on the set."
Dano was exhilarated to work with Daniel Day-Lewis in creating a pair of such high-wire performances, but he equally enjoyed Anderson's decision to populate much of THERE WILL BE BLOOD with local non-actors, many of whom form Eli's congregation. "It was a risk, but it felt very powerful and it really worked," he says. "Everyone was so good."
Ultimately, the intensifying battle between Eli and Plainview comes to a head in the film's volatile, incendiary climax. Dano recalls that even while shooting that scene in the bowling alley of Plainview's mansion the mood kept shifting, unpredictably. "It started out quite fun and then it turned dark and emotional and then very scary," he recalls. "We did it without any constraints and suddenly I was dodging bowling balls and Daniel was coming at me pretty strong. It was very intense and exhausting and at times, terrifying."
HENRY and FLETCHER
One of the film's most mysterious and riveting characters arrives quite suddenly on the scene. This is Henry, played by Kevin J. O'Connor, who intriguingly claims to be Plainview's long lost brother and grows closer to him than anyone else for a time, eliciting Plainview's most honest and scorching confessions.
For his portrait, O'Connor - who is best known for his work in Stephen Sommer's horror epics including The Mummy and Van Helsing -- drew inspiration from several photographs, including one presented to him by Paul Thomas Anderson. "It was a period picture of a guy who had been arrested and he had this big mustache," he recalls. "Then I had another photograph from a friend of mine of a guy in a family portrait kind of sitting to the side. And his suit was a little too tight on him and looked like he didn't belong, like he was just trying to get away with getting a meal. So when I saw those photographs, I decide to lose some weight so I'd look a little hungrier and that was key."
This was the first time O'Connor had worked with Paul Thomas Anderson and the experience, he says, was quite novel. "He's one of the most unusual directors I've ever worked with because he cares so much about the details that he gets everybody else interested in the details and that's amazing," O'Connor comments.
Also joining the cast as Daniel Plainview's right hand man, Fletcher, is Ciarán Hinds, the sought-after character actor who is also seen this fall in a comic role in Noah Baumbach's MARGOT AT THE WEDDING. Hinds recalls his initial shock upon reading the screenplay. "It had a whole different feel to it," he says. "The themes were biblical and epic, about desire and revenge and emotions driven by ambition. And the style of the writing was such that the flavor just came off the page. It was immediately earthy and very visual. Paul's gift is to combine an extraordinary eye with a real sense of storytelling and emotional undercurrents, all naturally."
Hinds was also struck the by unique place that Fletcher holds in the unfolding of the story. "He's really an observer," says the actor. "He doesn't get that involved but as he watches what Plainview gets up to, the more he's driven. The nature of Fletcher is that he sees that there's practical work to be done and he does it, very quietly and modestly."
In the making of the film, Hinds particularly enjoyed working with so many local first-time and non-pro actors. "Their natural sense of being who they are and their ability to listen sometimes put us to shame," he notes. "They also knew the territory and the lay of the land and they understood the power of the land in a simple but profound way that city folks might not."
One of the West Texas locals who comes to the fore in THERE WILL BE BLOOD is Dillon Freasier in the role of H.W., the child whom Daniel Plainview raises as his son in a relationship that is fraught with both physical and emotional peril. Freasier was discovered by casting director Cassandra Kulukundis who searched in local schools for a child who could take on the demanding role with a deep naturalism. Kulukundis found Freasier in tiny Fort Davis, Texas, where he had lived all his life and, prior to the production, had never even seen a major American city.
"Dillon is this amazing 10 year-old boy who had never had anything to do with movies before, which is what Paul was looking for," explains JoAnne Sellar. "He wanted someone who already could handle a gun and ride a horse and for whom that whole landscape was second nature - and Dillon turned out to be an amazing find."
Already at home in the outdoors, Freasier took with great enthusiasm to playing H.W., whose life takes a sharp turn when he loses his hearing in an oil accident that will cleave a wedge between he and his father. Says Ciarán Hinds of the co-star, with whom he developed a strong friendship: "Dillon goes on quite an emotional journey and for someone who's never done this before, he's amazingly natural and truthful. You see the absolute child in him."
Although Freasier would perform most of his scenes with a man considered one of the greatest and most exacting actors of our time, he was never intimidated. "Daniel was awesome," Freasier says, quite simply. "He was so cool and it was something just to get to meet him. He taught me a lot. He taught me when boxing that you should always duck forwards, never back. I didn't know that."
In the course of the story, Freasier learned sign language and also found himself having to perform several difficult stunts, including being thrown by an oil derrick explosion and setting fire to his father's house. "At first I was a bit nervous about the stunts," he admits. "But by the time I learned how to do them, I was really excited."
Another source of excitement for Freasier was seeing Russell Harvard portray his character as a young man determined to know the truth about his past. "When I saw Russell, I thought 'wow, you look exactly like me.' Later we became really close friends and it was very cool."
READ MORE ABOUT THE VISUAL DESIGN AND COSTUMES
READ MORE ABOUT: THE MUSIC AND A BRIEF HISTORY OF CALIFORNIA OIL
READ MORE ABOUT: DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON (Director / Screenwriter) AND ROBERT ELSWIT, ASC (Cinematographer)
THE ART OF ADAPTATION