Since Boogie Nights is a two-and-a-half-hour movie about a guy with a 13-inch cock, it's no surprise that director Paul Thomas Anderson has entertained some questions about length. "More movie for $7.50" is how he put it at a New York Film Festival press conference last week. But the more penetrating question is why a 27-year-old writer-director with only one dinky piece under his belt (Hard Eight) would be allowed to run so long on the subject of late-'70s porn--which is what I asked Anderson the next day in his posh Park Avenue hotel suite.
"Good fucking question," he says, projecting modesty at a time when every film critic in New York is busy anointing him as the next Tarantino/Scorsese/Altman/whoever. "I think [New Line Cinema] really loved the script and they wanted me to shoot it, and that's what I told them I was going to do. I made sure to ask, 'Okay, are you sure this is the movie you want?' And they said yeah. And I said, 'Well, then it's gonna be about three hours long.' And they said okay. I suppose they didn't want to endanger what they knew they liked. The thing is, the movie was relatively cheap at $15 million, so they figured, 'Well, if it totally sucks at the end of the day, and it's fuckin' three hours long, we can at least maybe get our money back cause there'll be some sex in it."
Raised in the San Fernando Valley, Anderson has the look of unkempt chic that betrays his mix of good breeding and punkish denial thereof. He's wearing an untucked and half-unbuttoned pin-striped tuxedo shirt over green Army pants, his face covered with stubble and smoke from a Camel Light. Around him lie the pros and cons of fame: a half-eaten hamburger (his lunch and interview times were double booked); a cheerleading publicist ("Did you hear about Newsday? Four stars!"); a 1970 Life cover story on sex in the movies ("Nothing I don't already know," he says); and the current Film Comment, containing another heady rave.
How is he coping with all the praise? "It's easy to cope with it [laughs]. It would be preposterous to say that I wasn't looking for massive amounts of love and attention from anyone who would give it to me. So you read a review and you're like, 'Thank you. That feels fuckin' great.'" Any risk of feeling too fuckin' great? "I'm sure there is," he says. "But I have such a habit of beating myself up that I'm just trying to enjoy it for now. 'Cause I know my instinct will be to try to self-destruct in some way."
This coming-of-age celebrity doomsaying reminds me of the well-hung protagonist's own rise and fall--begging the question of how Anderson measures the distance between Hollywood and the porno world. "There's no difference," he says. "Hollywood is a fuckin' pain in the ass. I don't want to come off as the angry young man, but it's frustrating to love movies and be surrounded by people who don't. You want to shake them and say, 'Why do you have this job? Who invited you to this party?' It's treacherous like that--in the porn industry, too."
With that, the wunderkind rises from his chair, unzips his fly, and takes down his pants. His next appointment is a live gig on CNN--so he figures he had better tuck in his shirt.