While details on Daniel Day-Lewis’ final film are still sewn up tight, a number of journalists and members of the film industry were able to get an early glimpse of Phantom Thread in New York on Sunday night.
The actor made an appearance at the screening and took part in a Q&A following the film alongside director Paul Thomas Anderson (with whom he worked on There Will Be Blood) and costars Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville.
Reviews and social media posts about Phantom Thread are still under strict embargo until next week, but the film is set in the world of 1950s London and follows couture dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis), his sister and business partner (Manville), and the woman who becomes his latest muse (Krieps).
During the Q&A, Anderson told the crowd how the idea for the film came to him. “I was very, very sick in bed one night and my wife [Maya Rudolph] looked at me with a love and affection that I hadn’t seen in a long time,” he explained. “So I called Daniel the next day and said, ‘I think I have a good idea for a movie.’”
Of coming aboard the project, Day-Lewis joked, “Paul just needed an old man and I seemed to fit the bill.”
Inspirations came from the lives of top fashion designers such as Cristóbal Balenciaga, Hardy Amies, Norman Hartnell, and John Cavanagh. “We splashed around in all their experiences,” Day-Lewis said. Initial rumors had speculated that the film would be based on designer Charles James, but the actor said Sunday, “As fascinating as his life was, it was not the life we wanted to explore.”
The duo also researched the world of fashion in post-World War II London and Paris. “Paris was the dominant world … but there were also really interesting designers working in London as well,” Day-Lewis said. “It felt right somehow that the work should reflect a sense of the history of England, and the fabrics that come from the British Isles. … That was kind of a hope, that Woodcocks’ world would be reflected both in the design and the quality of the fabrics, and the place that he comes from.”
Much of the film takes place inside a London townhouse that serves as Woodcock’s home and studio, which made for what Anderson and his cast recalled as a difficult shoot.
“It was awful,” Day-Lewis said of the experience, noting that the shoot moved to the townhouse after initially filming in the countryside. “We had hoped to find that way of working again where we would be self-contained, beholden to no one, and uninterrupted, and we’d be in a world that we could create and just stay in and no one could get into it. But then we were in London and we were in this townhouse, which was beautiful, and it was a nightmare because we were living on top of each other and it was an enormous unit. There was no space.”
The cramped setting even gave Krieps a panic attack while they were there. “Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe,” she recalled. “In every room there were cables … it has an energy to it and it’s taking the breath away of your character.”
“We’re all okay now,” Anderson added. “But it was hard. … There were struggles, but it was struggles that were worth it.”
Phantom Thread opens in theaters on Christmas Day.