Phantom Thread isn’t just a reunion between Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis, 10 years after There Will Be Blood. Anderson’s longtime friend and frequent collaborator Dylan Tichenor also returns as the filmmaker’s editor, following credits on Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will Be Blood.
“Paul and I have been very good friends for 20 years, since we started working together. We fell out of sync professionally but I’ve always been around for the other movies,” Tichenor, who has also worked with Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums), Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain), Ben Affleck (The Town), and Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), says. “I’ve seen the early screenings, I’ve talked to him about the scripts, even on the ones I didn’t end up cutting. So I feel like I didn’t exactly go away — Paul and I have been in touch the whole time.”
But their reunion was sparked after a late-night chat about ideas for a possible feature, one that would become Phantom Thread.
“He wanted to make a story about a couple whose relationship was the most combative thing. A love story about people who maybe don’t seem to like each other,” Tichenor, a two-time Oscar nominee, says. “That was the original idea. That was just a little kernel and we started batting it around and he got to the place where it sounded like a Hitchcock film. So we started talking about Rebecca and Notorious. Then we started talking about plot and how to make sure we injected a plot into things — because Paul’s not a super big plot person. It percolated with him for a while. Once he decided to go back to Daniel with the story, which he decided early, Daniel became an integral part of it. That’s when it became a dressmaker, that’s when it became London, and that informed a lot of the movie. I think it’s a movie that started with a grain of something that, like everything does with Paul basically, and a pearl grew around it. I don’t think anybody could have guessed where it was going to go based on the first conversation.”
Set in London in the 1950s, Phantom Thread focuses on a persnickety and world-renowned fashion designer, Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis), who falls into a deep relationship with his latest muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps), one that changes his life forever. Shrouded in mystery in the months before its release, Anderson’s latest film is his funniest (and strangest) since Punch-Drunk Love and the humor sneaks up on audiences in a way that is maybe unexpected due to its pedigree.
“Honestly, we tried to tease out as much humor from the movie as we could do,” Tichenor says. “Often, editing has a lot to do with that. I think there are sections of the film that have some dry dialogue that’s very funny and there are some cuts that are funny. There’s so Blake Edwards kind of stuff we tried to do. Honestly, we wanted people to be able to laugh with the movie even though it feels heavy and is taking itself very seriously, in reality, it probably doesn’t. There’s a lot of winking going on. While the subject matter, everyone feels very earnest about, it’s not without its winks.”
Phantom Thread isn’t just a reunion for Tichenor, Anderson, and Day-Lewis but also a conclusion: as Day-Lewis announced in June, he has retired from acting, making Anderson’s project his final film.
“Editing a Daniel Day-Lewis performance is like editing a Reynolds Woodcock performance. Almost every bit — and there are a lot of takes and footage and he tries stuff but he’s pretty consistent — you’re with Reynolds Woodcock,” Tichenor says of what it was like to witness Day-Lewis’ work in the edit room. “It’s a matter of picking and choosing the moments, but they’re all pretty real. It’s sort of like let’s keep within these lines and that’s the character. Sometimes Daniel is painting a little outside, but he’s always Reynolds, morning through night. It’s a different experience in a way. I’ve worked with a lot of great actors, I’ve been fortunate in that way, and nobody has such a method as Daniel does.”
But despite working with the best actor of his generation, Tichenor says he didn’t feel additional pressure to craft the performance. “I just feel extra grateful to have such material to work with,” he says. “There is a lot of shaping that happens and it’s largely in choosing what do we see, what’s in the movie, and what’s not in the movie. What parts of Reynolds Woodcock do we highlight and what parts do we obscure. We tried to make sure Reynolds wasn’t too hard-ass. That he wasn’t too indecipherable. We wanted people to understand why Alma wanted to be with someone this fastidious. That was definitely the line we excavated on this project. How do we thread that needle, as it were.”
Thread the needle? “Oh, God, I’m vomiting with all the tailoring metaphors that people are using already,” Tichenor says with a laugh. “I’m appalled I just used one.”