Paul Thomas Anderson is on Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast this week, and I really encourage you to listen to the entire thing because he’s a far more fascinating guy than you might have realized. I had no idea, for instance, that his Dad was the booth announcer for the Carol Burnett Show and that Anderson grew up hanging out with Tim Conway and Harvey Korman. Nor did I realize just how much Magnolia was inspired by his own father’s death (when told that his father was dying, Anderson said it felt like frogs falling from the sky, which is something he worked into the movie with an assist from Michael Penn, who explained the Biblical connection).
Anderson, like Louis C.K., also singled out Putney Swope as one of the most influential movies of his career — that movie was directed by Robert Downey, Sr., and apparently, Inherent Vice owes a huge debt to it (I haven’t yet seen Inherent Vice, so I cannot compare). Oh, and at his one year at Emerson College in Boston, he had as his professor David Foster Wallace.
But one of the best stories involved Ricky Jay and Burt Reynolds on the set of Boogie Nights. Anderson admitted that it wasn’t particularly easy working with Reynolds on the movie, in part because everyone else was so young on the movie, and Reynolds — formerly the biggest movie star in America — felt like he was “slumming” it. “It was tough. Really tough,” Anderson said, admitting that Reynolds probably didn’t trust him. But the story involving Ricky Jay actually has little to do with the difficulties of Reynolds.
It concerned a scene in which Ricky Jay was trying to hold back Reynolds while his character was yelling at Mark Wahlberg, and why Ricky Jay couldn’t keep a straight face during the scene (and I wish I could locate a screenshot of Jay from the scene, but Internet searches have turned up nothing).
“Ricky Jay had the obligation, when Mark and Burt are in this big fight scene at the pool. He’s coming at Mark, saying ‘Get out of here, you’re high!’ and all this sort of stuff, and Ricky Jay had the job of holding Burt back, which is not a job that Ricky should have. He has these magician’s hands and everything else. And Burt started to improvise, and Mark says something like, ‘I haven’t been up for two days!’ and Burt said, ‘Nevertheless, you don’t look good …”
And every time Burt said ‘Nevertheless,’ I kept noticing something happen over Ricky’s face, and I said, ‘What’s going on?’ and he said, ‘I can’t. I’m suppressing laughter whenever he says ‘Nevertheless.’
And I said why, and he told me this great story of being in a football game when this woman is being introduced to sing the National Anthem and her name is Helen Forrest or whatever it is. And [the announcer] says, ‘And now to sing the National Anthem, Helen Forrest.’
And somebody in the stands screams, ‘HELEN FORREST SUCKS COCK.’
And the announcer [without missing a beat] says, ‘Nevertheless.’
And what’s why, if you watch that scene again, Ricky Jay has such a pained expression on his face when Burt Reynolds says ‘Nevertheless.’