Inherent Vice takes us through the drug fueled labyrinth that is seventies ‘70s, a la Thomas Pynchon.
Paul Thomas Anderson interprets that world’s chiaroscuro uncertainty as muddled, hazy and oblique, which describes the action from time to time.
But it’s the unique characters that make it work. Joaquin Phoenix is a barely coherent private eye looking for a woman he used to know. Josh Brolin is a stuttering mess, fixated on bananas, LAPD, who’s after the same woman.
And she is Shasta Fay Hepworth, a waif, a wanderer and a curse, apparently who doesn’t say much.
Katherine Waterston, the daughter of the great Sam Waterston, won the role of Shasta and brings it an uncanny sense of mystery; she’s nude a lot, so get over it.
Waterston’s terrific understated performance is her breakout; she has just signed to play Steve Jobs’ first wife Chrisann Brennan in Universal’s Jobs opposite Michael Fassbender. Waterston’s on her way.
We had the chance to chat in Toronto.
Your father probably wasn’t fazed by your nudity because he came up on the 60s and 70s. It’s nothing to him, but he is one of the most revered actors around and here you are coming up behind him. Do you feel that weight?
I just feel so supported by him. I do think it’s easier if you’re the opposite sex of the famous parent. You just don’t get it as much the “spitting image” stuff.
We have people feeling like they’ve seen you before, which can be very difficult for people who are the same sex, famous parent. He’s just so cool and such a great person.
I just remembered something. I haven’t told anyone this, no one knows it. I had some of his hand-me-downs, stuff he wore as a young hippie, and I was going to a table read right after I got the job and we were just figuring out the costumes for the film.
Paul was making notes, he half looked at me out of the corner of his eye and he said “What’s that? That’s good. You should wear that ion the film”.
It’s my dad’s shirt and it’s in the movie. When we do the Ouija board it’s a striped shirt, it’s his old hippie shirt. He helped me in many ways.
Shasta was a woman of mystery. You can’t play mystery, but you did it. How?
That’s the general struggle of playing any scene in any story because we have all the words. You don’t know what you’re going to say and you don’t know what they’re going to say next.
It’s a constant battle to seem like you don’t know what’s going to happen. You can’t play mystery. It’s a thin line. You don’t want to play the mystery and you don’t want to be too clear either and you don’t want to be boring either.
I didn’t want to hold than cards too close to my chest so no one cares.
You think about those things when you’re driving home after work. It’s not too difficult once I walk into the role, on set or in the bubble – it quiets my mind.
Did you like working with Joaquin?
I hadn’t spent time with Joaquin before shooting. We were shooting one of the first moments and it was his coverage camera wasn’t on camera.
But I felt I had to be in the scene, watching it like an audience member and fan. Oh, no, I can’t do that again!
It’s amazing working with him, because he’s so brilliant – so generous and self-effacing and playful. It was never intimating because we were having fun.
With Paul it was extraordinary and surreal that I got hired by Paul. The amazing thing is his way of working finally seemed so obvious to me.
He hands his parts over to the actors and that doesn’t happen much. But I also think there is something witchy about what Paul does as a director.
It’s like there’s a radio dial on the set and he sets it to a certain station were all listening to the same station and we don’t talk about it but we feel it.
There’s something so hands off and gentle about it and yet focussed. It felt very secure in that way. We have our separate jobs and our private interest but we’re doing but were all in it together in the same world
Joaquin said earlier that he read the book but not too much. He wanted to be focused on his character. How did you not give too much away to him and did you work at keeping him at bay?
If I don’t have to and I’m not so desperately lost and I need something from an actor and I’m not getting it so you have to talk between takes, I try not to talk about what’s happening in the scenes too much.
I don’t want to dilute the energy. You can over talk these things and it can take away from the moment. That’s what you’re trying to capture life in a bottle.
Also for me, with this particular character it felt good to have secrets so it didn’t matter which ones they were – hers or mine – but just to have the sensation of having something from myself.
You need things to make you rooted and focused because there are booms and lights and noises and trucks reversing and the clocks ticking and the suns going down.
There’s so much going on all the time so something like that can be useful to have a secret. And find Shasta when you’re ready to drop back onto it.
That scene that everyone’s talking about, that one take scene, how did you shoot it?
That scene is in the novel. It’s incredible to have that resource and you want to use it as much as you can. That was where I started.
I read and reread and reread and this incredible monologue gave me a lot of think about. In terms of whatever Paul’s ideas or Joaquin’s ideas, we didn’t talk to each other about them at all.
Three horses in our separate gates and they open and we just did it. We trusted each other enough. You get to find out what the scene is while the cameras rolling.
I want to be not at all aware of what the cameras are doing. I often don’t know. Most actors don’t work this way, maybe I’m missing something but I don’t know if it’s a close up or two shot.
That just makes me hyper conscious of nose hairs and you don’t want to be picky when you’re in a scene. And Paul’s too brilliant a director to tell his actors that a scene like that would be one take.
I would have been paranoid about how I was pulling it off. I would have messed it up. But I wasn’t freaked out about the nudity.
I wasn’t like “S**t. Monday’s coming”. I felt a responsibility to get Shasta right in every scene. She wasn’t afraid and I wasn’t afraid. It’s a luxury when you take on the energy of the character and don’t have to work, it’s like a vacation.