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Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson 2022 (1) (cropped).jpg
Anderson in March 2022
Born (1970-06-26) June 26, 1970 (age 53)
Occupation Filmmaker
Years active 1988–present
Partner(s) Maya Rudolph (2001–present)
Children 4
Relatives Ernie Anderson (father)

Paul Thomas Anderson (born June 26, 1970), also known by his initials PTA, is an American filmmaker. He has received numerous accolades, including nominations for eleven Academy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, and eight BAFTA Awards (winning one for Best Original Screenplay). He has also won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival, the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and both the Silver and Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.

His films are often psychological dramas characterized by depictions of flawed, desperate characters; explorations of dysfunctional families, alienation, loneliness, and redemption; and a bold visual style that uses constantly-moving camera shots and long takes. After his directorial debut film Hard Eight (1996), he had a critical and commercial success with Boogie Nights (1997). His fifth film There Will Be Blood (2007) is often cited as one of the greatest films of the 21st century. This was followed by The Master (2012), Inherent Vice (2014), Phantom Thread (2017) and Licorice Pizza (2021).

Anderson is noted for his regular collaborations with cinematographer Robert Elswit, costume designer Mark Bridges, composers Jon Brion and Jonny Greenwood, and several actors. He has directed music videos for artists such as Fiona Apple, Brion, Haim, Aimee Mann, Joanna Newsom, Michael Penn, Radiohead, and The Smile. He also directed the documentary Junun (2015) and the short music film Anima (2019).

Early life

Anderson was born in the Studio City neighborhood of Los Angeles on June 26, 1970, the son of Edwina (née Gough) and actor Ernie Anderson (1923–1997). His father was the voice of ABC and played a Cleveland late-night horror host known as Ghoulardi, after whom Anderson would later name his production company. Anderson has three siblings, as well as five older half-siblings from his father's first marriage. He grew up in the San Fernando Valley. He had a troubled relationship with his mother, but was close with his father, who encouraged him to become a writer or director. He attended The Buckley School, John Thomas Dye School, Campbell Hall School, Cushing Academy, and Montclair College Preparatory School.

Anderson was involved in filmmaking from a young age, and never had an alternative plan to directing films. He made his first film when he was eight years old, and started making films on a Betamax video camera that his father bought in 1982. He later started using 8 mm film, but realized that video was easier. As a teenager, he began writing and experimenting with a Bolex 16 mm camera. After years of experimenting with "standard fare", he wrote and filmed his first real production as a senior at Montclair Prep, using money he earned cleaning cages at a pet store.



Anderson attended Santa Monica College, before having two semesters as an English major at Emerson College, where he was taught by David Foster Wallace. He then spent only two days at New York University before he began his career as a production assistant on television, films, music videos, and game shows in Los Angeles and New York City. Feeling that the material shown to him at film school turned the experience into "homework or a chore", Anderson decided to make a 20-minute film that would be his "college".

For a budget of $10,000 (which was made up of gambling winnings, his girlfriend's credit card, and the money his father set aside for him for college), Anderson made Cigarettes & Coffee (1993), a short film connecting multiple storylines with a $20 bill. The film was screened at the 1993 Sundance Festival Shorts Program. He planned to expand the film to feature-length, and was invited to the 1994 Sundance Feature Film Program. Michael Caton-Jones served as Anderson's mentor. He saw him as someone with "talent and a fully formed creative voice, but not much hands-on experience", and gave him some hard and practical lessons.

While at Sundance, Anderson had a deal with Rysher Entertainment to direct his first full-length feature film, Sydney, which was retitled Hard Eight. After completing the film, Rysher re-edited it. He had the workprint of the original cut and submitted the film to the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, where it was shown at the Un Certain Regard section. He had the version released, but only after he retitled the film, and raised the $200,000 necessary to finish it. Anderson, Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly and Gwyneth Paltrow contributed to the final funding. The version that was released was Anderson's and the acclaim from the film launched his career. The film follows the life of a senior gambler and a homeless man. Philip Seymour Hoffman worked with Anderson on five films. In his review of the film, Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert wrote, "Movies like Hard Eight remind me of what original, compelling characters the movies can sometimes give us."

Anderson worked on the script for his second film while working on the first one, and completed it in 1995. The result was his breakout film Boogie Nights. It was released on October 10, 1997, and was a critical and commercial success. The film revived the career of Burt Reynolds, and provided breakout roles for Mark Wahlberg and Julianne Moore. After the film's production, Reynolds refused to star in Anderson's third film, Magnolia. At the 70th Academy Awards, the film was nominated for three awards, including for Best Supporting Actor (Reynolds), Best Supporting Actress (Moore) and Best Original Screenplay.

After the success of Boogie Nights, New Line told Anderson that he could do whatever he wanted for his next film and granted him creative control. Though Anderson initially wanted to make a film that was "intimate and small-scale", the script "kept blossoming". The resulting film was the ensemble piece Magnolia (1999), which tells the story of the peculiar interaction of several individuals in the San Fernando Valley. Anderson used the music of Aimee Mann as a basis and inspiration for the film, commissioning her to write eight new songs. At the 72nd Academy Awards, the film was nominated for three awards, including for Best Supporting Actor (Tom Cruise), Best Original Song for "Save Me" by Aimee Mann, and Best Original Screenplay. Anderson stated after the film's release, "what I really feel is that Magnolia is, for better or worse, the best movie I'll ever make."


Adam Sandler, Anderson, Emily Watson and Philip Seymour Hoffman at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival

After the success of Magnolia, Anderson stated that he would make the film around 90 minutes and working with Adam Sandler. The romance film is named Punch-Drunk Love (2002). It follows a beleaguered entrepreneur in love with his sister's co-worker. The film's main character for the subplot was inspired by real-life civil engineer David Phillips. Sandler received critical praise for his first dramatic role in the film. At the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, Anderson won the Best Director Award and was nominated for the Palme d'Or. Time Out included it among one of the Best films of the 21st century. Karina Longworth wrote, "Paul Thomas Anderson's cracked ode to the transformative power of love in a world that actively mocks sensitivity is perhaps his most original work."

Paul Thomas Anderson & Daniel Day-Lewis-2
Anderson with Daniel Day-Lewis in 2007

There Will Be Blood (2007) was loosely based on Upton Sinclair's novel Oil!. It follows a ruthless oil prospector exploiting the Southern California oil boom in the early 20th century. Against a budget of $25 million, the film earned $76.1 million worldwide. At the 80th Academy Awards, the film was nominated for eight awards, tying with No Country for Old Men. Anderson was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, losing all three to the Coen Brothers for No Country for Old Men. Daniel Day-Lewis won the Oscar for Best Actor and Robert Elswit won the prize for Best Cinematography. Paul Dano received a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Anderson was nominated for Best Director from the Directors Guild of America. There Will Be Blood was regarded by some critics as one of the greatest films of the decade, with some parties further declaring it one of the most accomplished American films of the modern era. David Denby of The New Yorker wrote, "the young writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has now done work that bears comparison to the greatest achievements of Griffith and Ford", while Richard Schickel proclaimed it "one of the most wholly original American movies ever made." In 2017, New York Times film critics A. O. Scott and Manohla Dargis named it the "Best Film of the 21st Century So Far".


In December 2009, Anderson worked on a new film about a "charismatic intellectual" starting a new religion in the 1950s. An associate of Anderson's stated that the idea for the film had been in his mind for twelve years. The Master was released on September 14, 2012 in North America to critical acclaim. The film follows a World War II veteran, who meets the leader of a religious organization. Though the film makes no reference to the movement, it has "long been widely assumed to be based on Scientology." At the 85th Academy Awards, the film was nominated for three awards, including for Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Best Supporting Actor (Hoffman) and Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams).

Production of the film adaptation for Thomas Pynchon's novel Inherent Vice began in May and ended in August 2013. The film marked the first time that Pynchon allowed his work to be adapted for the screen, and had Anderson work with Phoenix for a second time. The supporting cast includes Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Jena Malone, Martin Short, Benicio Del Toro, Katherine Waterston and Josh Brolin. Following its release in December 2014, the film was nominated for two awards at the 87th Academy Awards, including for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Costume Design.

Mehrangarh Fort
Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, where Junun was filmed

Anderson directed Junun, a 2015 documentary about the making of the album by composer and Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur, and a group of Indian musicians. Most of the performances were recorded at the 15th-century Mehrangarh Fort in Rajasthan. Junun premiered at the 2015 New York Film Festival.

Anderson's eighth film, Phantom Thread, set in the London fashion industry, was released in December 2017. Day-Lewis starred in his final film role to date, after his penultimate film Lincoln. The cast includes Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps. Focus Features distributed the film in the United States, with Universal Pictures handling international distribution. Principal photography began in January 2017. Elswit was absent during production, and despite claims of Anderson acting as a cinematographer on the film, no official credit was given. On February 16, 2019, Elswit said he would not work with Anderson on his next films. Phantom Thread was nominated for six awards at the 90th Academy Awards, winning one for Best Costume Design.

In 2019, Anderson directed the short music film Anima, starring the Radiohead singer Thom Yorke and featuring music from Yorke's album Anima. It was screened in select IMAX theatres on June 26 and released on Netflix on June 27. It was nominated for Best Music Film at the 2020 Grammy Awards.


Anderson's ninth film, Licorice Pizza, was released in December 2021. The film was nominated for three awards at the 94th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. It follows a teenage actor in love with a photography assistant. In 2023, Anderson collaborated with Yorke and Greenwood again on the video for "Wall of Eyes", by their band the Smile.

Other work

In 2000, Anderson wrote and directed a segment for Saturday Night Live with Ben Affleck, "SNL FANatic", based on the MTV series FANatic. He was a standby director during the 2005 filming of Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion for insurance purposes, as Altman was 80 years old at the time. In 2008, Anderson co-wrote and directed a 70-minute play at the Largo Theatre, comprising a series of vignettes starring Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen, with a live score by Jon Brion.

Anderson has directed music videos for artists, including Fiona Apple, Radiohead, Haim, Joanna Newsom, Aimee Mann, Jon Brion and Michael Penn. Anderson directed a short film for Haim in 2017, Valentine, featuring three musical performances from the band.

Influences and style


Anderson attended film school for only two days, preferring instead to learn by watching the films of directors he liked along with the accompanying director's audio commentary. He has cited Robert Altman, Jonathan Demme, Robert Downey, Sr., Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, Mike Leigh, David Mamet, Anthony Mann, Vincente Minnelli, Max Ophüls, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Frank Tashlin, François Truffaut, Orson Welles and Billy Wilder as influences.

Themes and style

Anderson is known for films set in the San Fernando Valley with realistically flawed and desperate characters. Among the themes dealt with in the films are dysfunctional families, alienation, surrogate families, regret, loneliness, destiny, the power of forgiveness, and ghosts of the past. Anderson makes frequent use of repetition to build emphasis and thematic consistency. In Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, and The Master, the phrase "I didn't do anything" is used at least once, developing themes of responsibility and denial. Anderson's films are known for their bold visual style which includes stylistic trademarks, such as constantly moving camera shots, steadicam-based long takes, memorable use of music, and multilayered audiovisual imagery. Anderson tends to reference the Book of Exodus, either explicitly or subtly, such as in recurring references to Exodus 8:2 in Magnolia, which chronicles the plague of frogs, culminating with the literal raining of frogs in the film's climax, or the title and themes in There Will Be Blood, a phrase in Exodus 7:19, which details the plague of blood.

Within his first three films, Hard Eight, Boogie Nights and Magnolia, Anderson explored themes of dysfunctional families, alienation, and loneliness. Boogie Nights and Magnolia were noted for their large ensemble casts, which Anderson returned to in Inherent Vice. In Punch-Drunk Love, Anderson explored similar themes, but expressed a different visual style, shedding the influences and references of his earlier films, being more surreal and having a heightened sense of reality. It was also short, compared to his previous two films, at 90 minutes.

There Will Be Blood stood apart from his first four films, but shared similar themes and style, such as flawed characters, moving camera, memorable music and a lengthy running time. The film was more overtly engaged with politics than his previous films had been, examining capitalism and themes such as savagery, optimism and obsession. The Master dealt with "ideas about American personality, success, rootlessness, master-disciple dynamics, and father-son mutually assured destruction." All of his films deal with American themes, with business versus art in Boogie Nights, ambition in There Will Be Blood, and self-reinvention in The Master.


Philip Seymour Hoffman 2011
Philip Seymour Hoffman appeared in five of Anderson's films.

Anderson frequently collaborates with many actors and crew, carrying them over on each film. He has referred to regular actors as "my little rep company", including John C. Reilly, Philip Baker Hall, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Melora Walters and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Luis Guzmán is also considered an Anderson regular. Hoffman acted in Anderson's first four films as well as The Master. Except for Paul F. Tompkins, Kevin Breznahan and Jim Meskimen, who all had equally minor roles in Magnolia, There Will Be Blood had an entirely new cast. Anderson is one of three directors – the others being Jim Sheridan and Martin Scorsese – with whom Daniel Day-Lewis has collaborated more than once. Robert Elswit served as a cinematographer for Anderson's films, except The Master which was shot by Mihai Mălaimare Jr. and Phantom Thread which has no credited cinematographer. Jon Brion served as a composer for Hard Eight, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love, and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead for every film since. Dylan Tichenor edited Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread. Anderson regularly works with producers, JoAnne Sellar, Scott Rudin, Michael De Luca and Daniel Lupi, and casting director Cassandra Kulukundis.


Directed features
Year Title Distributor
1996 Hard Eight Rysher Entertainment
1997 Boogie Nights New Line Cinema
1999 Magnolia
2002 Punch-Drunk Love Sony Pictures Releasing
2007 There Will Be Blood Paramount Vantage / Miramax
2012 The Master The Weinstein Company
2014 Inherent Vice Warner Bros. Pictures
2017 Phantom Thread Focus Features / Universal Pictures
2021 Licorice Pizza United Artists Releasing / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Personal life

Anderson is a vegan.

Anderson dated musician Fiona Apple from 1997 to 2000. Apple revealed in 2020 that he had anger issues, once throwing a chair across the room and another time shoving her out of his car, and stated that she felt "fearful and numb" during the relationship.

Anderson has been in a relationship with actress and comedian Maya Rudolph since November 2001. They live in the San Fernando Valley with their four children.

Awards and recognition

Anderson has been called "one of the most exciting talents to come along in years" and "among the supreme talents of today." After the release of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, Anderson was praised as a "wunderkind". In 2007, the American Film Institute regarded him as "one of American film's modern masters." In 2012, The Guardian ranked him number one on its list of "The 23 Best Film Directors in the World," writing "his dedication to his craft has intensified, with his disdain for PR and celebrity marking him out as the most devout filmmaker of his generation." In 2013, Entertainment Weekly named him the eighth-greatest working director, calling him "one of the most dynamic directors to emerge in the last 20 years." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote that "The Master, the sixth film from the 42-year-old writer-director, affirms his position as the foremost filmmaking talent of his generation. Anderson is a rock star, the artist who knows no limits."

Other directors have also praised him. In an interview with Jan Aghed, Ingmar Bergman referenced Magnolia as an example of the strength of American cinema. Sam Mendes referred to Anderson as "a true auteur – and there are very few of those who I would classify as geniuses". In his acceptance speech for the Golden Globe Award for Best Director, Ben Affleck compared Anderson to Orson Welles.

As of 2022, Anderson is the only person to win all three director prizes from the three major international film festivals (Cannes, Berlin, Venice).

Awards and nominations received by Anderson's films
Year Title Academy Awards BAFTA Awards Golden Globe Awards
Nominations Wins Nominations Wins Nominations Wins
1997 Boogie Nights 3 2 2 1
1999 Magnolia 3 2 1
2002 Punch-Drunk Love 1
2007 There Will Be Blood 8 2 9 1 2 1
2012 The Master 3 4 3
2014 Inherent Vice 2 1
2017 Phantom Thread 6 1 4 1 2
2021 Licorice Pizza 3 5 1 4
Total 28 3 24 3 17 3

Direction for Oscar-related performances

Year Performer Film Result
Academy Award for Best Actor
2007 Daniel Day-Lewis There Will Be Blood Won
2012 Joaquin Phoenix The Master Nominated
2017 Daniel Day-Lewis Phantom Thread Nominated
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1997 Burt Reynolds Boogie Nights Nominated
1999 Tom Cruise Magnolia Nominated
2012 Philip Seymour Hoffman The Master Nominated
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1997 Julianne Moore Boogie Nights Nominated
2012 Amy Adams The Master Nominated
2017 Lesley Manville Phantom Thread Nominated

See also

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