Phantom Thread: Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps on Paul Thomas Anderson’s sew-business romance

Oscar nominee Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps share their experiences of working with Daniel Day-Lewis on Paul Thomas Anderson’s London-set 1950s love story Phantom Thread.

Lou Thomas

Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread (2017)

In Phantom Thread, Daniel Day-Lewis plays tightly wound 1950s couturier Reynolds Woodcock, whose exquisitely refined creations are the toast of postwar London’s high society.

The House of Woodcock – a coveted sartorial label – produces finery for royalty, debutantes and movie stars. At Woodcock’s side is sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), a fearsome, watchful ally who runs the business imperiously, also dispassionately dispensing with Woodcock’s romantic partners when they have outstayed their welcome.

While on a weekend break from the city, Woodcock meets young waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps). Soon, this new muse and lover has a disruptive influence in the House of Woodcock, and the balance of power begins to shift.

With his first film shot in the UK, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has delivered an intriguing and subtle film about power and desire. It’s a film as cold as winter rejection and as soaring as a summer love affair, buoyed by Jonny Greenwood’s rippling score and the lush cinematography.

Watch the Phantom Thread trailer

Last time Day-Lewis collaborated with Anderson, on 2007’s There Will Be Blood, he won his second best-actor Oscar. He’s been nominated again for Phantom Thread, although the actor has said this will be his last performance on screen.

Yet, while there’s no doubting the weight of Day-Lewis’s magnificent creation, his work is matched by two equally fine turns by Krieps and Manville. Also an Oscar hopeful, for best supporting actress, Manville is a British stage, TV and film stalwart, perhaps best known for her fine work in Mike Leigh films, including her BAFTA-nominated role in Another Year (2010).

Krieps, by comparison, is a relative newcomer. Hailing from Luxembourg, the actor’s star-making turn in Phantom Thread follows bit parts in Joe Wright’s spiky action thriller Hanna (2011) and Anton Corbijn’s John le Carré adaptation A Most Wanted Man (2014).

With Phantom Thread now arriving in UK cinemas, we caught up with the pair to get their take on this beguiling gothic romance.

Vicky Krieps (Alma)

Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread (2017)

What did you think of Alma when you first read the script?

The way she is almost submissive is not something I understood, because this is not how I see myself as a woman, but I always understood whatever is ‘behind’ her.

I always felt there was something deeper inside and something very truthful and emotional and beautiful, so that was something I was relating to. But I knew that I needed a lot of patience to be Alma.

Do you like her?

I think Alma is really cool, even for today. She has a very nice approach to life. She’s not looking for approval or recognition in the eyes of others, but more referring to some kind of truth and strength that comes from somewhere inside of her and maybe even beyond her.

What do you think about the way the film approaches its love story?

I think it’s very honest and brave about what goes on behind closed doors, and what goes on in people’s relationships. Mostly it’s a sexual thing, but most relationships find some kind of game. It’s often about helping each other. You know, “I’m strong in this” and “I’m weak in this.”

In this case, it’s very clear that Alma loves Reynolds so much – it’s out of love for him that she wants him to come down and get out of this, almost, prison that he has built himself. She wants to free him and for him to accept that life is beautiful and that you can love another, and that you can give in to love. You can give in to a relationship and warmth and the arms of another person.

Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread (2017)

The film’s initial situation of an older man dominating a younger woman broadly echoes some of the stories that have come out in the #MeToo movement. Have you any thoughts about actors who have spoken about their experiences?

I found it interesting to think about it from the perspective of the film because it’s something I didn’t really think before. I respect Alma so much because she doesn’t really need the recognition or the approval, and this makes us strong, which is something we don’t talk about in this conversation we’re having about harassment. If a woman is not seeking this approval, this is a strength that’s stronger than anything, and you don’t then have to fight your ground, you just take your ground.

What I like about the movie is that it’s about a dance between a man and a woman. It’s not about who’s stronger and it’s not about who will win. Once we get past this idea of “are the men stronger or the women?” and just accept that men and women are ultimately completely different and completely opposite and will never be the same – until we understand and accept that – we can then have the conversation, the real conversation we really need. That’s when it will be interesting.

Lesley Manville (Cyril Woodcock)

Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread (2017)

It’s a film of glances and body language. How much of this was already in the script, and how much of that did you come up with on set?

I had six, seven months for her to cook before the film started shooting. Although I had thoughts and ideas, nothing was set, and Paul likes to keep it like that because he comes to life when you start filming. Cyril really did emerge quite organically through shooting scenes where I would do some takes where I would find a real stillness, and then Paul would say: “Yeah that’s great, let’s keep doing that.” This person who is quite rod-like and can do so much with just one flicker of the eyes.

What was the mood on set while you were shooting?

It was very focused, very calm, easy, convivial. There was humour, but what was refreshing was… normally what happens is between takes the can be this eruption of noise, everybody talking loudly and doing their job and making a few phone calls or texting. None of that happened, and I really welcomed that.

Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread (2017)

You mention the humour…

We weren’t aware of that when we were doing it, because you’re just playing the characters, and the bits that are funny are the ways they’re behaving – how ridiculous they’re being, how dogged they’re being, whatever it is.

But Paul’s terrible. Sometimes he just can’t control himself. There are a couple of scenes of mine where he just creases up with laughter and had to leave the room in the middle of the take, which is hopeless because he goes in the next room but you can still hear him.

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