In The Master, Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the charismatic founder of a spiritual movement he invented after World War II. His group claims to help practitioners free themselves from traumatic life experiences. Oh, and a boat is involved.
But Hoffman’s character, Lancaster Dodd, is definitely not a thinly-veiled version of L. Ron Hubbard. And his movement is definitely, definitely not a slightly altered spin on Scientology. Nope. Not at all.
The Oscar-winning actor said as much — early and often — in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal. In fact, he’d really appreciate if everyone would just stop it with all the Scientology stuff: “It’s not a Scientology movie. It’s something else,” he told writer Rachel Dodes. And that’s pretty much all he would say, despite Dodes’ efforts to, you know, interview him:
The man who was Capote gave similarly short answers when asked if he prepared for his role by reading New Age self-help books (“There was no reason to”), whether there was a lot of improvising on set (“Not so much”), and if it was “unusual” to be around somebody as unhinged as Joaquin Phoenix’s character (“No. I mean, a lot of people are unhinged. I’ve worked with a lot of characters that are unhinged. I’ve played characters that are unhinged. That’s, like, my job”).
The reporter’s desperate last resort: “Is there anything else you wanted to add about the film?”
“No,” said Hoffman.
So why is PSH so reluctant to discuss The Master‘s inspiration, even though director Paul Thomas Anderson has admitted the Hubbard connection? Maybe he’s trying to avoid offending Magnolia costar Tom Cruise. Maybe he resents how the Scientology angle has overshadowed the film itself — a legitimate concern. But until more people see The Master, it’ll be tough for us to focus on other aspects of the movie.