In 2007, Paul Thomas Anderson released There Will Be Blood, which is arguably his best movie to date. With a focus on tycoon Daniel Plainview, a performance that earned Daniel Day-Lewis his second of three Academy Awards, the movie chronicled the American oil boom of the 20th Century while also giving audiences some of the most memorable scenes and breathtaking cinematic experiences.
Before There Will Be Blood became one of the most decorated films of the early 21st Century and left audiences yelling “I drink your milkshake,” Anderson spent years getting the project off the ground and nearly as much time getting everything right with the timeless classic. Below, we will break down some of the most fascinating behind-the-scenes facts that make the movie all the more interesting…
Paul Thomas Anderson First Noticed Upton Sinclair’s Oil! Because The Book’s Cover Made Him ‘Homesick’ For California
There Will Be Blood is an adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s 1926 muckraking novel, Oil!, which chronicled the fictional Ross family (who were based on various titans of industry of the era) as they become successful yet greedy figures in the California oil boom. When speaking to the New York Times Magazine ahead of the film’s release, Paul Thomas Anderson revealed he was first drawn to the novel at a London bookstore because it had a painting of California on the cover, saying he was “homesick.” After reading it, Anderson began the arduous process of adapting the first 150 pages into the eventual award-winning film.
While Writing There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson Repeatedly Watched The Treasure Of Sierra Madre For Inspiration
Even though There Will Be Blood was released in 2007, the film very much feels like a Western epic that would have come out in the early-to-mid 20th Century, and there’s a reason for that. Shortly after the film’s release, Paul Thomas Anderson told the Guardian newspaper that he watched John Huston’s 1948 Academy Award winner, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, multiple times when penning his script. The director revealed he was attempting to achieve economy in storytelling similar to what Huston achieved, unlike some of Anderson’s earlier works, like Magnolia, which were far more complicated.
Despite Having Never Met The Actor, Paul Thomas Anderson Wrote The Daniel Plainview Role For Daniel Day-Lewis
Paul Thomas Anderson always had Daniel Day-Lewis in mind for the role of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, even when he was first writing the script years before the movie came out. Even though Anderson had never met Day-Lewis prior to this, the director did find a way to approach him, as he told AV Club in early 2008 when asked if he just sent the script as a shot in the dark:
Anderson went on to say he would have found a way to approach Day-Lewis about the movie without that knowledge, but the revelation was encouraging.
Daniel Day-Lewis Read Letters From Oilmen And Looked At Old Photographs To Prepare For There Will Be Blood
To prepare for the role of an oil man in There Will Be Blood, Daniel Day-Lewis read various letters written by men working and living in the oilfields from the early 20th Century. When speaking with LA Weekly in late 2007, Day-Lewis revealed the letters were “full of sentimentality, full of love and loss,” and helped him get a better understanding of someone in that position.
Day-Lewis, who was known as an intense method actor before his 2017 retirement, also laughed at the rumor spreading at the time that he had constructed an oil derrick at his Irish estate to get into character.
The Actor Originally Hired To Play Eli Sunday Was Fired Weeks Into Production
Eli Sunday has become one of Paul Dano’s most iconic characters, but the role was originally held by a completely different actor, and Dano was only supposed to appear in the small role of Eli’s brother, Paul Sunday. Up until a few weeks into production of There Will Be Blood, a former actor by the name of Kel O’Neill played the charismatic preacher who became Daniel Plainveiw’s foil. But as O’Neil revealed to Vulture years after the fact, he was brought into a meeting with Paul Thomas Anderson and producer JoAnne Sellar after a portion of his scenes were filmed and let go.
O’Neill stressed in the interview that his dismissal from the picture wasn’t due to a bad working relationship with Daniel Day-Lewis but instead because of his own shortcomings and a failure on his side.
Paul Dano Had Only A Few Days To Prepare For The Role Of Eli Sunday Before He Started Filming
After Kel O’Neill was let go from the project, the role of Eli Sunday went to Paul Dano. But since the movie was already in production and several of the scenes involving the character were already filmed, Dano didn’t have long to prepare himself for the undertaking. When speaking with IndieWire in 2013, Dano revealed he had no more than four days to get ready for when he was set to start filming his scenes. The actor explained that he just threw himself into the role and gave everything he had to give the best possible performance as the corrupt fire-and-brimstone preacher.
The Camera Crew Used The Lens From A 1910 Camera To Shoot Several Scenes
Not only did Paul Thomas Anderson prepare for There Will Be Blood by watching old movies, he even used nearly 100-year-old equipment to capture a certain look throughout his magnum opus. This included using the lens from a 1910 Pathé camera the director had bought for a few key scenes during the production of Magnolia nearly a decade earlier. When speaking with the American Society of Cinematographers, lens maker Dan Sasaki recalled taking the 43mm lens from the century-old camera and making a few modifications so that director of photography Robert Elswit could capture several shots with it throughout the movie. Sasaki explained that one of the scenes to use the lens was the one featuring Daniel and an infant H.W. Plainview on a train, saying that the lens created a cool effect with the colors and lighting.
There Will Be Blood And No Country For Old Men Were Filmed In Marfa, Texas, At The Same Time
The 80th Academy Awards were highlighted by There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men, two movies that received eight nominations apiece, including Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actor. But the relationship of two of the best movies of 2007 goes back further than the February 2008 ceremony. In fact, both movies shot in the same small West Texas town, at the same time, for a little more than a year year.
Shortly before Oscars ceremony, NPR visited that town, Marfa, Texas, and chatted with local residents who ended up being in the productions after everything was said and done. One thing of note in the interview, though never confirmed, was talk of the movies being in such close proximity to each other that production on No Country For Old Men had to stop one day because the shot was ruined by oil wells from There Will Be Blood in the background.
The Iconic Oil Derrick Explosion Scene Was Pulled Off Mostly With Practical Effects
Director of Photography Robert Elswit won one of There Will Be Blood’s two Oscars for his work behind the camera, and that win can be attributed to the way he shot the film’s iconic oil derrick explosion scene. When speaking with the American Society of Cinematographers in January 2008, Elswit revealed that he and the production crew capture the scene using mostly practical effects and that only a small portion of the scene included any digital effects, which were handled by Industrial Light and Magic.
The sequence, which Elswit described as “a nightmare,” was supposed to take two days with the derrick being extinguished after the first night of shooting. However, the top part of the derrick couldn’t be extinguished properly and they had to make do with what they had. The next day, Elswit and his team captured matching shots, which created another issue with lighting.
Daniel Plainview’s Mansion Was Built By A Famous Oil Tycoon And Was The Scene Of An Actual Murder
Although the majority of There Will Be Blood takes place in oilfields and expansive landscapes in the American West, the final few scenes take place in Daniel Plainview’s massive Los Angeles estate. This wasn’t a set built on a soundstage somewhere in Hollywood, but instead the Greystone Mansion, a massive home oil tycoon Edward Doheny gifted to his son in 1928.
After the film’s release in December 2007, the Los Angeles Times published a profile on the famous mansion and how Paul Thomas Anderson and his crew fell in love with it. One aspect of the mansion’s history that is very similar to the movie that was filmed there is the fact that it was the scene of an actual murder, when the original owner was killed by his personal secretary not long after moving in. And yes, the subterranean bowling alley where Plainview kills Eli Sunday with a bowling pin was originally part of the home.
After going through all of these behind-the-scenes facts, it’s not hard to see why someone would want to go back and watch There Will Be Blood again. And if you have a Paramount+ subscription, you can do that right now, as the movie is currently one of the best titles on the streaming platform’s robust library.
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Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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