“Inherent Vice” marks the second time Joaquin Phoenix has teamed up with director Paul Thomas Anderson — they previously collaborated on 2013’s “The Master” — and this one couldn’t be more different. For one thing, it’s an adaptation of a novel by notoriously elusive and verbose author Thomas Pynchon, and for another it features a twisty, hazy detective novel plot centered around Phoenix’s stoner detective, Doc Sportello. But that doesn’t mean Phoenix thinks you should smoke up yourself before watching.
Are you worried about some people finding the plot of this hard to follow? Do you have advice for people about how to watch it?
I would say that it’s a movie to be experienced. Like, I think that if you’re sitting there and trying to figure it out, I think you’re going to miss a lot of the beauty of the film. It really is something where the texture of the movie, the tone of it is such a wonderful experience, it’s just this haze. I remember when I was done watching it, I didn’t realize how much I’d been transported into this other world because Paul just lulls you into this state. It’s so subtle how he brings you into it. And so I think the best experience is to just go along for the ride and not try to figure it all out. But I don’t know, the cool thing about movies is everybody has a different way of watching them and experiencing them.
Would you suggest people get stoned before they see it?
Um … I don’t know, I don’t think so. Because I feel like the movie gives you that feeling, do you know what I mean? So I wouldn’t suggest it.
So, I have to ask: Yes or no, is Pynchon in the film?
I don’t know. I really don’t know. It’s funny because I feel like kind of a d— now, but I never asked. Like, I just assumed that he wasn’t around. My publicist showed me something where Josh [Brolin] had said that he was around or that he showed up, and I was like, “How did Josh know?” I felt a little bit left out, like did Paul tell Josh and didn’t tell me? (laughs) But no, I never asked. It just never occurred to me that he would be. I know that wasn’t a yes or no answer, but I really don’t know.
How does it differ coming into a project when you have something as dense as this novel to refer to versus just a script?
It’s weird because there’s times when it’s really helpful and then there’s times when it’s really frustrating, because there’s things that you loved so much in the book you want to get into the film but you just can’t. There’s a lot of characters that were just left out. But obviously the more information you have, the better. It’s just tough for me. It was a bit of a struggle because I wanted to remain confused and naive about the story — which isn’t difficult to do. You’d have to read it, like, a hundred times like Paul did to really get your head around it. But I always wanted to remain in that state, and it’s something that Paul really stirred up. He would combine certain characters or take dialogue from one character and apply it to another, just stir everything up and create this sense of confusion where I didn’t really know what was what.
Is there a difference in the dynamic you have with him since working together on the “The Master”?
There’s probably a difference, but everything is different. The whole tone of this was different. This felt much more open in a way, you know what I mean? When we worked on “The Master” it felt so intimate.
Do you have any sense of when you might work with him again?
No, but I’d love to. I hope I work with him many, many times.
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter: @nedrick