TIME: Have you seen The Master?
Joaquin Phoenix: I’ve seen a rough version, with no score. I thought it was a comedy. I did! I laughed the entire time I was watching it. I was sitting with Paul and I said to him, “This is hilarious.” I have this horrible sense of humor where I think discomfort is funny—partly because I experience discomfort a lot, and it’s a way of laughing at it and getting a release.
There’s an incredible scene in which Freddie has to answer a barrage of questions from Dodd, without pausing or blinking, becoming increasingly agitated. I’ve seen the movie twice, and both times you could feel the entire audience let out their breath when Dodd finally says, “Close your eyes.” How did you, Paul, and Philip prepare for that scene?
Magicians don’t talk about how their tricks work, because people would go, [affects prim, nasally tone] “Oh, that’s all you do?” [laughs] No, we work very hard! We are working. Very. Hard. Paul set up two cameras to capture us from both sides, so we could be in the moment and not be worried about shooting the one side and then re-lighting and shooting from the other side. That made a huge difference. We spent the most amount of time on the very last bit, when Phil smokes a cigarette and says, “I like Kools.” I started laughing every time he said “I like Kools” and kept blowing the take. And then you’d hear Paul start laughing and I’d start laughing again. It’s funny to think of it as an intense scene, because my memory of it is just uncontrollable laughter.