Paul Thomas Anderson’s love letter to 1970s San Fernando Valley porn culture put Hollywood on notice about a special talent, one who went on to write and direct such classics as Magnolia, There Will be Blood and The Master. Next up is December’s Phantom Thread, starring Daniel Day Lewis. Until then, enjoy these 11 fascinating facts about the movie and the director about whom film critic Andrew Sarris said: “Not since the mysteriously reclusive Terrence Malick has there been such an explosion of sheer talent on the American movie scene.”
1. The story of Dirk Diggler begins in 1977, the same year that the original Star Wars came out. Everyone remembers Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly) telling Dirk: “You know, people tell me I kind of look like Han Solo.” But there is a much sneakier Star Wars reference, when Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), the cowboy stereo salesman, repeatedly suggests the TK-421 modification. He is referencing the badge number of the stormtrooper that Luke and Han first ambushed on the Death Star: “TK-421, Why aren’t you at your post?”
2. Anderson adapted dialogue from actual pornos for the porn scenes in the film. In fact, he pulled the cast aside prior to shooting and warned them that acting badly during these scenes wouldn’t be easy. Julianne Moore as Amber Waves was the unofficial winner of the bad acting challenge, and she was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
3. The emasculatingly promiscuous wife of Little Bill Thompson (William H. Macy) was played by real-life porn star Nina Hartley: “Go away, Bill. You’re embarrassing me.” On an episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio, Macy recalled that, at the wrap party, Hartley gave the cast presents of her own porno films. The parting gift he received was a copy of Nina Hartley’s Guide to Anal Sex.
4. The wunderkind director (Anderson was in his late 20s at the time) did not at first consider Heather Graham for Rollergirl, because she had never before appeared nude on camera. But Graham’s agent called Anderson inquiring about the part, and she did all her nude scenes on the first day of shooting. In true Rollergirl fashion, she rarely took off her skates while on the set. Fun fact: Gwyneth Paltrow was offered the part but passed out of respect for her relationship with her grandfather.
5. Leonardo DiCaprio was PTA’s first choice to play Dirk Diggler, but DiCaprio declined in favor of Titanic. As luck would have it, Leo recommended his friend Mark Wahlberg, with whom he had recently worked with on The Basketball Diaries. Even though Titanic went on to gross over 2 billion dollars worldwide, DiCaprio later admitted: ”My biggest regret is Boogie Nights. I’m a huge fan of Paul Thomas Anderson, but the first time I met him for that role I hadn’t really seen much of his previous work. Now I love that movie.”
6. In the midst of his failed transition to a singing career, Dirk records a cover of “The Touch.” This song appeared in the animated film The Transformers: The Movie which came out in 1986. Wahlberg would later appear in both Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) and Transformers: The Last Knight (2017). Furthermore, the studio where he was seen recording the song is Sound City, known for producing Rick Springfield’s hit “Jessie’s Girl,” which itself appeared in Boogie Nights.
7. The infamous scene where Buck somehow escapes a robbery that turns into a gruesome triple-homicide was filmed at Miss Donuts on Sherman Way in Reseda. Miss Donuts is still there today and looks very much the same as it did twenty years ago. This is probably good for business considering that customers often come in referring to it as the “Boogie Nights Donut Shop.”
8. Burt Reynolds and Paul Thomas Anderson did not get along. At one point the Smokey and the Bandit star even took a swing at the director. Reynolds would later say: “I think mostly because he was young and full of himself. Every shot we did, it was like the first time [that shot had ever been done]. I remember the first shot we did in Boogie Nights, where I drive the car to Grauman’s Theater. After he said, ‘Isn’t that amazing?’ And I named five pictures that had the same kind of shot. It wasn’t original. But if you have to steal, steal from the best.”
9. The notorious firecracker- and “Sister Christian”-infused attempted drug deal heist involving Dirk, Reed, and Todd (Thomas Jane) that backfires spectacularly is a reference to the notorious Wonderland murders. In 2003, Val Kilmer starred in Wonderland, which focused solely on the story of the murders. The movie was universally panned, receiving a 34 percent composite score on Rotten Tomatoes
10. Anderson had to submit the film to the MPAA for approval no less than 18 times. Each time, he cut a few frames from scenes that the ratings board found too explicit or graphic in order to avoid receiving an NC-17. Amazingly, the difference between an NC-17 and R rating ultimately turned out to be only 45 seconds of film.
11. Electric Light Orchestra lead singer, co-founder and chief maestro Jeff Lynne originally refused “Livin’ Thing” underscore the credits and memorable final scene because he had two young daughters. Upon seeing a screening of the film Lynne immediately changed his mind leaping to his feet and exclaiming: “I don’t like sex and violence in movies but this is the most brilliant fuckin’ move ever!”