Paul Thomas Anderson has frequently chosen to set his films amongst Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, where he grew up, making the location a character of its own. From 1999’s Magnolia to his most recent Licorice Pizza (2021), Anderson utilises the valley’s rich entertainment history, (Warner Bros Studio and Walt Disney Studios can both be found here) as the perfect backdrop for his complex and oftentimes eccentric characters.
The San Fernando Valley became the central hub for the adult entertainment industry in the 1970s, leading to it being dubbed ‘Porn Valley’ or ‘San Pornando Valley.’ There could be no better place for Anderson to film his second feature film Boogie Nights (1997), which featured a star-studded ensemble cast, including Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The film chronicles the rise and fall of Wahlberg’s Eddie Adams – later turned Dirk Diggler – a young nightclub dishwasher that transforms into one of the biggest names in the porn industry. Based on a short film Anderson had written in 1988, entitled The Dirk Diggler Story, Boogie Nights launched Anderson into mainstream consciousness, earning much critical praise.
The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress for Julianne Moore, and Best Supporting Actor for Burt Reynolds. The San Francisco Chronicle labelled Boogie Nights as “the first great film about the 1970s to come out since the ’70s.” The success of the film only set Anderson up for greater success, and since then he has continuously delivered such masterpieces as There Will Be Blood (2007) and Phantom Thread (2017).
Wild stories from behind the scenes of ‘Boogie Nights’:
Anderson originally wanted to make the film even longer and more explicit
Anderson loves to make a lengthy film – his longest being Magnolia (1999), clocking in at three hours and eight minutes. However, before Boogie Nights, he had only made one film – Hard Eight (1996), which was a modest 102 minutes long. He had bigger ambitions for this second feature, stating that he wanted it to be over three hours, as well as rated NC-17, meaning that no under 18s could even be allowed into the theatre.
Producer Michael De Luca made a compromise with the director – the film could be over three hours long or NC-17, but not both – otherwise there would be much difficulty in securing commercial success. Anderson settled on making Boogie Nights over three hours and rated R (under 18s accompanied by an adult), however, the final cut of the film only managed to reach two hours and 35 minutes. In fact, 40 seconds of cut footage was the difference between the film being given an R rating over an NC-17 rating.
There were countless Hollywood stars considered for the film
It is hard to imagine Boogie Nights without the characters we know and love, all played magnificently by their actors. The film is laden with stars, however, there were countless big names that were almost cast instead. The incredible performance Philip Seymour Hoffman gives playing the eccentric yet loveable boom operator Scotty J was almost given to Jack Black. However, it is hard to imagine how different this character would be if it wasn’t for the incredulous portrayal given by Hoffman, who makes such a small character one of the most memorable.
Dirk Diggler is played excellently by Mark Wahlberg, however other actors considered for the role included Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Ethan Hawke, and Ben Affleck. Similarly, Burt Reynold’s Jack Horner was offered to Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Albert Brooks, and Jack Nicholson, yet they all turned down the role. Don Cheadle’s Buck was initially offered to Samuel L. Jackson, and Rollergirl played by Heather Graham was also offered to Gwyneth Paltrow.
Diggler’s rather massive member was actually made of rubber
Near the end of the film, Dirk Diggler’s massive member is finally revealed to the audience, after countless allusions to the sheer enormity of its size. Looking in the mirror, Dirk unveils his penis, however, what we see is a prosthetic, made of biodegradable rubber. Very kindly, Anderson allowed Wahlberg to keep the rather large prop, which he claims to keep in a safe.
Speaking about the prosthetic, Wahlberg said: “It’s locked away in a safe, it’s far too valuable. What would my kids say if they saw that thing?” before joking that if he misbehave he may have to retrieve it from his safe and “slap them in the head with it.” He also describes how awkward it was to get the prosthetic fitted, as well as uncomfortable to wear.
Paul Thomas Anderson and Burt Reynolds clashed on set
Despite his stellar performance as Jack Horner, Reynolds and Anderson actually struggled to get along behind the scenes. In 2015, Reynolds claimed that Anderson was “young and full of himself” and has also been said to have called him a “punk kid” while being directed. Reynolds is also claimed to have thrown a punch at Anderson, but it didn’t turn into a proper fight, according to John Wildermuth, an assistant director on the film.
Looking back, Anderson believes that the tension between the two was beneficial for the filming of Reynold’s scenes, claiming that it aided some of the film’s most difficult scenes. Anderson stated that “It was the middle of summer, it was really hot, and we were all stuck together in that house for a long time, and things were just — they were heated.” Despite Anderson requesting for Reynolds to appear in his next film Magnolia, he turned down the offer.
Dirk Diggler is based on a real-life porn star
Despite the film being based upon the real Golden Age of Porn that took place in the 1970s, it is sometimes hard to believe that the eccentricity of the events and characters we see on screen have their roots in real-life. In fact, Anderson based the character of Dirk Diggler on a real-life porn star, John Holmes, one of the industry’s most prolific actors, with over five hundred and 73 film credits to his name.
Anderson shot his original short, The Dirk Diggler Story, as a parody of Exhausted: John C. Holmes, The Real Story, a documentary about the adult entertainment star. Just like the character of Diggler, Holmes was well-known for his unusually large penis, and even the character of Amber Waves, played by Julianne Moore, is based on adult film star Seka, who had a relationship with Holmes.