Actors shine in Venice film based on Scientology

Sat Sep 1, 2012 12:08pm EDT
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By Silvia Aloisi and Mike Collett-White

VENICE (Reuters) - Philip Seymour Hoffman shines as a cult leader in "The Master", a compelling new film inspired by the real life of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard about how power and faith can corrupt.

The movie, from "There Will Be Blood" director Paul Thomas Anderson, has its world premiere at the Venice film festival on Saturday and with the Weinstein Company behind it as U.S. distributor, Oscar nominations look like a decent bet.

It was labeled "controversial" months before release mainly because of parallels with Scientology, a self-described religion followed by some of Hollywood's biggest names that has a reputation for carefully guarding its image.

Its detractors describe the movement as a cult, which they say harasses people who seek to quit, although the movement rejects the criticism.

Anderson confirmed that Hoffman's character Lancaster Dodd, a charismatic, charming and controlling man who leads a faith named "The Cause", was based on Hubbard, who died in 1986.

"It's a character that I created based on L. Ron Hubbard. There are a lot of similarities with the early days of Dianetics," he told reporters after a press screening, referring to the self-help system that Hubbard developed into Scientology.

"I don't really know a whole lot about Scientology, particularly now, but I do know a lot about the beginning of that movement and it inspired me to use it as a backdrop for these characters."

He added that he had shown the film to Tom Cruise, a follower of Scientology who starred in Anderson's 1999 drama "Magnolia".   Continued...

U.S. actors Philip Seymour Hoffman (R) and Joaquin Phoenix pose during a photocall for the movie "The Master" at the 69th Venice Film Festival September 1, 2012. REUTERS/Tony Gentile