When Paul Thomas Anderson studied with David Foster Wallace

Paul Thomas Anderson with Martin Short on the set of "Inherent Vice."
Paul Thomas Anderson with Martin Short on the set of “Inherent Vice.”
(Wilson Webb / Associated Press)

Paul Thomas Anderson says the first teacher he fell in love with was David Foster Wallace.

The novelist who would go on to write “Infinite Jest” taught an English class at Emerson College in the early 1990s. Anderson, who would go on to direct the films “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” and most recently “Inherent Vice,” was one of his students.

“David Foster Wallace, who was a great writer who was not known then, was my teacher; he was an English teacher. And I, you know, that was the first teacher I fell in love with,” he told Marc Maron on the comedian’s podcast, “WTF.”

Asked by Maron whether he spent a lot of time with Wallace, who died in 2008, Anderson replied, “No, just in class. I called him once. He was very generous with his phone number. He said, ‘Call me if you got any questions.’ I called him a couple of times. I ran a few ideas by him about this paper that I was writing ... on Don DeLillo’s ‘White Noise.’ And I’d come up with a couple crazy ideas. ... I just remember him being real generous at, like, midnight, the night before it was due.”

Anderson, an English major, left Emerson before graduating. He never lost his love for literature, though -- he wrote and directed “There Will Be Blood,” loosely based on the book “Oil!” by Upton Sinclair.


His newest film, “Inherent Vice,” is adapted from a novel by Thomas Pynchon. Anderson dodged questions from Maron about the reclusive author, saying, “Somebody spent a long time saying, ‘Keep me out of it,’ so I’m keeping [him] out of it, out of pure, pure respect.” He did say that Pynchon had given him his blessing to make the movie. When asked what the film is about, he responded, “It’s about Pynchon.”

Anderson also confessed that he hasn’t read one of Pynchon’s most famous works. “I still haven’t gotten to ‘Gravity’s Rainbow,’” he told Maron. “It’s nice to have it lying around the house. It makes you look smart. I need to try it again, and I think I could now. He’s got a way of writing that makes you think he knows things that we don’t know.”