“There Will Be Blood” writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is working on his next project, a period drama to star Philip Seymour Hoffman as a founder of a new religious organization in the 1950s. The project is set up at Universal, which will make a decision about whether to greenlight the pic, with a $35 million budget, once Anderson delivers a finished script.Hoffman, who has played supporting roles in most of Anderson’s past films, this time will be at the center, playing “the Master,” as in “master of ceremonies,” a charismatic intellectual who hatches a faith-based organization that begins to catch on in America in 1952. The core is the relationship between the Master and Freddie, a twentysomething drifter who becomes the leader’s lieutenant. As the faith begins to gain a fervent following, Freddie finds himself questioning the belief system he has embraced, and his mentor.
The drama does not so much scrutinize self-started churches like Scientology or the Mormons, as much as it explores the need to believe in a higher power, the choice of which one to embrace and the point at which a belief system graduates into a religion.
Anderson’s frequent collaborator, JoAnne Sellar, is the producer.
Hoffman made his breakthrough in the cast of Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” and has also appeared in the Anderson-directed “Hard Eight,” “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Magnolia.”
Neither the studio nor reps for Anderson or Hoffman would comment.