Dillon Freasier (who plays H.W. Plainview, the son of the character played by Daniel Day-Lewis) was not an actor; he was an elementary student near the film's West Texas shooting location. On the radio program "Fresh Air with Terry Gross," Paul Thomas Anderson told Gross that when the production was trying to convince Dillon's mother to allow Dillon to be in the movie, his mother wanted to figure out who Day-Lewis was, so she rented a copy of Gangs of New York (2002) (in which Day-Lewis plays a murderous gang leader nicknamed "The Butcher"). She panicked at the idea of her son spending time with the man she saw in that movie, so the 'There Will Be Blood' casting department rushed to her a copy of The Age of Innocence (1993), in which Day-Lewis plays a civilized and gentle man.
While on location in Marfa, Texas, No Country for Old Men (2007) was the neighboring film production. One day, Paul Thomas Anderson and his crew tested the pyrotechnical effects of the oil derrick fire, causing an enormous billowing of smoke, intruding the shot that Joel Coen and Ethan Coen were shooting. This caused them to delay filming until the next day when the smoke dissipated. Both this film and No Country for Old Men (2007) would eventually become the leading contenders at the Academy Awards a year and a half later.
The infamous "I drink your milk-shake!" is, in part, a real quote. Paul Thomas Anderson found the metaphor in congressive transcripts from the 1920s Teapot Dome scandal, in which New Mexico Republican Senator Albert Fall was convicted of accepting bribes for oil drilling rights to various lands. According to Anderson, "I think it was Albert Fall, who was asked to describe drainage before Congress. And his way of describing it was, 'If you have a milkshake and I have a milkshake, and my straw reaches across the room ...' I'm sure I embellished it and changed it around and made it more Plainview. But Fall used the word milkshake, and I thought it was so great. It was mad to see that word among all this official testimony and terminology - a fucking milkshake. I get so happy every time I hear that word."
Daniel Day-Lewis accepted the role of Daniel Plainview as he had been a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson's previous film, Punch-Drunk Love (2002). According to Producer JoAnne Sellar, the film might not even have been made at all if Day-Lewis declined the role.
Daniel Day-Lewis improvised the speech he gives to the citizens of Little Boston, about building schools, bringing bread to the town, etc. Paul Thomas Anderson says of this, "It was delicious. It was Plainview on a platter."
In an interview on the National Public Radio program "Fresh Air with Terry Gross," Paul Dano told Gross that he had originally been cast in the much smaller role of Paul Sunday, Eli's brother, and another actor had been cast as Eli. However, after Dano had already started filming his one scene as Paul Sunday, Paul Thomas Anderson decided to replace the actor playing Eli. Anderson then asked Dano to play Eli Sunday (a much bigger role) as well as Paul Sunday, and they decided to change the film to make the brothers identical twins. Anderson asked Dano to play Eli on a Thursday, and filming for the role began four days later, on the next Monday. Daniel Day-Lewis, by contrast, had a whole year to prepare to play Daniel Plainview.
Daniel Day-Lewis appears in every scene of the film, with two minor exceptions - he is not present in the scene where Paul Sunday (still covered in mud) berates his father, or in the brief montage of H.W. and Mary Sunday leading up to their marriage.
Along with his win in 1989, Daniel Day-Lewis became only the Eighth actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor twice; the others are Fredric March (1932, 1946), Jack Nicholson (1975, 1997), Marlon Brando (1954, 1972), Gary Cooper (1941, 1952), Tom Hanks (1993, 1994), Dustin Hoffman (1979, 1988) and Spencer Tracy (1937, 1938). Sean Penn (2003, 2008) later became the ninth member of this club.
According to a 2007 interview with Paul Dano on the N.P.R. show "Fresh Air with Terry Gross", the scene where Plainview is baptized by Eli (where Eli slaps him several times) was shot the day after the scene in which Plainview threatens to bury Eli (and slaps him around).
Director Paul Thomas Anderson owns a vintage 1910 Pathe camera which contains a special forty-three millimetre lens. The lens was specially modified to be used in the film as it has very low resolution and can shift colors at corners. Only certain shots of the film used this lens; for example a shot of Plainview sleeping in the train with an infant H.W.
According to Paul Thomas Anderson, the director and crew were "pretty loose about where scenes would take place." This sometimes meant filming scenes three or four different times in different locations, and evaluating the result each time.
Daniel Plainview bears some resemblance to a real, early twentieth-century California oil tycoon named Edward L. Doheny. Both were from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin; both were employed by Geological Survey and worked in Kansas; both tried a hand at mining before going into the oil business; and both worked with a fellow prospector named "H. B. Ailman." As for other Plainview-Doheny connections, the bowling alley scene in 'There Will Be Blood' was filmed at Greystone Manor, a California estate Doheny built as a present for his only son. Also interestingly, the infamous "milk-shake speech" Plainview gives is based on transcripts of congressive hearings concerning the Teapot Dome Scandal, in which the very same Edward L. Doheny had been accused of bribing a political official.
Daniel Day-Lewis based his voice for and characterization of Daniel Plainview in part on old recordings of the director, writer, and actor John Huston. An article by Christopher Goodwin in the Sunday Times (of London) revealed Paul Thomas Anderson sent Day-Lewis documentaries about Huston while Day-Lewis was preparing to play the role.
Paul Thomas Anderson planned to have the restored bowling alley (used at the climax) located at the Greystone Mansion to be entirely painted in white to give some Kubrick symmetry and menacing quality (also a nod to A Clockwork Orange (1971)). However, he changed it to its original state when it was later decided that the bowling alley was to be given away for ownership after filming.
The $500 given to Paul Sunday by Daniel Plainview are 1882 series $100 gold certificates, which is appropriate because they contain a picture of Thomas Heart Benton. Benton was a senator from Missouri from 1821 to 1851 who was a staunch advocate of westward expansion.
Daniel Plainview was modeled loosely after famous oil man Edward Doheny and his characteristics were based on Count Dracula. Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills was used at the end of the film; this house was built by Doheny for his son, Edward L. Doheny, Jr. (Ned).
The town of Marfa near the Texas-Mexico border was used to simulate Bakersfield, California. A reason to support the use of the town is that there are many abandoned shafts dug at the early twentieth century. One of the shafts used in the film is a deep shaft, sixty to seventy feet that connects to a mechanically dug perpendicular tunnel at the bottom. Other sets like the church where built from there.
The instantly famous milkshake monologue Daniel has at the end of the movie comes straight from the congressional transcripts of the 1920s "Teapot Dome" scandal, in which New Mexico Republican Senator Albert Fall was convicted of accepting bribes for the oil-drilling rights to public lands in California and Wyoming from several oil-industry fat cats (including Edward Doheny). The scandal was Sinclair's inspiration for the novel, and Edward Doheny was Anderson's inspiration for Daniel Plainview.
The film was originally given a 12A rating in the U.K. for cinema exhibition, meaning that children of any age could see it, with adult supervision if they were younger than twelve years. In a curious move, the distributors subsequently appealed to the British Board of Film Classification to consider raising the certificate. The B.B.F.C. agreed, and the film was subsequently uprated to a more restrictive 15, preventing those younger than fifteen years from being admitted to screenings regardless of parental supervision.
In the summer of '06, during filming, a photographer took an on-set photograph of a man the photographer believed to be Daniel Day-Lewis, albeit with a great deal of physical alterations. The photograph appeared used on various film web-sites and in magazines as an example of how drastically Day-Lewis had changed himself for the role. Upon viewing the film and applying common sense, it turns out, this person was not, in fact, Daniel Day-Lewis; rather it was actor Vince Froio, who portrayed Plainview's "closest associate" at the end of the film.
Although the script is based on the Upton Sinclair novel, Paul Thomas Anderson used only the first hundred and fifty pages for a big portion of the material. The rest was contrived. The novel's setting was in 1920s but it was moved to the beginning of the oil boom in California.
Several characters seen or mentioned in 'There Will Be Blood' seem to have been based on historical figures. Though his name is never spoken during the film, Plainview's business partner H. B. Ailman shares the name of an actual prospector and oil man who was active during the turn of the century and associates with oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny, on whom Daniel Plainview seems to have been partly based. The two Standard Oil representatives "H. M. Tilford" and "J. J. Carter" who meet with Plainview are based on historical oil men: Henry Morgan Tilford was once vice-president of the Standard Oil Company during the turn of the century, while John Joyce Carter's Carter Oil Company was incorporated and subsidized by Standard Oil (New Jersey) in the 1890s. At one point in the film, the name "A. C. Maude" is stated as a property holder in Little Boston; the actual A. C. Maude was a prominent community member of Bakersfield, California during the late 1800s; Bakersfield is located in Kern County, where over 80% of California's oil wells are found. The name "Redlick" is also stated as a Little Boston property holder; Joseph Redlick was also a prominent community member of Bakersfield during the early 1900s.
Paul F. Tompkins, who plays Prescott, is the only member of the cast to have appeared in a previous film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. He had a small role in Magnolia (1999) that was cut from the finished film. The rest of the cast had never worked with Anderson before.
Two traditional Christian hymns are heard during the film, both sung by Eli Sunday's Little Boston congregation. The first is "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," which is heard preceding the scene in which Eli tells Plainview he will bless the oil well. The second is "There is Power in the Blood" which is sung immediately after Plainview's baptism.
The piece "Convergence" during the oil derrick fire was originally composed by Jonny Greenwood for the film Bodysong (2003), and is available on the sound-track for that film, but not 'There Will Be Blood'.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The script originally ended with Plainview bludgeoning Eli to death with a tumbler, instead of a bowling pin, and then throwing his body through the bowling pins into the cellar beyond. Once on set, it was changed to the slightly less graphic version seen in the film.
During the 1927 wedding scene of H. W. Plainview and Mary Sunday, the Priest is heard reciting the Biblical story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. His quotations are from the book of John, chapter four, verses 14-15, "But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. The woman saith unto him, 'Sir, give me this water, that I [shall] thirst not, neither come hither to draw.'"