There's no stopping Wes Anderson. After experiencing a minor career setback with the mildly received comedy "The Darjeeling Limited," the filmmaker made a swift recovery with his glorious first stab at animation, "Fantastic Mr. Fox" (recently released onto the Criterion Collection), and followed that up with one of his biggest commercial hits to date, the beloved coming-of-age pic "Moonrise Kingdom."
He's back in theaters this Friday with "The Grand Budapest Hotel," his most ambitious live-action feature to date. If the ecstatic word of mouth following its Berlinale world premiere last month is anything to go by, it stands to be his biggest film yet. Starring a ridiculously esteemed ensemble that includes Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan and Bill Murray, "Budapest" centers on Monsieur Gustave (Fiennes in fine comedic form), the legendary concierge of the film's title.
Indiewire sat down with Anderson in New York to discuss his latest feature, how he worked with his cast, and his real-life friend who inspired Fiennes' character.
At the outset of the film, Tom Wilkinson's character says something along the lines of, "People think that writers are consistently inventing, but by observing characters, by observing people, the characters come to you."
He says something like that... you're paraphrasing, and so was I. I was misquoting Stefan Zweig -- Tom Wilkinson is doing a version of the introduction to this book "Beware of Pity," which is the first Zweig book that I read. And people have asked me, "Do you feel that way?"
Yeah, that's what I wanted to ask you. [laughs]
And my answer is, not particularly. I'm not sure I believe that Stefan Zweig really thought that way. I have no basis for this -- my only thing is, he is the kind of writer who, his stories are very psychological, but they're not necessarily stories from someone who is desperately trying to express, to reveal his demons. He's not some pained, tortured artist. He does turn out to be, and his last book, his memoir, is very much about something he needs to share with the world, but his stories are tales, they're very entertaining and he was hugely popular.
My little theory would be, he put in this introduction because he thought it would set a mood. He probably did it to make the story sound better, to give a thematic concept that he appears to demonstrate. It's a thing he does consistently through his work, some method of saying "Gather 'round, I have a good one for you here." So I wonder -- were people bringing Zwieg stories left and right? I wouldn't be surprised if they weren't.
If he had written the other part and thought, "Maybe I'll do a little intro part, where I say..." whatever it is, another layer of setting it up. Because this thing about a character telling another character his story is very common throughout his short fiction, and it's in his big novel too.
It's a beautiful way to start your movie.
Oh good, good. We lifted straight from him, but Tom Wilkinson did good with it.
You developed the story for "Budapest" with Hugo Guinness, who's a visual artist. I wanted to know how his sensibilities as a visual artist played into the conceptualization of the story, if at all.
Well, it's a couple of things. Hugo and I first started talking about this many years ago, and we have a friend who we were basing it on, so we thought, "Let's make a character based on our friend." But I think, for instance, this boy, this painting "Boy with Apple" [it plays a huge role in the film], it's a very Hugo sort of idea for a painting. And beyond that, I think that Hugo is likely to say something like, "Well, of course he should have a handkerchief with a black edge something or other."
He'll have details of things that I may well have never heard of, because he has a completely different background from me, but I can't really think of those things in the story. He's a wonderful visual artist but he's also very funny. He has a particularly unique way with words and sense of humor and everything, and that's what's in the thing, more than his sense of anything visual -- it's his sense of humor.
Does your friend know that he inspired the film?
Oh yeah, he was always part of the process.
Mind me asking who this friend is?
I don't mind you asking, but you've never heard of him. He's English, and he's in his mid-50s, and he talks like this character. He's sort of an international traveler, but he's not a hotel concierge or anything.
Has he seen the film?
Yes. He's seen it many times, and he's always been very supportive, and he would say, "Oh I would never say that darling, you cannot, you CANNOT have him say that, I would not say it." And at a certain point we had to say, "It's not meant to make you happy, we're just trying to make it funny and, this is not a portrait of you." But yeah, he likes it anyway.
Have you worked that way before? Have you based an entire concept of a film off of somebody you've met or somebody you know well?
Well this one is more particularly one guy. It's been awhile since I've had that, where there's been one main character. It's a big ensemble but still Ralph's character is the main thing. And as always they're a mixture of people, but this one a little more so.