Roman Coppola and Wes Anderson are developing into quite the team. Coppola first served as a second unit director on Anderson’s 2004 film, “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.” In Anderson’s next film, “The Darjeeling Limited,” Coppola produced, co-wrote and returned to second unit duties. Along the way, Anderson discussed the idea of a film about a boy on an island who gets in a canoe and runs away. That seedling began to take shape after ‘Darjeeling’, starting off from a series of conversations between Coppola and Anderson.
Set in 1965 on a small island off the coast of New England, “Moonrise Kingdom” is about a precocious, highly intelligent orphan named Sam (Jared Gilman) who falls in love with a young lady named Suzy (Kara Hayward). The two make a pact to run away and live together in the great outdoors. The disappearance of the two youngsters sends the islanders into a tizzy to find them. The colorful character list includes the leader of Sam’s Khaki Scout Troup, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton); the local Sheriff (Bruce Willis); and Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). The supporting cast includes Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman and Harvey Keitel. Like all of Wes Anderson’s films, giving a synopsis doesn’t really do the film justice. His quirky, highly visual style is one always better experienced than described.
Coppola spoke with The Playlist last week to explain how the project came together and what his process with Anderson is like. Here are some highlights from our interview.
On being the “rescuer” of “Moonrise Kingdom”
Wes Anderson has referred to Roman Coppola as the “rescuer” of “Moonrise Kingdom” when discussing the co-writer’s involvement in the project. “Well that’s nice,” Coppola responds when asked about the quote. We asked Coppola to further elaborate on how he came to be involved.
“Wes had the kernel of this idea prior to ‘Darjeeling Limited’ as I remember. After that film was finished, he began to work on it in earnest and I would check in with him, ‘Oh, how’s that island project going?’ He was starting to lay it out, but when he got to about ten pages of script, he was kind of stuck,” Coppola explained. “I was a little disappointed because I was like, ‘What’s next? What happens after that?’ So it started out really more as a friend asking him questions like, ‘You’ve got this kid in a canoe, he ran away. What do his parents think?’ And Wes says, ‘I don’t think he has parents.’ And then there were questions like, ‘Is he an orphan? Where did he live prior to this?’ And you start to go through these questions and it just kind of got unlocked. In a couple of weeks, it just clicked and we started riffing. Sometimes you just get on a roll and you have that gestation of all that raw material and you can kind of fly. We just had a good rapport to define what it was going to be.”
Comparing the process to “Darjeeling Limited”
Coppola says the writing process with Anderson on “Moonrise Kingdom” was quite different from that of “The Darjeeling Limited.” “On ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, I only visited the set briefly because I was excited to see it come to life,” Coppola told us. “I didn’t participate in the actual production of it. Although Wes would include me by sending me images and it was cool to see it unfold. With ‘Darjeeling’ Jason [Schwartzman] and Wes and I kind of assumed were brothers. I was the middle brother, Peter, Wes was the eldest and Jason was Jason’s character. We knew we wanted to make a movie about three brothers trying to connect going on this experience together and kind of pushing things to try to feel something. So we would get together and go have dinner, walk around. We went to India together and we made a pact that any time we see a church we’re just going to go in. We just kind of assumed our characters and then we had all this material that we wove into the story. It was different in that way that we kind of grew it all together through acting it out.”
Finding the children and the unlikely performance from Ed Norton
Working with kids may be difficult for some, but Wes Anderson has never shied away from younger actors. “There was a big search for the kids,” says Coppola. “Wes had been through that before when he did ‘Rushmore‘. Ultimately he found Jason who was right in our back yard, literally. But there was a big search to find the kids for ‘Moonrise’. Wes would show me little clips to get my opinion. I have such a trust of Wes’ eye. Jared, as the boy, I think Wes liked his glasses, which isn’t something that remains. It’s just a feeling, you know?”
In the case of casting Ed Norton against type, Coppola says it was more of a feeling he and Anderson had about seeing the actor as Scout Master Ward. “That was something we talked about and I was excited about that. We watched different movies. We watched ‘American History X’, which is such a different role. Some of the characters, like Jason or Bill, it’s kind of a given quite early on. Where as some of the other characters like Bruce Willis, it was like, ‘Oh wow, do you think Bruce Willis would do this?’”
The films that inspired “Moonrise Kingdom”
“Wes is an avid film watcher and so often when we’re together he’ll put a movie on in the evening. For ‘Darjeeling’, there were a few. We watched [Jean Renoir‘s] ‘The River’ and there were a few films that were touchstones. For ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ I remember watching some movies but nothing that was really part of what defined it. But certain Truffaut pictures and whatnot were in the back of our minds with regards to the kind of more sophisticated younger people.”
On teaming with Wes Anderson again
Although there are no current plans to work together again as Coppola finishes up work on his next feature film “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III” and Anderson starts to work on an unnamed new project, it’s hard to imagine their shared sensibilities won’t lead to another team-up. “You know, we’re friends and colleagues and we enjoy each other’s company,” says Coppola. “I was just with him this morning. He’s cooking up a new project and I’m finishing this film I just made. There’s no real plans or talk about what’s next, but we have a great rapport and it’s fun to be together so I’m sure they’ll be some new things that will bubble up.”
“Moonrise Kingdom” is now playing in limited release.