Honor Roll is a daily series for December that will feature new or previously published interviews, profiles and first-person stories of some of the year’s most notable cinematic voices. Today, we’re running a new interview with Wes Anderson, whose “Moonrise Kingdom” won Best Feature at the Gotham Awards and is nominated for Best Picture at the Golden Globes.
With Wes Anderson’s last live-action feature, “The Darjeeling Limited,” his lowest-grossing film to date, even the filmmaker’s most ardent fans wouldn’t have guessed that his live-action follow-up (he last helmed the stop-motion animated charmer “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”) would come within a hair’s breadth of topping his breakout smash “The Royal Tenenbaums” at the domestic box-office. As it stands, “Tenenbaums” is still ahead at $52 million vs. “Moonrise”‘s $46-million gross, but the success of Anderson’s latest is nothing to scoff at.
Already one of the most lauded films of the year, with a recent big win at the Gothams, where it beat out “The Master” to nab the Best Feature honor, “Moonrise Kingdom” recently boosted its Oscar prospects by scoring a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture.
Anderson, who’s in the midst of prepping his next comedy, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” starring Ralph Fiennes and Owen Wilson (now that’s a pairing we never saw coming), called in to Indiewire to discuss his remarkable 2012, whether he’d ever consider returning to animation and what separates him from Robert Zemeckis (read on and you’ll understand).
Despite coming out in the early days of summer, “Moonrise Kingdom” has managed to maintain a great amount of momentum going into awards season. Folks love this movie. How would you sum up your 2012 thus far?
I think it’s great. You go through the whole process of making a movie, and you get to the point where it finally goes public, and you have absolutely no idea. I had a movie that did not go over, and even if you feel good about the movie… it doesn’t kill it, but it’s not so much fun. This one, we screened it first at Cannes, and I had never shown the film publicly at all, so I really had no sense of whether any of the jokes were going to play or anything like that. Honestly, at Cannes, they didn’t particularly. It’s not a place you go to get huge laughs or any kind of feedback. I still haven’t really seen the movie with an audience. Shortly after Cannes, I did get the sense that everything would be fine. And that’s just great news, when you spend a few years making this imagined thing, and you just don’t know how it’s going to register with anybody.
What do you think accounts for the film’s success? Do you see it as a crowd-pleaser?
The only reason I would think of it as a crowd pleaser is because it seems to get pretty good reviews and more people went to it. I don’t know why it is or not, because I never made a movie where I was trying to do anything other than give people an experience that I hoped would be exciting, and interesting. I do think that, while it’s been a long time since I’ve made an American movie — and this movie is set in America and it’s very “American” — maybe the youth of the heroes in the story, and their romance… These two kids have some kind of purity about them that seemed interesting to me. Maybe people respond to that.
What initially inspired “Moonrise?” Were you a Boy Scout at all, growing up in Texas?
I gave that one a shot. It didn’t really stick — I wanted to be a Boy Scout, but it wasn’t really in my repertoire at the end of the day. I don’t think I even made it on any camping outings or any of that stuff; I went to a few sessions of the troop meeting, but I never got a rank.
So why make the lead kid, Sam (played by newcomer Jared Gilman) a Boy Scout?
My troop actually was called Troop 55, which is the number of the troop in the movie. I got the uniform, I studied the handbook, I was interested in it, but I just never made a go of it. Maybe that was one part of it.
I was in Indian Guides — which probably isn’t called Indian Guides anymore, I don’t know what they call it. My father, my older brother and I did the Indian Guides, which I actually loved, as a very young kid. That might’ve played into it, but mainly I think… maybe it’s sort of like Norman Rockwell. I did have this sense of setting something in a Norman Rockwell painting. The movie came from a combination of ideas that might or might not have had anything to do with each other. I wanted to make a movie about a romance between very young people; something that was very powerful to them, and something that they couldn’t quite control — something that controlled them. I wanted to make something that was set in the world of children, and I also separately wanted to make a movie that was set on an island, like this one in the story. I put those things together, and then I also thought it could be set in the 1960s and I thought of Norman Rockwell. I think the Scouts just came out of those things getting mixed together.
Is it typically the case for you to distill so many ideas into one film?
I was reading an interview with Tom Stoppard recently, and in it someone asked him about the idea for one of his plays and he said, “There’s never an idea. There’s always, at least, two separate things that it comes from.” I thought that was exactly accurate from my approach; it’s usually something where, somewhere along the way, I say, “I wish I had just picked one,” because now I’ve gotten myself this far down the road and these things don’t really, necessarily, support each other — and if I had just said I was doing this, this is my idea, then nothing else would distract from it. But usually, I have several things that want to be told in different ways and I have to reconcile it all. Often, with movies, they need to be sort of complicated to be interesting. A real genre of story in simplicity can sometimes be great, and can be the thing that gives it its force — but for most movies, even most mysteries… a movie like “Chinatown” might be a genre kind of movie, but it couldn’t be more complex. Usually, you kind of need that to make something last 90 minutes or 2 hours or whatever it’s going to be, and stay compelling.Are you one to ever think about what’s next for you when on the set of something you’re currently working on, or does the inspiration come afterwards, when you’ve distanced yourself from the past project?
I might think about it in the bad moments. In the dark moments, I might contemplate what else I might be doing and fantasize about it being something else. Usually, I do one thing at a time. Lately, on the set of a live-action movie, I tend to think it would be very nice to do an animated film. When you do an animated movie, it’s on a very low boil for a very long time — when you do a movie with living human beings and actual weather, it tends to be a little more intense.
From the sounds of it, in an ideal world you follow-up every live action feature with an animated one.
I think that would be good. I wouldn’t mind doing a big animated movie and a small live-action movie back and forth, in succession.
Speaking of animated films, I’m such a huge fan of “Mr. Fox.” It’s such a beautifully crafted and eccentric work — do you ever plan on following it up with something similar?
I want to. For me, I was never particularly interested in animation in general, I’ve just always loved stop-motion animation. I would love to do another stop-motion movie. I loved the whole process of it, it’s something that I’m very drawn to. I don’t know if people would want to go to a stop-motion movie, it’s kind of expensive to make that kind of a movie. I’m not entirely sure if people go to them. “Mr. Fox” was pretty well received, and yet, not very many people saw that movie. I just don’t know if it’s a good business decision for anyone who is going to have to fund it, but I would like to.
But now with the popularity of 3D stop-motion films such as “Coraline” and “ParaNorman,” it seems like they’re “hot” again.
Maybe they are. So you think I need to do one in 3D?
Sure, why not?
Well, that makes it more expensive. But I’ll give it a try.
Since we’re on this animation kick — how has your approach with actors evolved since delving into the medium with “Mr. Fox?”
It’s interesting, because doing an animated movie is very planned. What the actual visual characters are going to do is decided in advance, and it all happens very slowly and methodically. Although the animators take over at certain moments and they’re like actors — no two animators do the same thing in the same way. You get to know who you want to do a certain shot, because you might think that you want a certain part of their personality in it. Working with actors — recording the voices for an animated movie — is extremely free and spontaneous, and there’s not a camera. You can do anything. We recorded a lot of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” at a farm in Connecticut. We had a great time. I think, since doing an animated movie, I prepare a bit differently for the movie. I use some of the animation techniques when it comes to visualizing the movie in advance; I’d always done some version of that, but now I actually animate the stuff. I’m kind of prepared in a different way. Working with actors, what makes it exciting tends to be the same — having the thing you’ve written suddenly brought to life by people who you dream about having do it.
Did making an animated film make you even more of a perfectionist, with respect to the visuals of your live-action work? “Moonrise,” in particular, could be paused at any moment and the shot would be worthy of mounting on a wall.
That’s a nice thing to say. One thing is, now, often I do things where there are longer takes, and — where normally you might edit together a bunch of shots and make a sequence that way — I often do longer takes that get strung together, and you don’t have as much control over what happens in every moment. Now, we actually have all of this digital control over things and if we say, I actually don’t like what we ended up with on the bulletin board in the background of this shot — we can go remake the bulletin board and photograph it, and put it into the shot. You can spruce up a lot of things. You can polish it a bit, and add ideas, and things like that. That didn’t used to happen… that’s something I never did until the last couple of movies. It’s fun. Someone like Robert Zemeckis has probably been doing that since 1975, but for me, that’s a new thing. It tends to take a different form — [for him,] adding in a plane, flying upside down. For me, I’m adding in the — oh, what’s the phrase? The thing that you weave, like a keychain. Those little plastic, braided things that Scouts and people at camp make — that’s the kind of thing that I digitally add in.
It’s a lanyard. Thank you. I would digitally add a lanyard — while Zemeckis might digitally add a 747 flying upside down.