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Berlin: ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ Press Conference Sets the Bar High, with Anderson, Fiennes, Murray, Swinton and More

Berlin: 'Grand Budapest Hotel' Press Conference Sets the Bar High, with Anderson, Fiennes, Murray, Swinton and More

Things are bound to go downhill at the 64th Berlinale, at
least in terms of press conferences. The festival opened today with Wes
Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and when you have Bill Murray,
Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe
flanking Anderson on the dais, you’re not likely to improve on either the form
or the content.

Murray did his part, dryly. When a reporter lobbed a
question to the cast at large how Anderson manages to “get all these terrific
people to participate” in his films, Murray cut in loudly — “I’d like to
answer that one if I could” — before settling in to his usual deadpan: “We are
promised very long hours and low wages. And stale bread. It’s this crazy thing.
You lose money on the job because you spend more on tips than you ever earn,
but you get to see the world. We allow Wes to live this wonderful life, where
his dreamscape comes true. I guess it’s because we like him that we do this.”

Relationships were the theme of the day. Asked how he would
define his with the director after making so many films together, Murray said,
“Well, the romance is gone.” It’s clearly not, of course. Producer Jeremy
Dawson noted that it didn’t matter where they make a film as “we kind of have a
family, whether they be cinematographers or music supervisors or prop people or

The young Irish actress Saoirse Ronan added that during the
shoot in Goerlitz, a small town on the border of Germany and Poland, the entire
ensemble would come together at night for dinner and often go out. And
sometimes they would watch movies that served as an inspiration for “Grand
Budapest Hotel,” including “Grand Hotel,” “To Be or Not To Be,” “The Good Fairy” with
Margaret Sullavan, “Love Me Tonight,” “The Mortal Storm” with Frank Morgan, and
Bergman’s “The Silence.”

As for a direct inspiration for “Grand Budapest Hotel,” Anderson said that it grew out of his reading the writer Stefan Zweig,
immensely popular in Europe but still largely unknown in the U.S. “It’s really
more or less plagiarism. It’s Zweig’s introduction to ‘Beware of Pity’ that we
have adapted into our film. He says that when people know you’re a writer, they
bring their stories to you. I always thought that it’s just as likely with him
that he added this intro because it sounded good, not necessarily that it was
true but that it lead into the story he wanted to tell, and established a
theme. It was a way to express what was coming. For me, it’s really because I
liked it in his book and I thought it set a mood.”

Swinton got in a couple of good lines, calling the film “the
best fancy dress party I can imagine” and suggesting that her aged character,
Madame D, “is what I look like when I don’t put on all this make-up. I am, you
know, very, very, very, very old.” But when asked about the Berlinale, which
she’s participated in many times, once as president of the jury, her answer was
heartfelt: “The Berlinale is such a precious place for me. I came here with the
first film I ever made [Derek Jarman’s “Caravaggio”] and it was the first film
fest I ever came to. And it really founded my relationship with cinema on a
practical level. I met filmmakers here immediately, people I worked with from
then on. It’s like my battery charger, cinematically, the Berlinale, and it’s
gone on being that in all these different ways. I mean, I think I need to ask
[festival director] Dieter Kosslick if I could come and clean sometimes because
I’ve done everything else.”

Someone tossed Norton a fat pitch about the many uniforms
he’s worn in Anderson films, and he hit it out: “I think Wes just likes tight
trousers and epaulets on a man and I’m happy to wear them for him.”

Unsurprisingly, the articulate answer of the day went to
Ralph Fiennes, on why he chose to be in the film: “I was sent an amazing
screenplay written by Wes Anderson, which was unlike anything else I’ve ever
read. And the first thing he said was, ‘What role would you like to play?’ That
one, please.
Fantastic role and I responded really to Wes, to his spirit. And
of course we see from the films how beautifully constructed and designed and
conceived they are. And as an acting experience it’s fantastic because Wes
loves all of these actors and encourages them over many, many takes to explore
his text. And then finally you feel exhausted but happily exhausted because
you’ve been given this incredible ride.”

Anderson wasn’t going to take all of that praise sitting
down, and his response revealed a lot about his filmmaking goals. “One
thing I’ve sort of observed, the best way to get an actor to not be in your
movie is to offer them a specific part. We had actually written this part with
Ralph in mind. I don’t know of anyone else who could have played it for a
variety of reasons but the main one being that this character is quite grand
and theatrical and has to recite poetry and has paragraphs of text. And the
crucial thing to me is that he is a real person. I knew that Ralph would make
this a real man. Everything Ralph does in his process is to make this feel like
a real guy, even if it’s talking very, very quickly in a situation that doesn’t
feel like real life. The most important thing for me for all of these actors is
that they will bring these characters to life in this fantasy context.”

Further asked if he didn’t worry that the aesthetics of his
grand hotel’s environment would overwhelm the story, Anderson said he did not.
“With a group like this, I feel like it’s all about them. It’s really creating
a world for them to play in.”

And then they filed out, one big and apparently happy
family. Stale bread and all.

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