How many kids get to have their first-ever kiss directed on screen by Wes Anderson? As one half of the star-crossed lovers in Moonrise Kingdom, 12-year-old Kara Hayward got to share in that very experience — along with, you know, making her screen debut in a Wes Anderson film. Not that we’re envious. At all. In the director’s latest whimsical journey, Hayward plays Suzy, the moody older sister — a pamphlet on the family fridge reads “Coping with the Troubled Child” — in a mildly dysfunctional clan parented by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand. Obsessed with girl’s own adventure novels, Suzy soon embarks on one of her own when she falls for orphan Sam (Jared Gilman) and the two elope to an orchestra of adult chaos.
A couple of weeks back we talked with Gilman about Moonrise Kingdom, and this week it’s Ms. Hayward’s turn. Here, we had the chance to chat with the young actress about how she got the role, what it was like working with Anderson, and her plans for the future. And that kiss, of course.
This is your very first film, and it’s a great one — so congratulations are in order. Tell me, how did you get involved with a Wes Anderson movie?
Kara Hayward: Thank you! I heard about the open call from my dance teacher, who mentioned it. So I decided it might be something I might want to take a shot at for fun. And so after the open call I got a call asking me if I wanted to meet Wes Anderson — so after I met him I got another call saying you had the job.
Were you a fan beforehand?
Yes, I was. I had seen Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Darjeeling Limited before I even knew about this.
So this was pretty exciting.
What was your favorite out of those three?
I might have to say Darjeeling Limited. I loved that.
Had Jared been cast when you went in for your interview?
I believe he had already been chosen, yes.
When did you two first meet?
It was the month prior to filming. What they would do is that they had us come down to Rhode Island every Monday for rehearsals; so that’s when I first met him.
What did you first think of him? Be honest.
[Laughs] He was nice! He was very nice. He seemed very talented, and I was just excited to work with him.
What was it like filming with Wes? For instance, is it hard to hit your marks when his camera’s so meticulously plotted out?
I don’t think it’s quite hard to hit your marks. I think that he is so talented that he really makes it very easy to do anything. He’s brilliant and so, so kind. He’s amazing.
Did Wes show you any other films to give you an idea of what he was going for in this?
I did watch a film called Melody once. That was a lovely film.
I love the end of that film — it’s kind of anarchy, with the kids running riot among the teachers and blowing up a car.
[Laughs] Yes. That was a lot of fun. I love the ending. It was very sweet. It was a touching story.
They get married in that one, too. Unofficially.
Yes. [Laughs] We also saw a film called Blackjack, an English film. It did inspire me personally, on just how to bring my character Suzy to life, really — just how to get into that, how to really improve on the way I was going to do it. That made me a lot better by the time I was ready.
How did you and Jared get on as the movie filmed? There must have been a lot of implicit trust to act out that story with each other.
He’s a very nice guy. We became good friends. We could really trust each other by the end of the film.
Was it shot in sequence?
It was not. That was something that actually kind of surprised me, ’cause I didn’t know much about the filming process. So that was one of those things that I found very interesting.
Because you had to access different parts of Suzy’s character at different emotional moments. How much are you like her in real life?
In some little details. She likes animals and reading, but otherwise, we’re quite different.
You don’t seem as troubled.
[Laughs] Yes. It’s very interesting to portray someone so different from who you are.
She has some similar traits to Margot Tenenbaum. Did you feel that? Did you go back to any of Wes’s films to study up on the characters?
Honestly, I watched Wes’s films because I like Wes’s films. [Laughs] Really I just played the scene the way I would play it and then Wes would make his little tweaks to the scenes. That’s pretty much how I acted scenes. She does have some similarities to Margot Tenenbaum. They do have their own secrets. They’ve got the eye makeup. [Laughs]
It almost feels like all these characters exist in the same universe.
Yes. He does create quite a vibrant world for them to live in.
How much of Suzy is on the page, when you read the screenplay? Does the character emerge more on set?
I think Suzy is a very complex person. They did describe a bit of her in the script, but really it’s when you begin to act as her that you can start to see what she’s thinking inside her head, and just her entire world.
Were all her books real or were they made up?
[Laughs] No, the books were not real, they were made up. They’re beautiful. The covers were all designed by different artists and they’re very talented; very amazing the way they did that. But no, those were fake books. I wanted to read them.
I hear that your screen kiss was saved until right at the end of filming.
Yes, it was.
And it was your first kiss, too.
[Laughs] Yes. It was.
Were you nervous? I mean, granted a lot of people would love to have their first kiss in a Wes Anderson movie.
[Laughs] It was… I mean, it was all very — it was saved to the end, I believe, for purposes of we trusted each other and you know, we were very comfortable with the crew and the camera and everything. And we were acting. It was just another scene. It was very protected.
First kiss, no big deal.
Yeah. [Laughs] We didn’t care. Just another scene.
Now, your on screen dad is played by Bill Murray.
It’s safe to assume that he seems like a pretty cool guy.
Bill is the best. He’s great. He’s absolutely fantastic. On and off screen he’s hysterically funny and everyone loves him. He’s absolutely a ray of sunshine.
What was your favorite moment working with him? Everyone loves a good Bill Murray story.
Everyone does love a good Bill Murray story. There was the one time we were doing a photo shoot and they put a giant tuba on his head — and he began to play. He was actually very good.
[Laughs] Bill Murray, accomplished tubist. I’m not surprised at all.
Yeah. [Laughs] He can do anything. He seems very musical. He had a guitar, and he could play that. He was very good. He can do everything I think.
Do you have a favorite scene in the film?
I think the one scene that I really enjoyed filming was this one between myself and Fran McDormand, where it was this very touching mother-daughter scene that showed the two characters at their most vulnerable points.
Were you interested in being an actress before the film?
I enjoyed acting. I knew that. I’d done these school plays, these summer camps where you write your own play and you act it.
So, possible writing in the future?
That’s what I’m thinking. One day. One day, I would like to do that. But other than [school plays], I hadn’t really done anything. So, I mean I thought this was going to be for fun, but I’ve realized as I started filming that this is something that I want to do for a really long time.
Wes both writes and directs. Did you get any insight into how his style of writing is?
Well, he’s so talented. He’s really an amazing person. The way he can take an idea that he has and put it into a beautiful story and make it come to life in an amazing movie, is such a talent.
Were there any inspirations — movies or actors, say — that made you curious to try acting?
Well, one of my favorite films is 1994’s Little Women, with Winona Ryder and Kirsten Dunst. So I do feel like watching the character — and that was when I had my heart set on being a writer, and I hadn’t discovered acting — I really did catch it with the main character in that way and I did think it would be fun to live in a world like that. So I think, just, my interest in the lives of these characters really did make me want to act.
Will you go back to school or keep acting? I’m assuming you’re still in school, of course — you haven’t quit… yet.
[Laughs] Yes. Still in school. I would definitely love to continue acting and I also really enjoy school, so I would like to balance the two somehow.
You can go to the school of Wes Anderson now.
[Laughs] Yes. I would love to continue acting. It’s what I would love to do for the rest of my life I think.
How about writing?
I think that maybe some time in the future. I think writing might be something that I will take professionally, maybe. I think I would like to write screenplays, books, really anything.
Have you talked to Wes about his next project?
I haven’t really spoken to him about this. I know that he’s working on another project and he’s very excited about it.
He’s doing a movie in France, right?
I believe at one point he said somewhere that he wanted to make it somewhere in Europe. That’s all I really know about it.
Speaking of Europe, how’d you like Cannes?
Cannes was gorgeous. To be there and to see the movie get the recognition it deserves was so fantastic .
Were the French nice to you? They can be quite snooty, some of those cinephiles.
[Laughs] You know what, at the end of the movie — at the premiere — they timed the applause and I think it was seven minutes, or around seven minutes. We just kind of stood there and smiled.
So you had fun.
Oh, so much, yes! It was absolutely so great to be there.
Do you have any films lined next?
I’ve been looking at some opportunities and I definitely know that I want to continue acting, but I want what I do next to be just as special and amazing as this was.
No silly high school movies, then.
[Laughs] Anything really. Anything with a good story and characters I think would be great.
Do you think it will be a difficult transition? The teenage acting years can be a challenge.
I think as long as you choose very, very carefully, I’ll be fine.
Do you have a pile of scripts on your desk now?
I have a few.
There have been a few that I’ve come across that I have kind of liked. But I’m still waiting for something that’s really captured my attention .
You can write the bad ones back and say “Don’t you know I was in Moonrise Kingdom?”
Your co-star was telling me about some of his souvenirs from the shoot — what did get to keep?
Do you remember Suzy’s kitten?
In the basket, yes.
I got to keep that.
Ah. How old is the kitten now?
The kitten’s about one, a-year-and-a-half. He’s somewhere around there.
What’s his name?
I named him Gino. It’s what he looks like to me.
That’s cool. You often wonder in movies, “What happened to that cat?” Now we know.
[Laughs] Yes, What ever happened to the cat? He’s got a very happy home.
Perhaps you can take him on your road to stardom, as “Kara and Gino.”
[Laughs] I think he would enjoy that. That would be fun.
Moonrise Kingdom is in select theaters this now.