There aren’t many modern American filmmakers with a body of work as unique as that of Wes Anderson. From his debut Bottle Rocket through Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, The Darjeeling Limited and the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox, there arguably isn’t a director among his contemporaries (or many imitators) who has cultivated such a precise, particular universe on screen — while finding curious new ways of seeing that world each time.
Anderson’s latest is Moonrise Kingdom, a fantastical tale of imagined childhood that follows two kids — AWOL scout Sam (Jared Gilman) and moody dreamer Suzy (Kara Hayward) — on their adventure through adolescent first love. Beautifully calibrated both visually and emotionally, the film, which opened Cannes, is drawing some of the best reviews of the director’s career.
We had the opportunity to chat with Anderson recently, where he talked about his inspirations for Moonrise Kingdom, his childhood obsessions, and how his experience in animation affected the way he approached his latest project. Read on for that and more, but first, we quizzed him on his Five Favorite Films. “I’ll try to do it,” Anderson says. “You may have to call it ‘The five movies that I just say, for whatever reason,'” he laughs. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to stand behind them as my five favorites, they’ll just be the five I manage to think up right now.”
Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968; 98% Tomatometer)
One movie that I often find myself going back to is Rosemary’s Baby. This has always been a big influence on me, or a source of ideas; and it’s always been one of my favorites. Mia Farrow gives a great, big performance in it, and I’ve read the script and it’s a terrific script. So that’s one I’d say.
I think A Clockwork Orange is one that springs to mind. A fully-formed Stanley Kubrick. It’s a movie that’s very particularly designed and, you know, conjures up this world that you’ve never seen quite this way in a movie before, but at the same time there’s a great sort of spontaneity to it, and a tremendous energy. And both of those are very well adapted, good books.
Another one I could say is Trouble in Paradise. Have you ever seen Trouble in Paradise?
I have, it’s great.
Yeah, it is. A great Lubitsch movie. Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins. And Samson Raphaelson is the screenwriter; he did several Lubitsch movies. I don’t know if anybody can make a movie like that anymore — that perfect tone, like a “soufflé”-type of movie. A confection, I guess.
Well recently I watched Grand Illusion, which I haven’t seen in several years — no, I’ll say another one instead: There’s one called Toni, that’s Jean Renoir before Grand Illusion, before Rules of the Game, and it’s set in the south of France and they’re Italian immigrants who’re working, who’re laborers working in the South of France. It’s very beautiful, kind of lyrical and very sad; a great Renoir movie. I don’t know if it’s seen that much anymore. It’s great.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — that’s another one I rewatched recently. When I first saw that movie it made me feel bad. I didn’t fall in love with it. I loved The Graduate when I first saw it, but [Virginia Woolf], I wasn’t excited by it, because it seemed like there was a negativity about it. But when I watched it more recently I thought it was the most beautiful, inspired, exciting movie. Mike Nichols is one of the most inventive directors that we’ve had, and that’s one of the great, you know, it’s a great movie, and a stunning first film.
Next, Anderson talks about his inspirations for Moonrise Kingdom, his childhood obsessions, and how his experience with animation on Fantastic Mr. Fox. influenced his latest film.
What was the original idea behind Moonrise Kingdom?
Wes Anderson: I think it came from wanting to do a movie about the feeling of what it’s like to fall in love when you’re 12 years old, and how overwhelming that can be. I kept having this thought about how, when you’re that age — at least for me — I had this desire for fantasy to be real, and that got kind of mixed up in it. I remember, you know, just how a crush becomes a different universe almost, and everything is somehow related to it; it just shapes your mood and the atmosphere in a way that is all in your brain.
I’m imagining you were kind of part Suzy and part Sam at their age.
Yeah, I think I was. I definitely related just as much to the Suzy character as the Sam character, you know, and there are some aspects of her character. She’s the eldest of a group of children, she’s sort of on her own, much older than her brothers, but she also has a lot in common with what is usually the middle child — who’s sort of neglected from the group a bit. And I was the middle child of two brothers, and I’ve always felt that somehow that was part of my identity; being a middle brother.
What was your life at 12 like? Suzy has her books, and her records — what were you into? What was your world?
Well, one thing I was heavily into was Muppets. [Laughs.] That was a major interest for me. Along with that was space, and you know, Star Wars was a giant thing. But also I started making little plays and Super 8 movies, and that was kind of a huge thing for me at that age — especially putting on plays in school; like five minute plays, 10-minute plays. That was something I really enjoyed enormously at that age.
One of the wonderful things in Moonrise Kingdom is the music, the Benjamin Britten stuff. Did you start thinking, before you began filming, that it was going to be the sort of course of the movie?
Yes. In fact, before we even had a finished script I really had most of the music kind of figured out, and by the time we were shooting, almost all of it. That music plays and informs the movie; it kind of guided me in the writing of it, quite a bit. I’m trying to think of how to describe how it happened. One thing is I decided to draw a lot of the shots and edit them, you know, animate them — to animate the drawings. And it had largely to do with the fact that I wanted to figure out how the images were going to go with the music. So it really did kind of guide the process quite a lot.
Did your experience making Fantastic Mr. Fox change the way you approached a live action film?
Yeah, and in particular in the thing I was just saying, because I had never done this thing of editing things before you shoot them — and that’s the animation way. You plan it all, you’ve edited it already; before you’re even shooting it. That was very valuable to me, and I enjoyed doing an animated movie so much that it’s really kind of tied in to… anyway, I feel like a learned a lot of things from that that I’ve liked using.
It’s just such a great movie. Will you ever go back to stop motion animation?
I would like to, yeah. I mean, I would like to very much. But I don’t know. It’s not a very popular medium right now, and I don’t really know what’s in store for stop motion, you know. People have done CG movies that are meant to look like stop motion; they’ve imitated that to a degree where you can’t necessarily tell. I mean, Aardman has done CG movies that are recreating their stop motion look, and it’s almost impossible to register which part you’re seeing. I don’t know what that says for the future of it as a process. But I did do a little stop motion commercial, a TV commercial, for Sony recently, with a lot of my same group that I worked with on Fantastic Mr. Fox.
I did see that, it was very cool. Going back to Moonrise, the “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” made me think of Peter and the Wolf, and for some reason the David Bowie version — ’cause I know you’re a Bowie fan.
I’m not sure I know the Bowie version, but I know the Leonard Bernstein version, which is great and amazing, and it’s also something that I wanted to use in the movie. I was always looking for a place to get it in there, because it’s of a piece with all of this. But I didn’t find that place. Do you like the Bowie version?
That’s the version I first heard. It’s the one he did around the same time as the Berlin trilogy.
I need to get that.
And you need to make a stop motion movie out of it.
[Laughs. ] Well, you know, there is a wonderful stop motion film of Peter and the Wolf. It was directed by a woman, I think she’s English. I think it’s a British production in the Czech Republic. I may have that wrong; I can’t remember her name. It’s a great 30-minute short stop motion that I would highly recommend. [Ed. Note: The film is Peter and the Wolf (2006), directed by Suzie Templeton, and won the Oscar for animated short.]
I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how your working relationship with Bill Murray has evolved over the years.
Yes, well… I was a big fan of his before I met him and worked with him, and that was how I came to know him in the first place. He was more than somebody who I just had a great experience with as an actor — he was also very helpful in kind of getting me through the process of making these movies. He’s somebody who can influence a crowd of people, you know; he can address a great big group and they will go with him. And that’s something very valuable on a movie set. He’s also a morale booster.
He seems to love you. Is there anything he wouldn’t do for you?
Well I don’t know. So far I’ve gotten him for all these movies for many years. I don’t take him for granted, you know, because Bill is somebody who’s so in demand among people, and he’s a completely unique actor and person. So far I’ve been lucky enough to have managed to get him in all these movies.
I think if you were asked to do Ghostbusters he’d probably agree to do it.
[Laughs.] I have my doubts about that.
[Laughs.] Can you talk a little about the next film you’re working on? I hear you’re shooting something in Europe.
Well I’ve just finished a script for it but I don’t really have anything to say about it. It’s so early and there’s no, I have no plans for making it yet at all. I just finished it right before we went down to Cannes and, you know, I hope it is finished. I feel like I have a finished script, but it could be that in a couple of weeks I may say, “Maybe it’s not finished.” But I think my next movie will be this European story.
Moonrise Kingdom is in theaters now.