Dave Calhoun talks to director Wes Anderson ahead of the release of his new film The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Wes Anderson is the 44-year-old Texan whose films have radiated style and eccentricity right from the off, first with Bottle Rocket and Rushmore in the late 1990s and then throughout the 2000s with The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Fantastic Mr Fox. With a rolling company of actors topped by Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman, Anderson gives us offbeat characters who live in colourful worlds designed to within an inch of their lives. His latest offering, The Grand Budapest Hotel, tells of Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), a smooth-talking concierge at a 1930s European hotel who becomes caught up in a murder enquiry when one of his elderly guests (Tilda Swinton) dies suddenly. Appropriately, we met Anderson in an old-fashioned member’s club-cum-hotel in London’s West End where even the wallpaper looks like something from one of his movies.
You’re from Texas and used to live in New York – but recently you’ve mostly been in France and England. Are you now officially an American in exile?
Well, I haven’t actually been in America for a couple of years now. My girlfriend [Juman Malouf, a writer] has a house in Kent so we’re in the UK pretty often. Lately I’ve been in Germany a lot to make The Grand Budapest Hotel, and back and forth between there and Paris, where I have my apartment and office. But when I’m in Paris I still feel like I’m an American abroad. I don’t feel like I’ve assimilated to one culture or the other and my French is no better than it ever was.
You love creating strange, contained worlds in your comedies. Why is that?
Usually I feel like I’m trying to make a little world for my characters in my films – and both the world and characters are invented for the movie. I probably define the edges of that world a little more sharply than some.
There are some parodies of your films online and I found one which imagined what Star Wars would look like if directed by you. It basically looked like Rushmore only Chewbacca was driving a vintage motorbike. Do you watch those sorts of things?
I see a few. Edward Norton did one last year for Saturday Night Live.
What did you think?
Well, first, it’s nice that they bother. It’s quite nice to be included. At the same time, I think that I could make it a lot scarier than that. I’d like to have a shot at doing the parody myself and see what I come up with.
Directing your own parody? That sounds like fuel for those who see your films as the work of a control freak. Do you feel frustrated that some people raise their eyes at the very idea of ‘a Wes Anderson movie’?
I used to feel more reaction. Now I guess I feel that they’re probably right about this, or wrong about that. I’ve probably got a thicker skin than I used to. I think everything I’m consciously doing is different to what I’ve done before, but when it’s put together people say they can tell in ten seconds that it’s by me.
Surely it’s a compliment to have a style everyone recognises?
It’s an enormous compliment unless they don’t mean it as one.
There was an interview with Woody Allen recently where the interviewer threw some random questions at him. Can I try some of those on you?
What would a friend of Wes Anderson say was the most annoying thing about Wes Anderson do you think?
Probably being grouchy.
You don’t have kids – but can you think of one thing you did as a kid which you’d be furious if a kid of yours did the same thing?
Well, at one point my older brother and I decided we wanted to make an entrance to our house through the roof. So we cut a hole in the roof and went into the attic. We had a plan for the whole thing and it took days. Then my father saw it and I don’t ever remember seeing him like this. He couldn’t believe it. We were a family and we’d cut a hole in the roof of our house. Now that I think of it, I realise how horrifying that would be!
Could you name three movie star crushes you had as a kid or adult?
Farrah Fawcett. She really struck a nerve. Then, my most recent one is... well, there are two – Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck. But my central one is the actress Joan Blondell, who I didn’t know of until six weeks ago.
And yet it is the men who tend to head up your films. The three brothers in The Darjeeling Ltd. Jason Schwartzmann in Rushmore, and now Ralph Fiennes as the concierge in The Grand Budapest Hotel.
I’d wanted to work with Ralph for some time. I met him maybe ten years ago at somebody’s house. I went into the kitchen and he was sitting there alone. I got to know him and wanted to find something to do with him. He’s intense and a method actor and I’ve not worked with anyone like that before.
Bill Murray has been in all your films since Rushmore in 1998. Is Bill always excited to discover what you’re doing next?
I always feel very encouraged by Bill. With each movie he seems more into it. I’ve got a nice collaboration with him. He’s got a small part in this new one.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is in cinemas across the GCC now.