Since 1994, Wes Anderson’s imagination has taken movie audiences into a realm where flawed explorers, outcasts, lovable freaks and fantastic foxes run the show. This month, the Texan director releases Moonrise Kingdom, his first feature film in three years. Set on a New England island in 1965, it follows a pair of lovestruck 12-year-olds, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), as they attempt to escape from a set of warring parents and a pack of bratty boy-scouts. With captivating debut performances from its two young leads, Anderson’s latest idiosyncratic fantasy is yet more proof, if any was needed, that the 43-year-old is one of modern cinema’s great auteurs.
Dazed & Confused: In the film, Sam asks Suzy what she wants to be when she grows up. As a kid, what did you want to become?
Wes Anderson: I wanted to be an architect. I don’t even know where I got that idea from. I think I was told ‘you should be an architect’ somewhere early on, and I just latched onto it. My idea of being an architect was envisioning variations of what my room could be, split-level secret chambers, transportation in and out, that sort of stuff. I guess that’s why I enjoy getting to build these fantasy locations.
D&C: There are outcasts at the heart of your films. Do you see yourself as one of them?
Wes Anderson: I don’t know. To me an outcast sounds like someone who is completely isolated. I have always had lonely characters in the mix – I don’t think there is much question that most of them are sort of misfits in one way or another. I do see myself that way. I see most people that way. Well, most of the people I know anyway, they feel like misfits, they question whether they belong. Certainly there is a period of time from when you are 12 to... actually, I don’t know if it ever ends, but you start to have these questions like, ‘Do I fit in? Do I need to fit in? Why is this now a question? I didn’t used to have to think about this.’
D&C: Was it hard making a love story about two 12-year-olds feel authentic? Did any of the dialogue come from your own childhood?
Wes Anderson: There is a certain number of lines in every movie that I’ve done where it’s not hard to write, because so and so said it to me 24 years ago and I still remember it. There is one line in this movie where a kid says, ‘Do not cross this stick!’, which came from a time when me and Owen (Wilson) were jogging – which is not something I normally do – many, many years ago, in Texas. This kid came into the middle of the road, and that’s what he said to us: ‘Do not cross this stick.’
D&C: Did you cross it?
Wes Anderson: Yes we did. (laughs)
D&C: What did he do?
Wes Anderson: He recoiled angrily as if he thought we were going to fight him. (laughs)
D&C: Talking of fighting, Sam and Suzy are prone to outbursts of anger. What makes you angry?
Wes Anderson: What makes me angry? So many things. But I tend to be a little more insular. People who know me just know when I’m grouchy. I snarl, and people who know just let it blow over. It doesn’t tend to be a sudden outburst, it tends to be, ‘Forget it; don’t even bother with him for the next few hours.’
D&C: The kids rebel against their environment. Do you see yourself as a rebellious director?
Wes Anderson: No, I don’t really. The way that I do my movies, I don’t feel like I’m reacting to anything. It’s more like I’m absorbing all the things I want to absorb. Making a movie, you hope to be inspired by something that is emotionally affecting you. But beyond that feeling it’s mostly about gathering the things to build it, to make these characters interesting and entertain everybody and keep this thing alive. So it is usually about anything I can take and draw from, not anything I’m attacking.
D&C: Your characters have a fondness for antiquated technology; reel-to-reel players, typewriters and so on. Is that your way of distancing your films from Hollywood’s obsession with technology?
Wes Anderson: Yes, it is usually about making a fantasy world... but in my life I use an iPhone.
D&C: So your house isn’t a bohemian pile like the Tenenbaums’ New York townhouse or the Bishops’ holiday home?
Wes Anderson: (laughs) Yes, a bit. I mean, my house in New York is pretty spare; it’s sort of organised, but it is very simple. I do have some old telephones, but they are touch-tone. Everything else I use is all Apple. In a movie, if someone is going to listen to music, nine times out of ten I have them put on a record, which I myself never do. It looks so much nicer to me, to see this thing spinning and put a needle on it. It is what I grew up with, but it is also just a more beautiful object and it does something, you know – it spins. At the same time that is a little bit like fetishising this stuff. I met this guy in Italy who wanted to take me to this place where he has his collection of reel-to-reel tape recorders, because he thought I was obsessed with them. Well, I’m not obsessed. I don’t own a reel-to-reel tape recorder, but it does look nice when it spins and you film it.
D&C: In both Rushmore and Moonrise Kingdom you stage school plays. Do you see your films as bigger versions of high school theatre productions?
Wes Anderson: Well, I would like it to be considered as more of a professional play. (laughs) I’m just kidding. The school play we do in the new movie was a play that I was actually in, a sort of opera that Benjamin Britten wrote where we re-enact Noah’s flood. When I was a kid we were all cast as the animals.
D&C: What animal were you?
Wes Anderson: An otter.
D&C: Not a fox?
Wes Anderson: Maybe my older brother was a fox, or maybe he was a moose or something... no, he was an elk! In fact, for the costumes that we used in the movie, my mother went to my old school, went into the archives and got all the photographs and sent them to us. So we made these felt costumes basedon those.
D&C: Was that a trip down memory lane for you?
Wes Anderson: Yeah, a bit, but I have to say, when it eventually came down to it, I got absolutely no déjà vu. My only thing was, ‘What’s wrong with this one? What’s wrong with that one? These guys have got to stand differently. What time is it? We’re losing light!’
D&C: I feel sorry for the otter. That could have been his big break.
Wes Anderson: I know, you’re right.
D&C: Do you ever see yourself wanting to direct theatre?
Wes Anderson: Yeah, I would like to. I’ve always found it a little bit intimidating, the prospect of doing it. It’s typical that you start a play knowing that on February 16 you’re opening. So now you have this much time to get everything ready, what if it doesn’t work? How are we going to fix that? With a movie it’s really the same thing, you know you are going to have to finish it and show it and there is only a certain window, but I guess with me not having experience doing theatre, it seems scary to me. This thing is going to have to be performed live, in front of a room full of people...
D&C: An instant reaction.
Wes Anderson: And an instant reaction... Yeah, quite frightening.
D&C: In terms of critical reception, how do bad reviews or poor box-office takings affect you as a filmmaker?
Wes Anderson: I don’t know if I would say as a filmmaker it does. The better everything goes the more you have a little extra juice for the next movie – you can get a little more money to make it or whatever that does. But beyond that it is more like, how does that make you feel that afternoon? That’s more or less what it ends up being. It can make you feel not that good.
D&C: That’s one of those moments where your friends leave you alone.
Wes Anderson: Exactly, right.
D&C: Did you sulk when you read people saying you’d sold out for doing those car adverts recently?
Wes Anderson: I haven’t seen this, is there a lot of stuff about it? It seems pretty silly though. I always assume people know that I spend two-and-a-half years on a film, which I stand in front of and has my name on it, and then I spend two days doing these car commercials that someone else wrote and I was hired to do. I had a good time with these commercials and was totally happy. But if someone said to me, ‘You have 30 seconds’, I would not say this is what I would come up with – this is something I was asked to do and I agreed to do it. But I don’t know, partly maybe it is just fun to have that conversation. You know, to say, ‘Look at these commercials, he’s sold out.’ That’s really just entertainment.
D&C: Finally, you’ve explored the seas, India’s railways and America’s suburbs and cities. Are you ever going to do a film set in space?
Wes Anderson: I would like to do a science-fiction movie... and shoot it on location in space. I would bring a small crew, non-union – I don’t think anybody can claim that we are on territory. We could work any hours we wanted to and each person’s contract is made with the person and completely independent. I would say an intimate character piece, because we’re not going to have a lot of exteriors – we’d be in the capsule most of the time.
I would do it in two phases – a short trip during the writing process, come back, re-think it a bit and then go out for the big trip with the whole gang.
D&C: Do you think this is possible?
Wes Anderson: Yeah, it is.
D&C: Shall we talk to Richard Branson after this?
Wes Anderson: Exactly, we know the guy to start with.
Moonrise Kingdom is out May 25th.