The wonderful world of Wes Anderson

Inside the mind of the meticulous director who once carried $14,000 in a suitcase to pay off Bill Murray's debts

Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson Photography by Adam Broomberg

Taken from the November 2009 issue of Dazed & Confused:

The world of Wes Anderson is a celestial body with its very own hurricanes and hydrology: Anderson’s films are distinctive because Anderson is even more so, bringing a deadpan hilarity, New Wave stylings, a bombardment of detail and, it has to be said, Bill Murray to every movie he makes (from Rushmore and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou to The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited, along with his witty animated adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox). Dazed will be celebrating the work of the acclaimed director and screenwriter with Wes Anderson Day, ahead of the release of his latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, which has already received rave reviews from the Berlin Film Festival. Dazed spoke to Wes on comedy, his trademarks, making a children's film, Paris and his old pals, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman.

WES ON IMAGINATION

“Writing, for me, is usually just following a train of thought – imagining a scene or setting. When I’m writing, I’m probably doing that for five hours a day. Once Mr Fox was written, I didn’t have a preconception of what it would look like. Instead, there’s a process, working with our production designer Nelson Lowry and with Tristan Oliver and figuring out how it ought to look. So it’s almost like you’re creating something from your imagination, but your imagination is aided by actually making these things and then saying, ‘And now we add a little of this, a little of that...’ I don’t know if that is exactly imagination or if that is some other process. We’re dreaming up what we want the movie to look like visually, not by just closing our eyes and thinking of it, but by painting it, by building things and adjusting them.”

WES ON VISUAL ART

“Sometimes I will just say, ‘Let’s light this like this painting.’ When we were making Rushmore, we made sets that were modelled on these Hans Holbein paintings that were in the The Frick, which is down the street from where I lived. I feel like ideas will just come from anywhere, so it could be as simple as seeing a picture of… (looks down to see what’s on the front page of a newspaper) nebula.”

Long Dolly Shot
Notes on the long dolly shot for Fantastic Mr Fox by Wes Anderson

TEN AMAZING WES FACTS

1  Wes made iPhone videos of himself acting out the scenes in Mr Fox to send to the animators when he couldn’t describe something in words.

2  Owen Wilson and Wes went to the same school in Houston, Texas, and the two friends have worked together on every single one of Wes’s films.

3  He once carried $14,000 in a suitcase in order to pay off Bill Murray’s debts.

4  In Mr Fox, he recorded all of the actors’ voices on location, so the sound of the wind in the trees makes it into the film. 

5  He didn’t really get The Big Lebowski the first time he watched it.

6 He found the 50-year-old boat in The Life Aquatic in Capetown and had it brought to Rome.

7  The academy that features in Rushmore is actually the school that Wes attended.

8  One of his favourite directors is the iconic New Wave Frenchman François Truffaut. 

9  He gets his suits tailor-made to be half a size too small. 

10 Without exception, he uses the font Futura Bold in his films.

Darjeeling Limited
Owen WIlson, Adrien Brody, Wes Anderson & Jason Schwartzman during filming of Darjeeling Limited Photography by James Hamilton

WES ON LIFE IN PARIS

“I still live in New York but I have an apartment in Paris. I like working in places where I don’t really speak the language, where every basic thing I need to do is more complicated, and everything is different to what I grew up with. Working outside of America inspires me.”

WILLEM DAFOE ON WES

“I’ve never worked on a set where I felt so much like the director realised the film he envisioned. While Wes is totally consumed by what he does, he is sweetly demanding, tenacious and insistent. The making of The Life Aquatic was half like a vacation with a dysfunctional family, half like a kids’ party. It changed my life – while shooting in Rome I met my wife!”

Willem Dafoe
Willem with his wife Giada and Wes in Italy

WES ON COMEDY

“I do have something in mind for a future movie that’s not very comic, but I never quite know how it’s going to turn out or how much it’s meant to be comic. In a comic scene, I feel like if the actors can take the words and make them seem natural then that’s good, but often that makes it seem deadpan.” 

WES ON MAKING A CHILDREN'S FILM

“I wanted to make a movie that was a children’s film, but my favourite children’s films are ones that I still look at. The subject matter and the fact that it’s puppets and animals talking makes it a children’s film, but we didn’t really do anything to make it for children other than just the basic conceptual things.”

Whack Bat Scene
Notes & sketches for the Whack-Bat Scene in Fantastic Mr Fox by Wes Anderson

WES ON ROALD DAHL

 “The book is set where he lived. We (Noah Baumbach and Wes wrote the script together) were at his house for several weeks writing. Lots of things from the movie are modelled on things we saw… and the wife in the movie is named Felicity, which was the name of his wife. We looked through his original drafts of the book, and the ending in the film with the supermarket is not in the book. We took it from his first plan.”

WES ON HIS TRADEMARKS

“I never deliberately do something to make it more like something I’ve done before, but somehow it just happens. Captioned frames are something I like in a movie. It’s a place to write something and use words on screen.”

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