Posted: 03/09/02


beatwax communications presents
The Royal Tenenbaums Press Conference
With Wes Anderson - Director

Interview Provided by Buena Vista International/Beatwax Communications

Please note that the ellipses which appear in this article indicate areas where the interviewer's recording device failed to pick up key words. With that understanding, we present this interview as close to the original as possible.


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A: Well on behalf of Buena Vista, welcome to the press conference for The Royal Tenenbaums. As you can see, we're joined today by the director, co-writer and producer of the film, Les Anderson. Where's the inspiration for the film? Perhaps you can fill in the blanks?

Wes Anderson: Okay. The first inspiration for the movie is that I wanted to make a New York film, because I'd always had this fascination with New York. I'm from Texas, but there were so many novels and movies that are New York novels and movies that were among my favourites, and so I had this sort of - not quite accurate idea of what New York was like. And I wanted to sort of create some sort of exaggerated version of that imaginary New York.

And then also I had in mind doing something that would be about a family of - quote unquote - geniuses, and about their failure and their sort of development of their family, something like that.

A: Before I throw open to the journalists here, perhaps you can tell us a little bit about yourself and the fact that you have a healthy dislike for flying. So much so that you cause a bit of wonderful confusion among film distributors by having to go by train across Europe when you're doing junkets and things like that. And sometimes you're taking a boat across the Atlantic.

Wes Anderson: Yes. Well, you know, for a little while I didn't fly at all, so the last time I came here I came by the QE2. But I had such a miserable time on the boat that I flew back on the Concorde. So it took me six days to get over and three hours and 25 minutes to get back. But this time I flew over - I've been flying more recently. I just - once I got over here, I didn't feel I - I mean, I'm going to like seven different countries; I didn't feel like flying to every single one. So we're just taking trains. But there's all these overnight trains and - they're much nicer trains here than in America where, you know, they don't really do trains any more.

A: You said the experience on the QE2 was miserable. A lot of people would give their right arm, probably both arms, for the privilege of being that kind of high quality miserable. What was so unpleasant about it?

Wes Anderson: Well, you know, I don't want to bad mouth the QE2 -

A: No, of course not.

Wes Anderson: ...What it was that I was by myself on that boat. And you're not supposed to go by yourself on the boat in the first place. And everyone is either families or it's, you know, retired people in their late seventies. And I didn't really find my place with those groups. And then the other things is, well, like if you had told me before we left New York on the boat, how much of my time I would spend watching a channel on the TV called View from the Bridge -

A: I know exactly what you're talking about, yeah.

Wes Anderson: I mean, this is a camera that's set up on the bridge, that looks out the front of the boat. So I'm just sitting in my room watching like empty ocean. And at night that channel is really less interesting. So I would watch the view from the bridge, and then I would switch to the other channel that shows you as a little blip moving along the ocean. And most of the time there's nothing else on the map, just a blip, you know. Just blue and a little dot. And then something that tells you how many knots we're going - I don't even know what a knot really is, so I just - I knew we were usually around 26, and I was always hoping we could get up to 28 or 30, maybe it would make a difference. But that was basically my experience on the boat.

But I did put it in this new movie. I mean, I put the character that Luke Wilson plays on a ship by himself for a year, which is what it felt like when I rode across.

A: So you benefit from the experience. Andy?

Andy: Les, the themes which...I mean, is that a reasonable submission of your own formative years?

Wes Anderson: That's probably what I would wish my formative years were like, which probably sounds weird, because the characters don't really have that good an experience. But I feel like - I like characters where they're people who have some kind of real - something they're aspiring to that's sort of beyond their grasp. And - and they're not embarrassed about - or they're not reluctant to sort of try and achieve something. And - you know - those that - I kind of identify with those characters, but more as like heroes for me.

Q: ...you started off by saying you've always been interested very much in New York literature. Why is a, you know, a good old Texan boy like you fascinated by Kaufmann and people like that of 50 years ago? Where does that fascination come from?

Wes Anderson: Yeah, I don't know exactly where that started. I know I liked - you know, I got really into - into - you know, Salinger and Edith Wharton and Scott Fitzgerald. And you know, there's certain Scott Fitzgerald stories that are even about the subject of an outsider who becomes obsessed with New York. And then also movies that I loved, like - I mean, Kaufmann and Hart like You Can't Take it With You - that's a movie I always loved, but - and Rear Window, another New York movie, a more kind of confined New York movie, but still giving an impression of a place that's very distinctive. But also movies like French Connection and The Warriors that give a different New York. And Scorsese's movies - all those things sort of fed into it. And then the New Yorker magazine was something that I was always reading, and always feeling like this is all the stuff that I'm missing. So I kind of built up an interest in it that way.

Q: Where were you...?

Wes Anderson: Houston.

A: So where's the Texas accent gone? Or did you ever have one?

Wes Anderson: I never picked it up. My parents don't have them, so maybe, you know, I got what they got. But then maybe I just chose not to get one.

A: You see, you've got to forgive us 'cos we think, when we hear Texas, we think the Dallas television series, and we then think about John Wayne.

Wes Anderson: Right.

A: So that's us. Anwar.

Anwar: I wondered if, during the course of making the film, your cast shared any secrets about their own sort of family life growing up? ...significant, even unintentionally, that...grown up into celebrity families. Famous parents...dysfunctional...

Wes Anderson: But they are. Well, I think - yeah, well, it's interesting. You know, Ben Stiller's, Gwyneth Paltrow's, certainly Anjelica Huston's, all those families are real kind of achievers, you know, and fame is an issue for their whole families. For Anjelica Huston I think there's definitely things for her to relate to in terms of the character that Hackman is playing, and how that can relate to certain other - to other people in her whole life. Hackman I didn't know much of anything about his background, but I later saw - after we'd finished the whole movie - I saw an episode - this inside the Actors Studio which he did while we were filming. And he talked about his father, and the stuff about his father is like - was - caught me so much off-guard, and it seemed to really relate to what he'd been playing in the movie. But, you know, there was no dialogue between us about it. There was just - clearly something he couldn't have helped but to be tapping into.

A: In what sense did you...from that documentary you watched?

Wes Anderson: It was - well, what he said - he described - his father left his family when he was 13 or so, and he just described this moment of his father driving down the street, and Hackman and his friends were playing in the street, and his father drove by. And Hackman saw him driving by, and his father kind of waved from the window but didn't stop the car. And it was the last he saw him for ten years. And Hackman had really choked up when he was telling it - I'd never heard anything about this at all. And - you know, it was very moving, but to also - playing this father who kind of abandons his family for years and years - so -

A: Art imitating life. The gentleman second from the end.

Q: ...Peter Bogdanovich described you as relentlessly tenacious as a comment, as a sort of compliment. Is that a fair sort of judgment? And also is that what you need to put across your vision in a film like Tenenbaum - this attention to detail...and so on?

Wes Anderson: The - well, I don't know - I don't feel relentlessly tenacious. I think that might be just as much about Peter Bogdanovich, you know. I think he admires relentless tenacity, but I - I feel like - I mean, tenacity implies a lot of conflict, and there's not necessarily that much. A lot of the time it's just kind of getting a gang together and kind of telling them what you want, because most of these people are people who want to give you what you want. They trust you. You know, Gene Hackman is somebody you have to - you know, doesn't necessarily - he is not just going to hand himself over to you. But most of the people working on a movie like this are people who - that's their goal is to try to make you happy. And then if you have a lot of ideas, they get excited about all the ideas and it gives them things to kind of focus on.

A: Maybe Bogdanovich meant that you were determined to achieve your targets within the movie, because certainly you did that with Hackman who initially didn't know whether or not he wanted to be involved, and with your music that you picked for the film - you certainly go for that, and you go for some tracks that are difficult to get the rights to, don't you? For instance, I believe the ..... movie you wanted a Beatles song, and they're notoriously hard to get.

Wes Anderson: Yeah, and in fact impossible. But also you know, when we were doing the movie was when George Harrison was ill, and we needed George Harrison's permission, and there was really no way to get it. But, yeah, you know, there's one way of making a movie where you're flexible and you're kind of..., and you're more interested in discovering things. And there's another way where you're intent. I think there are pleasures that come out of either way. This movie's maybe a little more towards the - let's just get what we set out to get kind.

Q: Two questions. The first is there is a fairytale quality to your film, and I wondered whether you see it as a parallel with...I know there's lots of other things going on.


The second is... - your jacket today, and my shirt even. I wondered...?

Wes Anderson: Well, let's see. The - in terms of the first question, the fantasy element, I feel like I like to have a kind of fantasy element because - I like to try and create this whole world and be able to pick details and make things that I - you know, that's just - I just enjoy doing that, and I kind of enjoy a movie that's a kind of creative world. But also I think it's good for a story like this because the behaviour and the events of the story are - they can begin to verge on being a little surreal. And it needs to be within a sort of surreal universe that it makes sense that this stuff can happen.

And the -this I had before - this jacket is actually - I think it's the same one that Bill Murray has on, but I had this first. So -

Q: ...similar colour to your jacket...and also...Gene Hackman's suit. I don't know whether it's a subconscious...?

Wes Anderson: Well, you know, I'm into - I like colour stuff. You know, with the fur coat, they actually sent me minks to choose from, so I could pick a certain shade of mink. When they send them, they have the legs and the head on them and everything - little holes cut out where the eyes were. It kind of brings you a little closer to what furs are really about - makes you think twice. But it didn't make me - you know, we still had them take the eighty minks or whatever it takes to make them - kind of like that.

A: You do know that this now means we'll be looking at your next film very, very closely and checking out for fawn suits, shirts, mink coats and the whole fashion shebang. So - Bruce.

Bruce:...you're Chairman of the Bill Murray appreciation society?

Wes Anderson: Ah yeah, I'm a major - anyway a big contributor. Well, he's - a guy like Hackman - I'm very impressed with Hackman. He's very exciting to just watch, and to work with, as are all the people in this cast. But Murray is different, because to me there's - he's the one that I'm most likely to describe as a genius, which I don't necessarily mean as the highest compliment even, just as more a description of him. He really can be very surprising in the way that he'll come up with something. And he - he just doesn't seem to be - it's just his thought process is something I can't quite put my finger on at all. And he'll - a sentence will come out of his mouth that's just the last thing I expect, and that I don't quite understand until I think about it for a minute. And then also he just - I enjoy him personally in so much that it makes it very pleasant for me to work with him. I just - so - combination of me being a huge fan and then - and admiration plus, that I just like him so much, you know, as a guy.

A: Bill Murray made an interesting observation about the casting of him. He said that in a film that was about a family of geniuses, it was significant that he was an in-law. Gentleman in the pink shirt.

Q: Your co-producer is quoted as saying that usually irony is used to distance the audience, but in this film it's used to draw you in emotionally. Is that something you'd agree with, and is it something you were conscious of trying to achieve...?

Wes Anderson: Yeah, it's something - whether or not I agree with it, I would like to think he's right. It sounds like - it almost sounds like spin control a little bit. But I do - I feel like - if some people feel like certain things in the movie - in the movie like this distance you, I don't think it's ever my intention to distance you. You know, I want - yeah, you know, I agree with him, because I think all the detail that is put into the movie and all the - you know, all the visual things that are in there - the clothes and the set and the props and all that stuff, I want that stuff to provide you more information about the characters and draw you into their stories more. That's my - that's my aspiration there with all that stuff, and - so maybe - and some of the irony comes out of that stuff, I think.

Q: I think my question is also that you've talked about enjoying creating worlds, and there is something very stylised about your movies, but it's very hard to put your finger exactly on what it is...some kind of understanding about how you go about creating this almost...tone all the way through the movie, something which is very quirky.


Wes Anderson: Well, I think mostly it just has to do with - that I - it's somehow filtered through my perspective a little bit, and I don't want to make an effort to make it strange, but I want to make it - I want to make an effort for it to be - to sort of surprise myself, and I want it to be original, if I can make it original, and I want it to be - um - as full of ideas as I can make it. Um - but somehow I think it just sort of filtered through my way of looking at it, so that makes it sort of stick together in a way - I think. I mean, that's a kind of a - that's - almost not an answer, but I - just my own instincts tend to be sort of specific, and they sort of tie it together a little bit - I think. It's my best I can do.

A: I think it's a very good answer to the question that is indulging intangible areas. Rob.

Rob: You said that your father is nothing like Royal, but might we assume that there's more than a hint of your mother in Etheline ...

Wes Anderson: Yeah. Yeah, there's a lot more of my mother in the Anjelica Huston character than my father in the royal character. You know, my mother was an archaeologist and also - which that character is - and also just her approach to raising the children and the kind of household - that character runs, I think is, you know, connected to my mother.

A: You might want to make reference to your father - his concern -

Wes Anderson: Oh yeah, my father was worried because the mother's so much like - like my mother, and he recognised that. He was always worried that this was my take on him, which is totally wrong, but it's been hard to kind of - you know - convince him that it's not him.

A: The gentleman in the black -

Q: Can you tell us about your working relationship with Owen Wilson and how it started and the way that you work together?

Wes Anderson: Well, we went to school together in Austin, and we - we were in a play writing class together. And we kind of exchanged short stories and helped each other with our writing. And then we started working on this script for Bottle rocket, the first movie we did, while we were still in school, and ended up making it as a short, and kind of going on from there. So that was sort of the way we began. And in some ways my - I feel like the best part of our collaboration is really - one of the things I enjoyed the most is just working with him as an actor. I hadn't worked him in quite some time when we did Royal Tenenbaums .... and I really liked having him back on the set as an actor.

Q: ...this is presumably your...

Wes Anderson: I've never seen them .... you never know; I don't think they can be created genetically. They - we used sharpies, you know, they're some kind of marker. I don't know if that's - I probably shouldn't go on record saying that, it's probably some violation of some humane society.

A: No mouse was harmed.

Wes Anderson: Yeah, and I never saw a mouse suffer as a result of this. The ink fades, but I don't know if it gets into their blood stream or anything.

A: They're happy to be different for that moment.

Wes Anderson: We did have one mouse that had something wrong with him, something mentally wrong with him, because - we used him quite a lot, because any time you set him down, he would run counter-clockwise in a circle. Endlessly. I don't know if it was...

A: Maybe he was left-handed.

Wes Anderson: Yeah, I think it might be that one of his legs was shorter than the others, but I think it was really like autism or something.

A: Maybe his agent hadn't got him a decent enough fee, and he was just rebelling. Andy.

Andy: I think in the casting process...

Wes Anderson: Well, in the case of Gwyneth Paltrow, she really came in with her - her take on it. She asked - you know, she - she's very eager to hear any direction you have, and just never - this is my experience anyway - she never questions it. She asks a question only rarely, but when she has a question, it's something she's thought about and tried to figure it out herself, and then she asks the question, and then she just makes sure she's - 'cos usually my answer is not something that's - it's usually an answer that's sort of a metaphor and it's me searching for some words, and some people get it right off the bat, and some people don't - but usually she would kind of get what I'm saying. But mostly she had a take on the character, and she kind of got from the script something pretty close to what I always had in mind. And - and so - in the case of Paltrow it was like that was the situation. In the case of Ben Stiller, he really wants to asks lots of questions and hear lots of stuff back, and try all kinds of different things, and really find what level things need to be working at, and how angry should he be here, and - you know, and really kind of gauge it. Which is also - you know, that's enjoyable for me, because he brings me in. Whereas Gene Hackman, he doesn't want to talk about anything if he can avoid it. You know, he'd rather not be directed at all. And that's - you know, so there's different - different kind of good things about the different ways - anyway -

A: Bruce.

Bruce: Cameron recently called you a constant inspiration...

Wes Anderson:... said that? Where did you hear that?

Bruce: No he said that to us.

Wes Anderson: He did? Cameron Crowe? Is he here?

Bruce: ......

A: He hadn't had anything to drink; he was quite sober.

Wes Anderson: He never said anything like that to me personally. I couldn't even get him on the phone last time... [laughter]

You know Cameron actually - it's funny because Cameron was very important - at one moment when we were making Bottle Rocket. I had put all jazz music through the whole movie, and - that was my idea. But really it was more of a conceit in a way. And - and there was a certain point where this Rolling Stones song 2000 Man comes on. And Cameron, after watching the movie, he was very nice to us about the movie, but he said that he felt like the movie - that he knew when that Rolling Stones song came on late in the movie, that the movie had a rock sensibility - what he called a rock sensibility. And he really encouraged me to try to kind of look at - just try to be totally honest about what - I really feel would make these scenes - kind of spark them off in the best way. And I ended up kind of reviewing the movie, and I put songs in where I hadn't had songs, and sort of balanced it out. There's still a certain amount of kind of jazz stuff in there, but there are many more songs in it, and I think it helped the movie quite a lot and sort of influenced what I was going to do after that.

But in terms of other people, you know, one of my biggest ones I think of is Truffault was one of my favourite ever, and I feel had so many things you could sort of steal from him - also Polanski is a big one for me, John Huston - Bogdanovich is a great one, I think.

A: Gentleman in the front row.

Q: Yeah, what about someone like Scorsese...? When I watched this I thought, The Age of Innocence, but also... And I just wanted to know what you thought.

Wes Anderson: Yeah, he's the one I don't mention because, you know, there's too much ..... I feel that he - he's almost like Griffiths or something, where there's so many kind of, you know, grammatical rules that he invented or discovered or something, and everybody kind - you almost need them to make a movie now. Any time I'm doing something that's kind of - that's really set to music - especially if it involves some kind of slow motion effect or something like that. And then also there's just this basic thing of combining sort of dreamy, surreal moments with acting that you want to be as realistic and as kind of almost documentary feeling as possible, which maybe - I think I end up - because the writing in my stuff is not always quite reality. And I don't end up quite there, but I feel like that's an influence in a big way.

And then also he's an influence in that he's somebody who kind of points you in a certain direction with things to look at because he's such a film scholar, just the same way Bogdanovich is - and there's lots of movies that, you know - Michael Powell and Emma Cressburger - their films are as big an influence on me as anybody's. And the way I became interested in their films was - for Martin Scorsese - reading about Martin Scorsese, talking about The Red Shoes and Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and you know those films.

Q: What about the work...film critics...sensibilities?

Wes Anderson: Yeah, well Pauline Kale to me was really very - very important for me in terms of what I started looking at, and how I was looking at it. Because - you know, I read her - when I was in high school I started reading her in the New Yorker, but that was the only critic that I was really - that I knew the name in particular. And I read her, you know, at least - she wasn't always in every week, but I read every - I always read the magazine. And - and you know, she's the way I knew about Bertolucci and sort of the late sixties ..... movies, and a lot of things that really had an influence on me - I kind of knew from her.

And then also - much older stuff like L........ stuff and Sturges stuff, and - you know -

A: And on that tribute to journalists and why they're great, we have to end it there. Wes Anderson, thank you very much indeed.

Wes Anderson: Thank you.

This interview was provided by Buena Vista International and Beatwax Communications.

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