SXSW Interview: Wes Anderson Checks Us Into ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

There are certain filmmakers working in the industry whose style and signature are so unique that their films are unmistakably their own. Every single frame distinguishes the personal touch. One of those exceptional filmmakers is, of course, Wes Anderson.

Anderson, an alumnus of the University of Texas, has whirled us from melancholy dreamscapes set deep under the ocean to doomed romances in Paris hotels to fantastical animal tales in stop-motion. But for all the retro-styles his films so proudly wear, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is undeniably one of his finest features since “Rushmore” (1998) and “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (2004).

In his latest comedy-drama, Anderson shares the adventures of a hotel concierge played by the ever-charismatic Ralph Fiennes (“Harry Potter an the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” 2011). Supported by the likes of Tony Revolori, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, Anderson adds another extraordinary feat to his already striking filmography.

The North Texas Daily sat down for an interview with Anderson at the Four Seasons hotel in Austin, where “The Grand Budapest Hotel” had its regional premiere at the Paramount Theater on Monday night. We spoke about his inimitable style, attention to detail and working with his all-star cast.

One thing I’ve always appreciated about your films is your comedic tone breaks, especially in this film. There will be these subtle moments and then you’ll drop a funny line like “I’m going to blast your candy a–.” But your comedy has a timeless quality to it. How do you think you achieved it, and what do you think is the difference between that kind of timeless quality comedy over something that’s just funny once and doesn’t age well?

Wes Anderson: “Yeah! Well, who knows how this film will age either, but with any luck it will age nicely. But I’m not quite sure how it happens. Whatever the movie will end up being, it comes from the writing. The actors invent their performances themselves, but they work with this script. A lot of what it is comes from what’s on the page. But I don’t really know if I can really comment about how that happens.

The writing is the place where you’re not necessarily working from research or anything in particular. It’s the one part where you’re working most of the time with just nothing. You’re trying to think, ‘Well, then what happens? What does this character say?’ You’re sort of lucky to get from one line to the next.

I don’t really know how that happens. But I always try to work with a friend. Every movie that I’ve done, I’ve worked with someone who’s close to me. Each of these films has their personality in it too. It’s kind of mystery how every person writes, I think.”

Something else that I like about your films is your attention to detail. For example, in “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) there is the character Margot with her missing finger, as well as the characters with their matching track suits. And in “Budapest” the main character, M. Gustave (Fiennes), wears all kinds of perfume. How do you write in these details without getting away from the story, but adding to the characters?

Anderson: “Most of these things come from— Well, Gustave with the perfume, for instance, comes from this real person who wears this real Versace perfume every day, and he sprays on like six squirts. You can’t miss him. He will speak about it freely. He’ll say, ‘Of course, of course I wear this.’

Tony Revolori, who plays the lobby boy Zero— I thought he came up with drawing on the mustache on the character. But then the other day at another interview he denied that he came up with the mustache, as if he didn’t want credit for it. I guess he didn’t think it was that good of an idea or something.

But so often these details come from something in real life. Then other times it’s imagination. But when it is imagination, it’s probably still stolen from something that we forgot about where it came from.”

How did you come to casting Ralph Fiennes? He’s not exactly an actor known for comedy. However, I’m not sure if you saw him in “In Bruges” (2008), but he’s quite the comedian in that film. What did you see in him that you thought would be right?

Anderson: “‘In Bruges’ was one of the ones that I thought of because he’s so funny in it. But I also saw him in this play called ‘God of Carnage’ and a movie that Bob Balaban directed called ‘Bernard and Doris’ (2006), which is a very quiet role for him.

I’ve got to know him over the years a little bit. And he got to know my friend whom his role is based off of. So he had a sense of what my friend was like. But it was that combination.”

At the beginning of the film one of the characters debates whether a writer’s imagination is always at work. Do you find this statement to be true? Do you ever take the time to watch television or familiarize yourself with what’s going on in today’s media? Maybe something like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” on TLC?

Anderson: “I don’t know Honey Boo Boo [Laughs]. But I do lots of things that aren’t working, kind of. I don’t watch that much TV. I watch shows on DVDs and stuff- that sort of way. I live mostly in Europe, so I don’t really understand the TV. I don’t speak French and I live in France a lot of the time. But I’m insulated from TV that way.”

You graduated from UT with a degree in philosophy. Do you think that degree helped you with filmmaking, or have you noticed anything?

Anderson: “Yeah. I wonder because I don’t really remember much of what I read in the philosophy. It’s so hard to read that stuff in the first place. I don’t really know why I was in philosophy. I didn’t know anything about it. But I guess that’s partly why I was in philosophy, because I didn’t know what it was. I wanted to sort of find out, I guess.

The philosophy department here now seems like a good one. I don’t really have anything to compare it to, but there were so many professors who made a real impression on me.

I was talking to Richard Linklater about the same thing. I told him that one of my philosophy professors was in his movie ‘Slacker’ (1991). Then I mentioned a different one to him and he knew him. Apparently, he goes to his film society often. He’s still in touch with him. I also had this other professor who taught this conference course – a class that only had about three or four people in it – called Philosophy and Theatre. We read plays and the professor would share things with us because he was a super smart, interesting person. It was a great class. But I guess what sticks with me the most from that philosophy department is some of these teachers.”

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” opens Friday at Landmark the Magnolia, AMC Northpark and Cinemark West Plano. It opens at Cinemark Denton on Apr. 4.

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