Ann Lee: I suspect this is your most complex movie, given that it can be viewed on so many different levels. From the production notes, I also gather it’s an idea you’ve had in your mind for something like 14 years?
Wes Anderson: Yeah, I wasn’t being flippant. I wrote a little short story when I was in college. It was actually one paragraph, which was a description of this character and Angelica’s character and this ship, The Belafonte, and the sort of setting. But I didn’t mean for it to be a movie, I was just trying to write a story and I never really got any further. It was actually Owen Wilson who kept bringing it up from time to time over the years and always reminding be about it, saying that I ought to think about it some more. I remember that day on The Royal Tenenbaums seeing Angelica and Bill together, and thought there was a great kind of rapport between the two of them that seemed like it would be worth exploring.
Of the many inspired ideas in this movie, the one that tickled me was to get the David Bowie catalogue and then have it translated into Portuguese. Was he quite flattered and chuffed with that?
I’ve never spoken to him. I know that a friend of mine heard him on the radio being interviewed – and this was some time ago – and he said that there was a special project that he was working on, and it was very secret, but that his songs were sang in Portuguese and there was no more he could say about it. I heard that and then I got a call saying David Bowie is going to call me today. But then I didn’t ever get the phone call and that’s the extent of my knowledge of David Bowie.
Bill Murray seems able to get a laugh even when doing very little. Did you get a chance to observe any kind of method behind his particular brand of comedy?
He’s a very powerful force and you feel it. And there is something sort of heroic about him, in a way, too. We can be here saying whatever we’ve got to say and we may be trying very hard to be interesting, but if he happened to be standing in the back of the room it’d be hard for us to keep everyone looking at us, because he’d be doing little things with his face and you would laugh because he can sort of sweep everyone up.
I think that’s part of what makes him a star. I remember going to a Sheryl Crow concert in Central Park, which Bill introduced. Afterwards, I was walking with him to the parking garage, after the concert – and it was Central Park, so it was a huge concert – and we walked across Fifth Avenue and like five or six people kind of followed and then I saw more people gathering as we were walking down. Every street we crossed there were people jaywalking diagonally and by the time we got to the parking garage there were like 40 people walking with Bill Murray across town and I had never seen anything like it in my life. And he was talking a little bit to each person and then they all waited while the guy got the car and brought it down, and then he waved as he drove off and left this crowd on the street.
Are you a fan of Jacques Cousteau, as I believe the film is dedicated to him?
Yes, I love Jacques Cousteau. I love his whole persona and his films. I wanted to dedicate the movie to Cousteau but we ultimately, legally, had to make this disclaimer because it says ‘this movie is dedicated to Jacques Cousteau and the Cousteau Society which was not involved with the production’. The emphasis, for them, was the latter part of it; for me it was the dedication.
Were there any characters you created that didn’t make the final cut?
Usually there are. Yeah, there was a cook, which wasn’t a very big role. I don’t remember anyone in particular except tiny, tiny parts. In The Royal Tenenbaums we had a whole sub-plot; there was a part that Jason Schwartzman was going to play, a kid living across the street from their house, the son of a diplomat who had escaped from a school in Switzerland and was living in an attic and had like a cable connected to their house, and they were sliding things across it – we had a whole entire story. But I can’t think of anything quite like that in this.
It’s great to see Bud Cort back on-screen. What was he like to work with? I believe he’s compared you to Hal Ashby, so how does that make you feel?
It’s nice of him. Bud, you know, we wrote the part for him. I’d gotten to know him at a party that Angelica Huston had hosted, for The Royal Tenenbaums and I loved him in those early movies – Harold and Maude, Brewster McCloud and MASH – but I also realised I had seen him very recently in a very small part in Heat. He’s great in it but almost unrecognisable. And then also Pollock, he’s very good in that. So we just wanted to write a part for him, because he’s very warm, totally crazy and worth having around.
Did filming at Cinecitta live up to your expectations as a Fellini fan?
The place is still steeped in Fellini. People talk about him every day there. And the stage that we built our big cross-section set on, everyone called it Fellini’s stage and it was amazing.
It’s also absolutely unlike working on an American movie; there’s a completely different set of strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes it’s frustrating for an American crew because you can’t understand why certain things aren’t getting done but at the same time we might make some wild request that’s almost undoable and they’ve figured out some way to do it. The scenic work and the creation of the sets is very detailed and they do really amazing work. And the lunches are great.
Is there anyone else you would like to work with?
I have a number of people that I could think of but none that I particularly want to say. I would have loved to have had Marlon Brando because I can think of a lot of things he would have been great for. But, you know what, I can’t think of anybody. The ones I actually think of are people I have an actual role in mind for, but then I don’t want to say because I’m probably going to screw it up. But there’s a part that I want Angelica to play in this thing I’m working on, and there’s a part that I want Jason Schwartzman to play.