You can spot a Wes Anderson movie from a mile away. The director’s visions and style are so distinct and captivating that whether realized using stop motion animation or live-action, you know it is his work.
His latest work, Asteroid City, a 1950s set homage to Americana, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to a 6.5-minute standing ovation. But what is it like to experience Anderson’s unique filmmaking process from an actor’s perspective?
“Shockingly, he’s this combination of being hands-off and specific that is wonderful,” enthused Maya Hawke, just one of the film’s wildly impressive ensemble cast. “There are a few things that are very important to him, but if you pay attention to his writing, you gain most of the information about what’s important to him from reading the script. You can fill out the rest of it on your own.”
“He builds this world for you to exist in. He writes the script, which is like a musical score of details for you to follow, then lets the story unfold before him. If it doesn’t unfold the way he wants it, then he gets in and negotiates and moves it, or he just keeps doing it over and over again until it falls into place. He’s unique.”
Rupert Friend, who plays Montana, a singing cowboy with eyes for Hawke’s character June, added, “Each of his movies definitely has its own distinct style, but Wes’ love for language runs through them. His respect for words, his joy in words, and the fact that the words that he’s chosen for each character are specific.”
“He’s one of those rare combinations of cerebral and literary, but also, as we all know, visual and aesthetic. He has this almost magical combination of the two.”
Asteroid City, which lands in theaters in LA and New York on Friday, June 16, 2023, before opening nationwide a week later, was Hope Davis’ first experience working with Anderson, a filmmaker she has been a fan of for years. She had “total faith” in him.
“He’s extraordinarily relaxed. He’s usually riding the camera on the dolly going back and forth, with a straw hat on and maybe his megaphone, and he never looks disappointed in a take,” she explained. “He’s never upset about the way the light is coming in or what’s happening. He seems to be so in the moment. You get a lot of takes, and he’ll toss different ideas out. It’s so easy for a director to shut an actor down. Like many people, Actors are sensitive, but Wes is the opposite. The second you step on the set, you think, ‘Well, he loves what I’m doing. He likes it,’ and you feel kind of willing to try anything.”
Anderson’s science fiction romantic comedy-drama plays out against the backdrop of a Junior Stargazer convention in the film’s remote titular location. However, things don’t go to plan. The cast includes Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, and many more, a rich mix of prior and first-time Anderson collaborators.
“He’s a very demanding director, but in the best way, in a really gentle way. As actors, we want to deliver what he wants out of respect for him,” Jeffrey Wright explained. The actor plays the host of the Junior Stargazer Awards, General Grif Gibson.
“The process hasn’t been uniform in the two times I’ve worked with him. He has a very specific style that is his own, but they are two very disparate worlds that he created for The French Dispatch, and this one, Asteroid City. As an actor, I think the expectations are the same: you need to deliver something that requires a lot of you. On Asteroid City, there was this increasing sense that we were part of something special and making a film that could be quite beautiful and unique.”
Adrien Brody, who has worked with Anderson many times, confirmed, “It’s a pleasure to collaborate with Wes, and there’s definitely a newness to every experience. It’s also interesting to collaborate with actors you’ve worked with in other lives in other worlds. Jason Schwartzman and I traversed India as brothers in The Darjeeling Limited, and now I’m directing him as an actor, but there are still existential crises to come to terms with.”
For some of his cast, including Stephen Park, the father of one of the film’s Junior Stargazers, even an approach from Anderson is memorable.
“I did some voice work for Wes on Isle of Dogs, but it didn’t end up in the film. That was my first meeting with him, and I didn’t think I’d ever see him again,” the actor recalled. “I was just thrilled that I got to meet him at all, then out of the blue one day, I came home, and my wife goes, ‘Steve, you’ve got to look at your email. You’ve got a message from Wes Anderson,’ and I was like,’ What?’”
“His emails are so beautiful. They’re like little poems, or haikus or something. They’re like, ‘Do you have the time to maybe look at this thing that I’ve written?’ He’s very non-presumptuous. He wanted to know if I wanted to read something he wrote with me in mind. It’s the most beautiful way to be led into the world of Wes Anderson.” Park also starred in the director’s 2021 movie, The French Dispatch, as did Friend, Swinton, and Brody.
“It’s always nice to get a call or an email from Wes checking your availability at a certain time,” Brody added. Was it during that production that the director first mentioned Asteroid City to him?
“I don’t know if it’s ever been amidst production of one thing that I’ve heard of another, but in whatever way it materializes, it’s a nice thing, I have to say.”
Wright continued, “One thing I’ve come to understand about Wes is that he’s pretty relentless. You think you’re done with the previous one, and he has already compartmentalized it in his mind. He is working on the next one almost simultaneously. I think it’s necessary for him. It’s almost biologically essential for him to be working on a story and working on a film. You know there’s something else coming, and he might hint at one or two things. I know he’s definitely got something else up his sleeve.
Maya Hawkes admitted that signing on for a Wes Anderson movie was a no-brainer “but not for the reasons you may think.”
“It’s mostly because of the environment that he creates and how much of a pleasure it is to be a part of that,” she mused. “It’s cool that he’s a big shot, but that’s not why it’s an automatic yes. It’s an automatic yes because his movies are positive and powerful, and they create this environment that you would be crazy not to want to be a part of.”
Rupert Friend concluded, “I echo what Maya says, absolutely, and I think that working with someone who is original, a visionary, and kind is a very rare combination, but Wes is all three in spades.”
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