Filmmaker Wes Anderson is back with his fifth movie, The Darjeeling Limited, which takes three estranged brothers, played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman (who also co-wrote this), on a spiritual across India, getting into all sorts of misadventures. A few days before the film was to have its North American premiere as Opening Night of the New York Film Festival, Anderson made a rare appearance to talk to journalists about it.
ComingSoon.net: What sparked your interest in this idea?
Wes Anderson: The first thing was I wanted to make a movie in India. That was sparked through a series of events: some movies that I’d seen over the years, a book that I’d read, and a friend that I had who I grew up with who was from India. So all those things contributed and then just at a certain point I realized that’s what I want to connect. And I thought I wanted to make a film about three brothers because I grew up one of three brothers. One of the key things was that I thought I would like to write with Jason and Roman and that was in a way the biggest idea for me because the story came from all three of us together.
CS: I thought it was interesting that the natural colors used in India seem to be very much like something you might see in a Wes Anderson film. Is that something that appealed to you? That sense of color and style?
Anderson: I love that about India. There’s practically nothing in the movie that we invented. I didn’t go there until three years ago and I went there because I wanted to make a movie there, and when I went, I wasn’t shocked by what it was. It was this place that I’ve seen in movies, but vastly expanded. Obviously, I’m not an expert on India by any means. It’s just a huge place with so many different subcultures. To me it was a place where there is no direction to look that isn’t interesting in some way or another. It’s a very moving place to visit.
CS: Do you believe in reincarnation and that you might have been an Indian filmmaker in a past life?
Anderson: One of my favorite filmmakers is Satyajit Ray and he’s one of my inspirations for doing this movie. His whole approach to making movies interests me because he works like a novelist really. He made a movie practically every year. He has his own little troop and their very personal stories. I think Pedro Almodovar today, his way of working, he’s a regional filmmaker, has his group of people, he has his resources and can keep making one movie after another. He does his own thing. I admire that.
CS: There are some similar people you work with from movie to movie like cinematographer Bob Yeomen who’s shot most of your movies. Would you ever work with another DP or do you just like his style?
Anderson: He’s a very good friend of mine and I just think he’s great. I would be happy to work with someone else if Bob doesn’t want to do the movie I’m doing, or if he’s unavailable. I like working with my friends. We work well together.
CS: You’ve collaborated on your movie’s scripts with Owen and Jason and Roman, all of whom you’ve been friends with for a while. Can you talk about how you decide to start writing with your friends?
Anderson: It’s different every time. Owen and I were helping each other writing short stories when we first got to know each other, but we also went to movies all the time. That one it was just sort of automatic. It was almost like we didn’t have any choice about it. Then, Noah (Baumbach) and I started working on a story for a movie without realizing we were doing that. It wasn’t “The Life Aquatic” it was something else that we haven’t even finished writing. Whenever we would go to dinner or something we would just start make up scenes for the thing and then we would just start writing them down because we’ve got a lot of stuff now. And with Jason and Roman it happened when we were all in France at the same time. I knew I wanted to work with Jason again, we hadn’t done anything together since “Rushmore” and we’d been friends since then. And then Roman had come and helped while we were doing “The Life Aquatic” he did a lot of work on that movie and really helped me enormously and he’s somebody I really enjoy being around. So suddenly we were all in this place together right when I wanted to start this project and I thought this is good luck so let’s take advantage of it.
CS: What is it about brotherhood you think makes such fertile soil for story telling?
Anderson: For me it’s because the first twenty years of my life most of the time I was with my brothers. I feel like we get along very well, but we fought a lot. We fought most of the time we were together. And yet they’re the people I’m closest to in the world. And other than my own brothers I’ve spent a lot of time with Owen, Luke, Andrew Wilson. Those brothers are like my brothers to me because I lived with them for years and years in different places we’ve all been together. And also Jason and Roman I feel like my relationship to them is also like brothers. Just because it’s a big part of my life I guess.
CS: This film is set in India, in previous films, like “The Tenenbaums,” it’s kind of a mythical New York, what made you want to do it this way?
Anderson: Well we don’t ever say India. I don’t know if we do actually, we may. It’s hard to argue that this is a mythical India. I thought during the movie about this issue, because I kind of like not specifying a place. But in the case of this, Darjeeling is a real part of India. It’s nowhere near where any of this stuff is actually taking place. I guess because India is so much the subject matter of the movie I just wouldn’t want to give it a fake name.
CS: What are some things that you learned making “The Life Aquatic” and also some things that you learned making “The Darjeeling” that can apply to your next project?
Anderson: “The Life Aquatic” was a very hard movie to make. We shot for a hundred days and people were always warning me you don’t want to do a movie on the water. And I was like, “Well, just wait.” But it just turns out to be very difficult. Making a movie on a train is nothing like making a movie on a boat. The weather can change so suddenly and small things can become gigantic problems. I’ve never been anywhere close to working on a movie where two thirds of the day through I was thinking, “I’m not going to get anything done today. We’re going to leave today without anything and we’re going to have spent three hundred thousand dollars.” And that’s the kind of thing that was happening on that movie; it was very difficult. It was also a lot of fun in a lot of ways. It was the movie we wanted to make, but it was expensive and difficult and slow, and I don’t like working that way. I felt like nobody made any choices along the way to make it any more commercial. It’s an odd movie, it’s a weird movie. It’s the movie we wanted to make, but maybe it shouldn’t have cost sixty million dollars. The way it was released in Europe or in Japan for instance; they released it like my other movies. “Well, this is a special little odd movie we’ve got here.” They don’t really know how much it costs. They don’t really think about it. But in America, the way it was presented, it had to be presented as a big movie that came out on 2,000 screens or something, because they had all this money in it. Their only hope to get the money back was to go for it which it doesn’t do all that. So this movie we made for much, much less money. We made it much more quickly. And the whole process really felt right, whereas, in “The Life Aquatic,” the process was a mixture of things. And I will say this, looking back on “The Life Aquatic,” how we did it, I don’t know how we could do that movie cheaper. Well, the way to do it cheaper is you cut out some of the boats, islands, helicopters, explosions, you know? And then you can get it to a more modest scale.
CS: I remember you had a five-story boat in “The Life Aquatic.” In this, you have a scene of the train, where the camera pans from one car to the next. Did you actually build that in a similar way?
Anderson: The difference is that was five stories tall. But that was the most expensive shot in the movie. Because we had to build this set. It is like following a train of thought. The scene you’re talking about in “Darjeeling” definitely relates to that other scene. And I sort of worry, well do I want to do something where somebody will recognize that’s something I do, or I’m repeating something I’ve done in some way. But I kind of think that, well I don’t want to not do that. There are a lot of peoples other movies people that can see and if I want to follow this train of thought if you want to call it that I’m just going to do that. So we built it and we had to bring everyone back. Bill Murray and Natalie Portman, and everybody who left had to come back for that. And then we went out for the afternoon to the desert on our train and shot it. It wasn’t actually that hard to do. A lot of what needed to be done just had to be built in such a way by our production designer who was good at that stuff.
CS: You mentioned earlier watching a lot of movies while you were younger and getting inspired by that. What first made you fall in love with wanting to make movies?
Anderson: Once I would list Hitchcock movies that were out on Beta, when they first had Beta, which were “Rear Window” and “Rope” and maybe “North by Northwest.” Just a few color ones. And those really interested me because I was aware that the videos said Alfred Hitchcock. You see him every now and then, but suddenly it’s not about the star, it’s about this Alfred Hitchcock. So I was interested in that, this director. And then I think probably Spielberg, “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars”, all that stuff was interesting to me. And then later when I actually started doing stuff I started watching some French movies and those were movies where all the things I was looking at were built around these directors, and I got drawn to those.
CS: Looking onto your next film, is “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” going to be a bigger budget movie?
Anderson: It’s bigger than “Darjeeling” just because it’s a movie where you have to build everything and you’re building it in miniature. It’s stop motion.
CS: Is Henry Selick going to do that?
Anderson: Not Henry. Henry has his own movie that he’s directing, but there’s a guy he introduced me to named Mark Gustafson who is one of his colleagues at this place Vinton where he works. So he’s going to be the guy who’s in charge of the animation. It’s very low budget for an animated movie, it’s like thirty five million, because you need to get a bank loan. (This is probably more information than I’m supposed to be giving you.)
CS: Have you started principal photography?
Anderson: No we haven’t started. We’re still designing the characters. We just got the money two months ago, something like that. We were at one studio that went out of business, and we’ve been through a lot of different phases of getting this sorted out, but finally we’re rolling on it.
CS: We’ve talked to a lot of filmmakers who try to do everything on camera because when they have to go to computer animators, it’s out of their control. Are you worried about not having as much control because you’ll be depending on them?
Anderson: The way we shot in India, I feel like what I enjoyed the most about it were the things that you couldn’t control because I’m pretty good at controlling it all. India is a place you can’t control. There’s no way, it’s going to invade everything. Things are going to happen. My theory with the movie was, okay, all right. We left last night and the hut was brown and now today we’re here and we can all see that it’s painted blue. Now that happened over the night. That was somebody’s decision and now we’re going to film that. Literally that’s an exact thing that happened. It’s just a place where you say, “Well, what happened guys?” People just made decisions. It was very exciting for that to happen. It was full of surprises working there. The animated stuff, we control everything. That’s the answer to that. The actors will bring a lot to it and the animators are like actors also, so they bring a lot to it as well.