Who is Wes Anderson?
By Rebecca Redshaw
Who is Wes Anderson? Wunderkind? Directing phenomenon? Boy genius? Intuitive writer? Check any or all of the above.
Anderson’s physical presence initially makes you want to check his I.D. Even though he is slight of build and a very youthful thirty-two, the director of “The Royal Tenenbaums” demeanor oozes thoughtful, self-assuredness, a rarity in show business circles.
His rise to prominence in the film community as an innovative mind is due in no small part to the early interest of James Brooks (producer and director of “Terms of Endearment” and “Broadcast News”). Through a family friend of Owen Wilson, Anderson’s co-writer on all three of his films, their first effort, “Bottle Rocket,” was given to movie producer Polly Platt who in turn passed it on to Brooks.
Given the fact that Anderson and Wilson were located in Texas, seemingly far away from the Hollywood scene, the 1992 connection proved to be an advantageous one for their futures.
Eventually, “Bottle Rocket” received financing to extend the twelve-minute short to the original script of ninety-two minutes and Anderson and Wilson were on their way. Critical acclaim from no one less than Martin Scorsese for “Rushmore” their next co-written feature starring Bill Murray, paved the way for the making of “The Royal Tenebaums.”
As to the creative path their work has taken, Anderson is clear. “There’s a lot of stuff we learned from making “Bottle Rocket” where we had to re-shoot and re-cut. When we made “Rushmore,” we didn’t re-shoot anything and this one [Tenebaums] even more so, and it was very, very complicated. I think we learned a lot from doing “Bottle Rocket” and working with producer Jim Brooks who gave us a real crash course in screenwriting.”
The Anderson/Wilson writing team began when both were students at the University of Texas, Austin helping each other write short stories. It’s clearly a relationship Anderson values, yet Wilson’s blossoming career in front of the camera may put a dent in their future projects.
“I feel like Owen and I have a sensibility that we have [writing] together, a voice we have found for ourselves and we’re going to continue it. The only tricky thing is Owen also acts and makes other movies,” Anderson states. “The Coen Brothers are lucky because they’re side by side all the way through. On the other point, I like having those guys [the Wilson brothers] acting in my movies.”
And the Wilson brothers, including Luke and Andrew, have been in all of Anderson’s projects that lend an air of a family affair to the set.
“The Royal Tenebaums” is all about family and some characters in the movie are people Anderson knows or has known. Angelica Houston who plays the matriarch of the eccentric clan was concerned initially about her role.
“Wes would send pictures of his mother in aviator jackets or on archeological digs and he very specifically wanted me to wear a certain locket. Finally, I asked him, “Wes, am I playing your mother?” To Houston’s relief he assured her she was not.
The ensemble cast included, in addition to Houston, Gene Hackman, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bill Murray, Danny Glover and Luke and Owen Wilson. This much talent assembled on a set at any one time might intimidate the most seasoned of directors but Anderson remained focused on what he wanted and the overall picture.
“The direction was extremely complicated because there were so many actors, so many locations, and so much art that needed to be created. But the biggest thing was inventing all that stuff. That’s why the script took a couple of years. That’s a long time.”
When he first started writing the script with Wilson, Anderson envisioned Hackman as Royal Tenebaum, the head of the family. The actor turned down the project numerous times before signing on just prior to the shoot. Once on board, Hackman was totally involved.
Someone less poised than Anderson might be intimidated by the experience and talent Hackman brings to the set, but the young director said, “I was very excited to work with Gene. He’s such a spontaneous actor and he brings a real force to every moment. As much as he was the perfect guy for the character, he was one of the guys we most wanted in our movie.”
The respect seems to be mutual. Hackman states his opinion of Anderson. “I understand he’s a young man who has a concept and a lot of young people don’t. They do a lot of films that they’ve seen before. They just remake something. To Wes’s credit, this film does not look like other films.”
Even though Hackman isn’t offered many comedic roles, he exploits, in a good way, Royal’s family dilemma.
“I like the idea of constant conflict between Royal and his family,” Hackman states. “Nothing ever goes smoothly for him and as an actor that is something I can recognize and I can play. That’s the essence of drama.”
Script complete and cast in place, Anderson scouted for the ideal setting for his movie. Finding the perfect home in New York City where the Tenebaum clan would reside and a large portion of the film would be shot, was a challenge for him. Eventually, he found a tall, narrow house in the Hamilton Heights section of Manhattan.
“I had a great time in New York City,” Anderson said. “It’s completely different than shooting anyplace else. There’s no edge to the movie set, the street makes it all together. In some ways the inspiration of the movie was the architecture of the buildings, the library, the clubs, the houses that are unlike any I’ve seen anyplace else.”
Because the release date is in time for Oscar consideration, there is considerable “buzz” about this small, atypical Hollywood tale. Anderson is non-plussed.
“I feel like it has nothing to do with me. It would be great if Gene Hackman or any of the others were nominated but it doesn’t color my attitude in the least.” Anderson delivers his sentiments with such nonchalance they tend to ring true.
He knows “The Royal Tenenbaums,” as well as his other celluloid efforts, are not mainstream fare but Anderson balks at the word “quirky” when his work is categorized.
“Quirky is the thing I don’t want to be. I’d say we’re trying to make it as original as it can be and trying to make things as exciting as we can make them by bringing surprises in. I’m trying to make something good and new that will catch your eye.” He takes a moment before continuing. “So, I feel a little defensive when people think that I’m just trying to make it weird. The last thing I would do is try and make it weird. Then people think I’m weird and I’m generally weirder than they give me credit for.”
Ben Stiller has a different take on Anderson’s work.
“I think Wes makes very unique films that have a great visual style and are funny. The characters have their own point of view. He’s not worried about making them likeable.”