A few weeks ago the London Film Festival began its first press conference of the festival with the Opening Film, Fantastic Mr Fox. On the panel was the writer/director, Wes Anderson and the stars, George Clooney, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Eric Anderson, Jarvis Cocker and Wallace Wolodarsky. What follows was a really funny press conference; Bill Murray was the standout, with some fantastic one-liners and rants. The only problem with the press conference was the fact that most of the questions were to George Clooney and half of them was about his personal life, which seem out of place, but George Clooney was on top form and dodged the gossip news bullets aimed at him (for those quotes check out our Why Press Conference Suck story). Hope you enjoy.
George, what for you is the appeal of Roald Dahl’s storytelling and characters?
George Clooney: I just showed up for the paycheck because I heard it was a big one. This is a fairly well-known book for a long period of time for a lot of us and there was an opportunity, not only to work on a really interesting and fun story, but also to work with Wes, so I was excited about the whole process. It was a very different process than what most people go through when they work on an animated film. We were out in the middle of nowhere, people’s farms, doing sound effects and things like that; rolling around in the field. The whole process what is exciting and fun to do. If wasn’t an interesting answer, I apologize for that.
Mr. Clooney, can you talk about Mr. Fox? It seems to be a George Clooney performance without your face.
Clooney: Thank you. Although have you noticed the suit and the suit. There is something a little scary about that. For me this guy was just an optimist and I really thought it was a fun character to play. I remember reading the script and saying to Wes, “Listen I love it, and I’m thrilled and excited to do it. I don’t know who’ll see it because it’s sort of made for grownups and sort of made for kids. You never know how that plays.” And he said, “Don’t worry about it. Let’s just go make a movie and have some fun.” And I thought that was a great way to approach making a film, so for me it was about the process of working with Wes, working with these guys. I didn’t enjoy working with Bill, that’s fair to say. We fought a lot.
Bill Murray: That’s accurate George.
Clooney: But I let go of some of the anger and we seem to get along fine now.
Wes, what brought you to the project? And why this style of animation?
Wes Anderson: Why stop motion? Yeah. This was the first book I ever personally owned; officially my property. It was a book I loved as a child. It was a book that introduced me to Roald Dahl’s work in general. It made a big impression on me. About ten years ago, I approached Liccy Dahl, Dahl’s wife, and asked for permission to do it so it’s been a long process. I always intended for it to be stop motion. I wanted to do a stop motion movie. Stop motion movie with animals with fur because I always liked the way that looks — that odd, sort of magical style. That’s the process.
Wes, returning to the stop motion and the choice that you made with that. I’m wondering whether you intentionally approached the cultural history of that form and specifically and Czech filmmakers like Jan Svankmajer used it for politically subversive ends. And I’m wondering if it had any link to the anarchic spirit of Roald Dahl’s novel?
Murray: That’s the kind of question we’ve been hoping for. That’s why we flew over here. Go get ‘em Wes.
(Laughs and claps)
Wes: That kind of eastern European animation was one of the inspirations for me. It’s the most esoteric thing; it isn’t what we thought we were going to talk about onstage, but it’s a very good question. I hadn’t thought about the political links but I do think the movie and Dahl is kind of anarchic. The movie is a bit of a Robin Hood story so it’s a bit communist, I think…
Murray: Or English.
Wes: But there’s another animated film also that’s a French one, it’s called Le Roman de Renart, do you know that one? And that was a great influence on us because they use — this is too esoteric for this –
Everyone in the panel: No, no, go on.
Wes: One of the techniques that it uses to have multiples scales, so there puppets that are this size, but there also puppets that are tiny that are meant to be the same characters for big-wide shots and it’s very charming and that was something we stole from that movie and used it quite a lot in ours. That’s it. That’s the end of my answer.
Jarvis and Jason, Wallace and Eric, briefly explain your experience voicing the character?
Jarvis: I don’t actually know if I got a line anymore.
Wes: You do.
Jarvis: That line, I put everything into it.
Jarvis: I hope that when people see the film, they’ll be able to sense the preparation that went into doing it.
Wallace: I have had some experience in animation, mostly in American television with The Simpsons. We use to record theatrically, all the actors there subsequently in future animation that never happens, so this was really a very fun, dynamic experience. We got to run around. When we were running, we ran. When we were hiding behind bushes, we hid behind bushes. It was actually quite fun. I’m not really an actor, but I had a great time working with all these people. It’s been a unique experience for future animation.
Jason: I loved being a part of this movie. I think we’ve talked a lot about all getting to go run around and dig in the dirt and make eating noises and growling noises and how much fun that was to do together, but I can, I really can tell you what a thrill it was to work with everyone. And this is weird to say, but like often time if you’re working with people you really admire, you’re working with them and you can’t really stare at them and take it in of how amazing the whole thing is. Because there were no cameras on this, when George would get to do a scene, make a speech, it was nice because I could just look at him and really admire him. I admire him too, to watch the work and look at it, and to be with Bill and watch Bill work and watch Wes. It was really nicety be able to work, but also watch and have that kind of a privilege. I know it sounds like an odd answer, but that was the thing I liked most about this experience. Thank you.
Eric: My experience started out with all these people having a great time standing in for Jason because he wasn’t there at that moment, and then my part began to work afterwards, once it was all over. It was a series of transatlantic phone calls with my brother, which was sort of like visits because I wasn’t talking to him that of often, he was working very hard. It was sort of like when we were kids, making movies only no cameras, in a darken booth with Wes on the headphones. Occasionally it would be such an abstract experience he would say, “Eric remember, you’re an animal.” I had to keep reminding myself that, but ti was magical.
George or Bill, could you relate to the feeling of something being your last?
Clooney: This is your last film Bill. [Laughs]
Bill Murray: I was just with Felicity Dahl yesterday and she made me feel that way too. [Laughs] She brings out the real fear in you. You always feel like this is the very end of it, but the nice thing about being animated is there going to have a big of difficulty picking me out in an audio crowd. That’s what I’m hoping for. I don’t know what were talking about here, but she seems okay. He’s dead now, so he’s safe. There’s nothing to worry about. She can’t do him any damage now. He’s a great guy and she must have roughed him up pretty bad. [Laughs]
Whatever happened in there household should stay there. We saw where they lived; it’s an amazing place and she’s quite a person, so they had quite a life together and she’s very devoted to him, even now. So I’m sure that in that moment it must have been very forceful to her to realize there’s nothing I can do for him now because it’s just an anxiety that no person can help you with. It’s just your own fear of about yourself. You came to it time after time, it’s just somebody must have roughed him up once upon a time and doesn’t go away so easily. She’s a wonderful, wonderful woman. If I were to remarry, I’d take a chance with her.
Bill, do your improvisational skills help or hinder animation?
Murray: It really has to do with the director and the actors you’re working with. The creatures don’t come into it much. It’s just like any other character — you’re sort of put in this – it’s as if I were here. It’s not a big problem. The improvisation is a function of good the script; the script was good, the story is great. The worse the script is, the more you improvise; it’s as simple as that. Whether it’s a Badger, or a doctor, or a housewife, if the script is lousy you’re going to see more and more improvisation from me, especially if I’m a housewife. Worming with these characters was great, and I just want to say before we go any further, I think the real stars of this movie are Eric and Jason and Wallace because their amazing performances. Their the things that delight me the most in the movie, but they wouldn’t of been possible if George hadn’t really stepped out in front and made a character that we all maple around. This is some of the best work I’ve ever seen somebody do in any kind of voice work. I mean that very sincerely.
Clooney: He’s setting me up for something.
Clooney: I guess now you can officially be described as foxy. What other attributes you think you share with Mr. Fox, other than foxiness?
Clooney: Well I tried a daily wax. Let’s see, I seem to be considerably taller than this character.
Wes: Sometimes when I’ve been writing a script, I had an actor in mind. In this one, we were just thinking of animals, until the script was done. I thought, I would like to have Cary Grant, would have been good, and –
Clooney: Thanks for that.
Wes: Within 20 seconds of thinking of Cary Grant, I was talking about George Clooney. That was the casting process.
Clooney, does this make you want to do more animated films in the future?
Clooney: No. We worked for a few days out on a farm together, and ran around and played in barns and out in fields. Wes worked for a year and a half, or two years, or so on this project. In some ways, us being up here is a little silly. This is Wes’ job and so certainly I would do any of this again. It was an incredibly fun experience for all of us. I would imagine that the real question would be to him, whether he wants–
Wes: The one thing that I learned over the course of the movie is how much the voices — these actors siting up here — how much they give the animator to work with. You record the voices first and the animators, they spend all this time animating these puppets, but their inspiration comes from these moments with these actors.
Wes, how did you work with the animators?
Wes: I did have a wonderful time with the actors. That was a very exciting process and very brief. Animating is a very slow and painstaking process and the animators become the actors at that point. At the most , during this movie, we had 30 units going on at once. So we kind of created a system. I was not in London thought the whole shoot. I was sometimes here and sometimes in other places, but it’s very consuming. You have to work on it all the time while you’re shooting, and we had a computer system where I could look through 30 different cameras at once and see what’s on each set and work with all the different people, which is hundreds of people. Designing and preparing and executing the shots. Getting the systems to do it was as much part of the process as actually doing it, but I loved making this film. Stop motion is something I feel it part of my arsenal of things to use for movies now, I really enjoyed it.
Roald Dahl was thought to likely scaring children. Did you make this story a bit darker than it was and did you enjoy scaring children?
Wes: I remember being scared by Roald Dahl and I loved that. I don’t think we made it any darker, but we tried to keep it as dark. While we were writing the script our goal was to try to see if we could imagine what doll, how he would have expanded the story into a movie. That was out ideal. This is a movie they’re not in danger of getting hurt, they’re in danger of getting killed, and that’s the way it’s in the book. Mr. Fox tale is shot off and doesn’t grow back. We tried to keep that.
Wes, why does it tend to be American actors with American accents rather than British ones?
Clooney: That’s it. (Stomp) [Laughs]
Wes: Noah Baumbach and I adapted the script together — we’re American. I feel we were better writing American voices, so we decided that we would make all the animals American and the humans would be British. That’s the way we did it.
Murray: Because they’re the bad guys. [Laughs]
Clooney, what is the moral lesson from this fairytale?
Clooney: Stealing is good. I don’t know. What’s the moral lesson? Anybody? It’s honoring thievery. Let me try again. I think we just want to be true to our animal nature.
Check out the film in theaters November 25th!