Wes Anderson continues to astound with his lush worlds, engaging storytelling and masterful direction, all combined into a number of fantastic movies. He’s managed to accomplish this task yet again with his latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel. In The Grand Budapest Hotel we follow Zero (Tony Revolori), a lowly lobby boy who ends up being put under the wings of the charming concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). We recently spoke with Wes Anderson about his inspiration for creating The Grand Budapest Hotel, the movies he would leave for the cast and crew to watch and forming the world that our story takes place in.
In The Royal Tenenbaums, you have someone narrating the book. Rushmore has you opening the curtains and then stepping in. In this film, you have multiple layers. You have a girl with the book, and then that goes to the author (Tom Wilkinson) reading the book, and then going onto F. Murray Abraham who is narrating his own story. Was there anything to bringing more into the different layers that you had in approaching this?
Wes Anderson: Did you ever read Roald Dahl’s “The Wonderful Story of Henry Suger”? That one has a very similar thing: a layer, another layer, another layer. There’s a guy who’s in a house and he finds a book and he opens the book and in the book a guy describes what happened to him and he meets somebody who then tells him a story, so it really does have all those layers like that, and Zweig does this all through his work. I think there’s a mystery about it and there’s sort of a feeling of setting a stage and giving some meaning and some context before you get into things happening in one thing after another. Also, somehow I feel like without me deliberately wanting to say one thing or another about it, it’s something about just storytelling as some kind of thematic whatever-it-is is in there.
You have an amazing cast in this film. How do you go about managing a cast of that size, especially with their schedules and everything else?
Wes Anderson: Well, with the schedules, you’ve just got to figure it out. It’s a puzzle. I don’t really remember anybody who we were really up against it with, like they were only giving us this amount of time and that sort of thing, so it worked out fine. Mostly, people who are going to come, who are well known and have agreed to do a littler part, they just want to know you’re trying to make it. You’re looking after them and trying to get them done in as reasonable timeframe as you can and so on. With this kind of group, it’s not really a big thing of managing them. They’re all people where you bring them together and say, “Please do what you do.” They’re so authoritative and they all have so much of their own processes. We do all kinds of preparation, get everything set, and then they come in and it’s sort of becomes a little chaotic. We work very, very quickly and they just sort of take over.
Can you talk a little about how this project first came together and what inspired this particular story?
Wes Anderson: Well first, it was just this character played by Ralph (Fiennes). And, it wasn’t a hotel concierge. It was just a guy which is inspired a bit by an old friend of mine and my friend, Hugo (Guinness), who wrote it with me. We had written a kind of short story version of a script inspired by our friend, but we didn’t really know what to do with it or where it would go. It didn’t really quite take off and it was short. And then, over the years, I started thinking that I would like to do something related to Stefan Zweig’s work. I started reading this writer who I’d never heard of and I just had this idea of doing something like his work. Mike sort of combined them and in the process of that had this idea of him being a hotel concierge. We always said our friend would be the greatest concierge and he said it. He said, “Oh I’d be wonderful. I’d actually be the very best.” We sort of put that altogether and then we made the script very quickly. After that, we just needed the ingredients.
What was the thing from Stefan Zweig that you wanted to tell on screen? Was it the storytelling?
Wes Anderson: It wasn’t one thing in the end. The first one I read was “Beware of Pity” and I immediately just loved the way we get into the story in that and it’s something he does over and over again in his fiction. In America, we didn’t really know Zweig until a few years ago. He was just out of print except for some of the biographies maybe, but I loved the way he began a story. I loved his voice and that book was just a favorite of mine. Then I read more of the fiction and I kept seeing this device of somebody would meet somebody else in some settings. Sometimes they’re away from where they live and they meet some mysterious person and then eventually some things happen and eventually that person says, “Well I could tell you my story if you wanted to hear it.” And that’s the thing. That’s the novel. That’s the story. But also, I read “The World of Yesterday,” his memoir which is kind of a portrait. The most memorable thing to me perhaps in it is his description of the Vienna before 1914 and the Europe before 1914 and what it meant to him and what he thought he was participating in and how suddenly and radically it changed and was just obliterated over the continuing years, first nationalism and then these movements of fascism and socialism and how they played out in front of him. His account of that became a kind of backdrop to me for what our story could be, even though our story really has nothing to do with it. The actual story in our movie is not really related to any Zweig story, but it’s that stuff.
How did you go about collaborating [with Adam Stockhausen] to create such a rich, lush world?
Wes Anderson: He does a thing where he just gets millions of images and we start looking at them together and I say, “I like this. I like this. I like this.” He’s great at gathering and shaping those, and then, each day even in the earliest of phases of prepping everything, he’ll usually come to me at some point during the day and say, “Okay. Can we do 45 minutes at 3 o’clock?” We sit down and he says, “Okay, I’ve got this done.” He’s got things in different stages of preparation and different options of ways we can go and that sort of stuff. It goes like that over and over and over again.
Were there any particular challenges to playing with the different aspect ratios?
Wes Anderson: The only real challenge was from lawyers who just don’t know. Aspect ratio for whatever reason is like a thing that goes into contracts. You’re required to deliver a movie between 90 minutes and 120 minutes in the 1:85 or 2:35 ratio. The lawyers see this thing. We’re going to do it in a bunch of different things here, and they were like, “What is this?” and they think it’s a problem. For us, after we paid these fees for it to be argued over for a certain period of time, we then just did it and it’s simple enough to accomplish. This sort of square ratio that most of the movie is in, every movie is shot that way essentially. Every movie except for a super widescreen movie is shot this way and then cropped, the negative is this. It’s just using a whole negative, and that’s the way all movies were like up until 1954, I think. And the other formats we’re using are just normal formats. We just shot them each like a different movie, and then it all gets put together. All the prints, almost everything, is done digitally now, so it’s very simple for us to decide how we want to present it. It was a very smooth process.
Jeff Goldblum talked about you making other films and books available to them while they were on set. As vibrant as your script is and the set designs and this world that you created, what do you hope that they take from those other sources?
Wes Anderson: Nothing in particular. It’s just that everybody is there together and I’ve got all this stuff that I’ve been looking at. Now they want to just work on their thing and they’ve all got their own process, so I think it’s just for fun, and then, maybe they’ll use it one way or another. I don’t know what they do. It’s just, “Here’s the stuff that relates to the movie that we’ve got if you’re interested.” It’s sitting on a table there and people come by and take a movie. Sometimes maybe they’ll just like that movie. When you finish work, practically everybody in that place is going to watch a movie at night anyway. They’re tired. They have dinner. They go up to their room. They’re watching TV.
Do you remember what specifically you left for them?
Wes Anderson: We had one called Love Me Tonight, that’s a Rouben Mamoulian [movie]. We had lots of Ernst Lubitsch movies: The Shop Around the Corner, Trouble in Paradise, To Be or Not to Be, Design for Living, all the Lubitsch musicals. We had lots of ‘30s Alfred Hitchcock movies: The Lady Vanishes, The 39 Steps, and also Sabotage and Young and Innocent, and the Max Ophuls movies: The Earrings of Madame de and La Ronde, maybe we had that. We had Ingmar Bergman’s The Silence because it’s set in a hotel in a made up Eastern European country and a train and all that sort of stuff. In fact, we made their hotel corridors. His are in black and white so we had to guess.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is out in limited theaters now.