The 49th New York Film Festival is wrapping up this weekend and there have already been many highlights but there are still a few more films left to screen. Arguably one of the most anticipated events of this year’s NYFF wasn't a premiere at all but rather a film that had its world premiere at the festival a decade ago, Wes Anderson's "The Royal Tenenbaums." The now-classic film features probably the director’s starriest cast to date, and he brought along a few of those cast members for a special 10th Anniversary Screening on Thursday night. Just prior to the screening Anderson gathered before a few hundred fans at The Apple Store a few blocks from Lincoln Center for a Q&A in their Meet The Filmmaker series (moderated by our own editor-in-chief Rodrigo Perez) before heading down to Alice Tully Hall to introduce the screening, this time joined by Bill Murray, Gwyneth Paltrow and Anjelica Huston along with his brother Eric Chase Anderson, who provided all of Ritchie’s artwork in the film.
The Q&A, moderated by Anderson collaborators Noah Baumbach and Antonio Monda (who had a bit part in “The Life Aquatic”), was loose, lively and rather candid, with Murray keeping his fellow cast and the audience in frequent hysterics. Although there wasn’t anything terribly groundbreaking revealed, it was a very entertaining evening for anyone who ever wanted to be a Tenenbaum. Here's five highlights from the Q&A.
1. Though his sometimes prickly on-set behavior has been documented before, with a decade of distance from the experience, the filmmaker and cast felt a little more comfortable opening up about the sometimes “scary” experience of working with Gene Hackman.
Though a few tales have circulated over the years about Hackman’s moody behavior on the set, maybe it was the decade that had passed since filming or the fact that none of the cast had seen or spoken to him since, but everyone seemed a little more comfortable speaking candidly about their experiences with the legendary actor. Anderson and Paltrow both admitted they were “scared” of working with Hackman, with Huston saying, “I was a lot scared but I was more concerned with protecting Wes,” and said that no one involved with the film had “heard or seen of Gene since this movie." She then added that the tempestuous Hackman had told the director to “pull up your pants and act like a man.”
Anderson said that all of the cast members helped to protect him from the difficult actor. “You did defend me, all three of you did at various times but that’s making it sound bad,” he said before adding, “[well], he did call me a worse name” with Baumbach filling in the blank by saying, “He called you a cunt, didn't he?” Poor Anderson turned red and shrank his in his chair, clearing not wanting the audience to perceive that the cast and crew didn't enjoy Hackman. In fact, near the end of the evening, Anderson steered the conversation back to the topic Hackman, trying to salvage things, saying, "Can I say something? I kind of feel, through my own fault, we kind of made Gene look bad. Do you think we gave enough balance to him?"
Despite the challenging behavior, the director still fondly remembers the experience. “He was one of the things that pulled everybody into this movie. Anytime we are together and talk about the movie we always talk about him. He’s a huge force and I really enjoyed working with him. Even though he was very challenging with me, it was very exciting seeing him launch into these scenes,” Anderson said. Hackman told Anderson during filming that he thought ‘Tenenbaums’ would be his last film though he did go on to make several others before retiring unofficially in 2004.
2. Though Wes had written the part for Hackman, he had at one point considered another legendary actor for the part once Hackman passed.
It’s well known that Anderson had written the part for Hackman and he’d previously said that he had considered dropping the movie when Gene passed. But moderator Monda suggested something that few in the audience had probably been aware of, that Anderson had briefly considered Michael Caine for the part. “Gene passed for a year and a half or something like that. I also think he was sort of forced to do the movie and that was not fair really. I think I just kept asking him, kept bothering him, I just wore him down. I didn’t really have much access to him, I don’t know how I really went about that but eventually he just caved.”
“Well he’s weak. Gene is weak,” Murray winked much to the uproarious laughter from the crowd. “That’s what we found when you challenge someone like Gene, you find his weakness. But he’s a great actor and he was great in the movie and as much as all of us here tonight hate Gene Hackman, he is a really great American actor. I wish I hadn’t said that ‘American’ thing.”
3. Many will know that the film was originally intended to include several Beatles songs, and even had them in place at its NYFF premiere back in 2001, but the filmmakers were unable to attain the rights. What many don’t know is exactly how far they went in trying to woo one of The Beatles into getting them.
When the film debuted at the NYFF in October of 2001, the film both opened and closed with Beatles numbers. While the version that most people know opens with Mark Mothersbaugh’s instrumental rendition of “Hey Jude” and closes with Van Morrison’s “Everyone,” Anderson’s intention had been for it to open with original Beatles recording of “Hey Jude” and close with The Beatles' demo version of “I’m Looking Through You.” Anderson went to great lengths to try to attain the rights to the original recordings, even sending Paltrow on a personal mission to get them from Paul McCartney.
“I tried to bribe Paul McCartney,” Paltrow said. “I ended up taking him bowling weirdly enough with Heather Mills, his ex-wife, and we were trying to... I don’t know what [we were trying to do], [Wes] put me on a mission.” Wes continued that she had screened it for him on Long Island, with Paltrow adding, “And he loved the movie and then we went bowling and everything before he said he had nothing to do with the rights.” Murray then joked, “Paul McCartney, too, is weak.”
4. The part of Mordecai was originally written for Jason Schwartzman.
Though it was nearly 10 years before Anderson reunited with his “Rushmore” star in “The Darjeeling Limited,” his intention was to include him much earlier. The part of Mordecai, eventually portrayed by a hawk in the film, was originally conceived for Jason Schwartzman. Anderson explained, “We had a character that was called Mordecai, which in the movie was the name of a bird, but Jason Schwartzman was supposed to be a boy who lived across the street from the Tenenbaums in some embassy or something in an attic.”
5. In an effort to make sure they hadn’t mischaracterized Hackman, Anderson asked the cast to share what it was like working with him but quickly remembered that he had asked Murray to come to set even on his days off to act as his protector.
"We make jokes about him being challenging, well he was, but it was also exciting to [work with him] for me," Anderson said. Paltrow reminisced fondly, “I loved being in the same scenes with him. He was a bear of a guy but I also found something very sweet and sad in there and I liked him a lot. I think he’s one of the greatest actors who ever lived. Working in his presence and watching him do his thing, you know, if you’re Gene Hackman you can be in a fucking bad mood if you want to, you’re Gene Hackman.”
Anderson had tried to stay positive but recalled that Murray had actually come to set, even when the actor was not involved in filming, just to protect the director. “You were not scared of Gene,” Anderson said to Murray. “I noticed early on so I started asking you to come be there. I remember, there was a scene where Gene goes for a walk in the park and I looked up on the top of this rock and you were standing with a cowboy hat watching the set. And you were just there to show solidarity and I was very touched by that.”
Murray added with his usual deadpan approach. "I'll stick up for Gene too," Murray said, "You know, the word 'cocksucker' does get thrown around a lot. But I'll just take that word and throw it out of this room; it doesn't belong here. I'd hear all these stories [like], 'Gene threatened to kill me today.' Kill you? You're in the union, he can't kill you. 'Gene threatened to set fire to all of us.' [I'd say], it's a union shoot! He can't set anyone on fire!"
Watch the full Q&A below: