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Interview: Wes Anderson On 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' Elliott Smith, The Beatles, Owen Wilson, Westerns & More

Photo of Rodrigo Perez By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist March 5, 2014 at 2:32PM

“His world had vanished long before he entered it. But he sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace." For all its idiosyncrasies, screwball-like speed, exquisite attention to detail, style and craft and some hilariously vulgar humor, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Wes Anderson’s eighth feature-length film, might be one of his most soulful in some time. That aforementioned quote might be the heart and soul of the movie too; a beautiful and melancholy adage about a refined character who refused to behave without elegance despite the barbaric age that society was devolving into.
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Grand Budapest Hotel Wes Anderson Tilda Swinton

Do you ever think back on your old characters sometimes? Obviously your work doesn’t lend itself to sequels, but do you think of where these characters are in your mind, like Dignan from “Bottle Rocket”?
Well, you know Dignan is funny because he's named after a real person, Stephen Dignan, and I just got an email from Stephen that was, “Why wasn't I invited to the premiere [of ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’] last night?” I was like, “Because you live in Mississippi. He said, 'Well I didn't know if you remembered that I was in Mississippi and then I would have thought I would have been invited.' I was like, “I know where you live, I've seen pictures of your house, I know where you live and I know you're not a New Yorker.' " But he felt like he had not been invited. That's Dignan himself. The character in the movie and real life.

"I always related Jason Schwartzman to Jean-Pierre Léaud in the [Antoine Doinel] Francois Truffaut movies.Not necessarily a sequel, but he continues the stories."

But most of these characters, whatever journey we get them on in the movie we're lucky enough just to get them to the end of it and have this story. Sometimes I have some character material that's not in the movie, a certain amount of stuff that you know is maybe something more. You think, “well that's a pretty good bit and almost could have gone in there,” or it's better than some of the things that are in the movie, but didn't serve a purpose there.

But mostly I just feel like this is what we got and then we've moved onto the next movie. Although I always did have some sense of thinking a bit about how the character in “Rushmore” that Jason Schwartzman plays, he's called Max, fared in life. I have thought about him off and on, along the way. I did think Max would live this life I mean I've had some thoughts about that.

That would be interesting to revisit that character, but I guess sequels are not what you do.
I guess not, but I do feel like in some way I always related Jason Schwartzman to Jean-Pierre Léaud in the [Antoine Doinel] Francois Truffaut movies. You know he did his series of films, those are not the kind of things where you'd necessarily think anyone's going to do a sequel, but he continues the stories.

Right, it’s more continuation than “sequel.” I wanted to ask you about music. I saw a cut of “The Royal Tenenbaums” back in L.A. and when the actual Beatles began and ended the film.
You saw it in the illegal phase. [laughs]

Wes Anderson Jason Schwartzman Rushmore

I’d always heard that you had enlisted Elliott Smith to do The Beatles covers once you couldn’t get the proper rights, but I could never confirm it. Is that true?
Yes. Elliot Smith had done – we had gone through a long process of trying to get permission for these Beatles songs and in those days they weren’t doing it. That changed but at that time we were trying to break the thing and get it to happen. The problem was we had some pretty good ins. We’d used some John Lennon music in “Rushmore” and Yoko Ono I always had a feeling that she's been supportive of me, even though I don't know her. It might be presumptuous of me to say that, but I would like to say Yoko has been supportive.

Paul McCartney had seen [‘Tenenbaums’] and he said yes, but George Harrison was sick and dying. You had to get everybody to sign off and George was just not possible, no one was going to say, “Oh before you die could you please watch this movie and tell us whether we can use the music for it?” So then we got Elliot Smith. Then I thought I'd like to see if Elliot Smith could do this. He did a version but he wasn't in a great mental or physical space at the time and it just was not a successful recording session. It was kind of a mess.

So he was doing those Beatles covers? [The movie originally began with The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and ended with The Anthology version of “I’m Looking Through You”]
He just did “Hey Jude.” He did “Hey Jude” but he wasn't happy with it and it didn't really work. He wasn't comfortable with the whole situation it seems. Then at the last minute I got asked by Mark Mothersabaugh, “Can we do this?” Mark and [music supervisor] George Drakoulias and I, we just went in and very quickly we did the whole thing and we had good revisions and Mark just made it happen. And then it was fine.

The Royal Tenenbaums Gwyneth Paltrow

But you know we even tried to have some Beatles songs in another one later. At one point in “The Darjeeling Limited” we had some Beatles songs and that didn't really work out either. It was another weird moment with the Apple people but then along the way in the process of that I had this concept of this cycle of Kinks song and it was better. We ended The Beatles process in the middle because I said, “You know what? We've got it.”

It’s hard to imagine that movie without its Kinks now. Are you going to use the Beatles at some point?
I don't know. I don't have any thought about it.

Your longtime music supervisor Randall Poster was telling me about “the vault.” [their code for songs that they sit on for years until they find the right movie for them]
Oh, things we've got and saved up. We had one, one that came out in a nice way was we had this song, “Let Her Dance” for “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and sort of late in the game we thought, “Maybe here's our chance to use this song.” We'd had it sitting around for many years and we thought, “It's going to end the movie, we're going to do a dance scene to it.” We've had a few like that along the way where we've had sort of who knows how we're going to use it and when and then it sort of reveals itself.

You wrote a script for Ron Howard’s company a long time ago [“The Rosenthaler Suite” a remake of the French film “My Best Friend”]. Would you ever revisit that?
It was for Ron Howard’s company producing actually, Image Entertainment. I think the studio didn't like what I did, it probably wasn’t that good anyway but I did have a part of that script that I still like. I still think there's a thing that I did...[trails off, perhaps not wanting to reveal]

There's a caper element that reminds me of the caper element in ‘Grand Budapest Hotel.’
Yeah, that’s right. There were a couple of characters that I thought I might use in another way if they let me. I'm sure that it's all owned by Universal.

Maybe they’ll let you do that. They should.
Who knows.

For more ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ context and thoughts from Anderson, also check out this interview with the filmmaker from Berlin a few weeks ago. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” opens in limited release this Friday, March 7. The film goes wider on March 14.

This article is related to: Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Features, Interviews, Interviews, Interview, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Rushmore, The Darjeeling Limited, Feature


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