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Berlin: 'Grand Budapest Hotel' Press Conference Sets the Bar High, with Anderson, Fiennes, Murray, Swinton and More

Photo of Tom Christie By Tom Christie | Thompson on Hollywood February 6, 2014 at 2:17PM

Things are bound to go downhill at the 64th Berlinale, at least in terms of press conferences. The festival opened today with Wes Anderson’s "The Grand Budapest Hotel," and when you have Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe flanking Anderson on the dais, you’re not likely to improve on either the form or the content.
Grand Budapest Hotel

Swinton got in a couple of good lines, calling the film “the best fancy dress party I can imagine” and suggesting that her aged character, Madame D, “is what I look like when I don’t put on all this make-up. I am, you know, very, very, very, very old.” But when asked about the Berlinale, which she’s participated in many times, once as president of the jury, her answer was heartfelt: “The Berlinale is such a precious place for me. I came here with the first film I ever made [Derek Jarman’s "Caravaggio"] and it was the first film fest I ever came to. And it really founded my relationship with cinema on a practical level. I met filmmakers here immediately, people I worked with from then on. It’s like my battery charger, cinematically, the Berlinale, and it’s gone on being that in all these different ways. I mean, I think I need to ask [festival director] Dieter Kosslick if I could come and clean sometimes because I’ve done everything else.”

Someone tossed Norton a fat pitch about the many uniforms he’s worn in Anderson films, and he hit it out: “I think Wes just likes tight trousers and epaulets on a man and I’m happy to wear them for him.”

'The Grand Budapest Hotel'
'The Grand Budapest Hotel'

Unsurprisingly, the articulate answer of the day went to Ralph Fiennes, on why he chose to be in the film: “I was sent an amazing screenplay written by Wes Anderson, which was unlike anything else I’ve ever read. And the first thing he said was, ‘What role would you like to play?’ That one, please. Fantastic role and I responded really to Wes, to his spirit. And of course we see from the films how beautifully constructed and designed and conceived they are. And as an acting experience it’s fantastic because Wes loves all of these actors and encourages them over many, many takes to explore his text. And then finally you feel exhausted but happily exhausted because you’ve been given this incredible ride.”

Anderson wasn’t going to take all of that praise sitting down, and his response revealed a lot about his filmmaking goals. “One thing I’ve sort of observed, the best way to get an actor to not be in your movie is to offer them a specific part. We had actually written this part with Ralph in mind. I don’t know of anyone else who could have played it for a variety of reasons but the main one being that this character is quite grand and theatrical and has to recite poetry and has paragraphs of text. And the crucial thing to me is that he is a real person. I knew that Ralph would make this a real man. Everything Ralph does in his process is to make this feel like a real guy, even if it’s talking very, very quickly in a situation that doesn’t feel like real life. The most important thing for me for all of these actors is that they will bring these characters to life in this fantasy context.”

Further asked if he didn’t worry that the aesthetics of his grand hotel’s environment would overwhelm the story, Anderson said he did not. “With a group like this, I feel like it’s all about them. It’s really creating a world for them to play in.”

And then they filed out, one big and apparently happy family. Stale bread and all.

This article is related to: Festivals, Berlin International Film Festival, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson, Wes Anderson, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Bill Murray

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.