Although Wes Anderson's films can feel very carefully contrived, a conversation with the director suggests that for him, there's nothing artificial about his work. The world onscreen is the world as Anderson sees it. "I have certain things I do that are just the way I always do it," Anderson says. "And that, I think, is more like my sort of handwriting as a director."
Appearing via Skype for an interview, Anderson wears a heavy tweed sports coat, sitting in an oversized plaid armchair. The wall behind him is plastered with old-fashioned-looking wallpaper. Essentially, Wes Anderson looks like he's in a Wes Anderson movie. "I've sort of come to realize it's my personality: the way I like to move the camera and the sort of shots and staging that I get excited about," Anderson says. "I could force myself to change my handwriting, but short of that, this is the way I do it."
Although the uniquely quirky worlds of Anderson films from Rushmore to The Royal Tenenbaums may be second nature to the director, he nonetheless stepped outside his regular comfort zone in a few ways for his latest, Moonrise Kingdom. The film follows the adventures of two runaway 12-year-old lovers in 1965, a bygone time period new to Anderson's work. "I kind of started to think that it ought to be set in an America that doesn't really exist any more, an America that is about to radically change," Anderson says. "When these kids are 18, it's going to be a radically different time in our country."
Anderson also took on a new challenge in working with children more extensively than in any of his other films. With two young protagonists driving the script, Anderson undertook a nine-month search for his leads and came up with 13-year-olds Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. "I didn't really have any preconception of what these kids ought to be like," Anderson says. "I was just sort of waiting for the moment when the perfect ones walk in the door. And I felt like in each of their cases, that happened for me."
There's little artifice to Gilman and Hayward, who both have a mature composure but a down-to-earth attitude about being in their first feature film. "It's so amazing to be here and to have done this," Hayward says. "I feel really blessed." Both youngsters praise Anderson—Hayward describes him as "brilliant and protective" and Gilman declares him "a really awesome dude"—and Anderson returns the love. "These kids knew the script better than anyone else on set," he says. "Much better. They just bring an enthusiasm to the set everyday that's fun."
The film also gave Gilman and Hayward the opportunity to work with renowned actors like Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand and Bill Murray. "Bill [Murray] told me to hum in the mornings, because it'll help warm up our voices," Gilman says. "He also taught me to tie a tie, which is kinda cool." Moonrise marked Anderson's first time working with some new actors as well. Though he's known for repeatedly casting collaborators like Murray and Jason Schwartzman, Anderson says he was pleased to work for the first time with performers he'd long admired, such as Willis and Edward Norton. When he mentions that he and Norton "exchanged some letters over the years," you can almost imagine them writing to each other by candlelight, fountain pens in their hands. This is Anderson-world, after all.
But there's an authenticity to it that makes it all work, according to Bob Balaban, who plays Moonrise's narrator. "I find it very satisfying in the movie to see the complexity and the respect that Wes allows these 12-year-olds to have," Balaban says. "Because they could have been made fun of, they could have been cutesy, but they're not. It's very difficult to be not cynical, and not be soupy and maudlin and melodramatic at the same time. That's just who Wes is and what he does." | RDW