A/V Room









The Life Aquatic - Wes Anderson Q&A

Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. I suspect this is your most complex movie given that it can be looked at on so many different levels - the mid-life crisis, the kind of Captain Ahab theme running through it - but also, from the production notes, it's an idea you've had in your mind for something like 14 years?
Yeah, I wasn't being flippant. I wrote a little short story when I was in college. It was actually one paragraph, which was a description of this character and Angelica's character and this ship, The Belafonte, and the sort of setting. But I didn't mean for it to be a movie, I was just trying to write a story and I never really got any further.
It was actually Owen Wilson who kept bringing it up from time to time over the years and always reminding be about it and saying that I ought to think about it some more. So eventually... and I remember that day on the Royal Tenenbaums seeing Angelica and Bill together and thought this is - you know, because all they had together was 35 seconds outside a bathroom door, but I thought there was a great kind of rapport between the two of them that seemed like it would be worth exploring.

Q. Of the many inspired ideas in this movie, the one that tickled me was to get almost the David Bowie catalogue and then have it translated into Portuguese. Was he quite flattered and chuffed with that?
I've never spoken to him. I know that a friend of mind heard him on the radio being interviewed - and this was some time ago - and he said that there was a special project that he was working on, and it was very secret, but that his songs were sang in Portuguese and there was no more he could say about it. I heard that and then I got a call saying David Bowie is going to call and someone asked me for my mobile phone number and said that David Bowie was going to call me today. But then I didn't ever get the phone call and that's the extent of my knowledge of David Bowie.

Q. Bill Murray seems able to get a laugh even when doing very little. Did you get a chance to observe any kind of method behind his particular brand of comedy?
I'm surprised that Angelica felt concerned that he liked her that particular day because of course he loved her every single day. But I know what she means because he's the sort of person where he's a very powerful force and you will feel it - what his mood is and all that kind of stuff. And there is something sort of heroic about him, in a way, too because he's someone who can, for instance, we can be up here saying whatever we've got to say and we may be trying very hard to be interesting, but if he happened to be standing in the back of the room it'd be hard for us to keeping everyone looking at us here, because he'd be doing little things with his face and you would laugh because he can sort of sweep everyone up.
And I think that's part of what makes him a star. I remember going to a Sheryl Crow concert in Central Park, which Bill introduced. Afterwards, I was walking with him to the parking garage, after the concert - and it was Central Park, so it was a huge concert - and we walked across Fifth Avenue and like five or six people kind of followed and then I saw more people gathering as we were walking down. Every street we crossed there were people jaywalking diagonally and by the time we got to the parking garage there were like 40 people walking with Bill Murray across town and I had never seen anything like it in my life.
And he was talking a little bit to each one and then they all waited while the guy got the car and brought it down, and then he waved as he drove off and left this crowd on the street.
But the secret to his whole thing - or whatever that is - is that he's someone who is comfortable with that. There are some celebrities that would get really freaked out by that but he's someone who can always think of something to say and can always think of something great to say. He has no insecurity about that.

Q. Were there any characters you created that didn't make the final cut?
Usually there are. Yeah, there was a cook, which wasn't a very big role. I don't remember anyone in particular except tiny, tiny parts. In The Royal Tenenbaums we had a whole sub-plot; there was a part that Jason Schwartzman was going to play, a kid living across the street from their house, the son of a diplomat who had escaped from a school in Switzerland and was living in an attic and had like a cable connected to their house, and they were sliding things across it - we had a whole entire story. But I can't think of anything quite like that in this.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit more about the walking sequence at the end credits? And are you a fan of Jacques Cousteau, as I believe the film is dedicated to him?
Yes, well I love Jacques Cousteau. I always love Cousteau and I love his whole persona and I love his films. I wanted to dedicate the movie to Cousteau but we ultimately, legally, had to make this disclaimer because it says 'this movie is dedicated to Jacques Cousteau and the Cousteau Society which was not involved with the production'. The emphasis, for them, was the latter part of it; for me it was the dedication.
The walking sequence was, we were on a motorboat driving around in the harbour at Naples one day scouting and trying to figure out where we were going to park our ship for some shot - in fact, we were trying to figure out where we were going to feature a shot of Angelica against Vesuvius - and as we were driving around I saw this cement... it's like a break water, it's like a big cement runway connected to nothing out in the middle of the harbour and I asked the guy to stop, so we got off and I looked around and there were rats living on it and trash and it was a very strange location. So then I just kept thinking 'well what could we shoot on this, there's nothing in our story that would make any sense to be shot on this thing', but then ultimately I thought there's not a lot you can do on it except walk, so that's what basically led to that.

Q. Michael Gambon is well-known for his practical jokes, so did he carry out any on the set?
He does have the longest hands, like double length fingers. And he's a pilot and I think his brother has a flight simulator and sometimes he'd do like an impersonation of how he'd spend the weekend flying in his brother's garage and doing all the switches, and a trip to Prague. He'd spend eight hours in the garage. There probably are people in the movie who could tell us those things, particularly the guy who played intern No.1, I somehow feel he would have been a target.

Q. It's great to see Bud Cort back on-screen. What was he like to work with and I believe he's compared you to Hal Ashby, so how does that make you feel?
It's nice of him. Bud, you know, we wrote the part for him. I'd gotten to know him at a party that Angelica had hosted, for The Royal Tenenbaums and I loved him in those early movies - Harold and Maude and Brewster McCloud and MASH, but I also realised I had seen him very recently in a very small part in Heat. He's great in it but almost unrecognisable. And then also Pollack, he's very good in that. So we just wanted to write a part for him, because he's very warm and totally crazy and worth having around.
Angelica: The crazy stuff was actually a little bit Wes' fault because Bud was led to believe that he was having to speak Filipino for the pirate sequences and so he'd ensconsed himself in his hotel room to learn filipino for maybe two months or so. Off hours he wouldn't come out except to see the Pope because he's quite Catholic. But the rest of the time he was studying his Filipino dialect with an intensity that was unmatched, and then at the last moment, of course, the Filipino pirates were unavailable and they turned into what? Cambodians?
Wes: Bud thought it was Indonesian. But there's a very weak community of Indonesians available in Rome, but there's a lot of Filipinos, so we went with them. And, yes, that did upset him because Bud took it upon himself to develop a working knowledge of the language in general which, in terms of the movie, wasn't really totally necessary. But what he ended up doing was having a kind of Filipino helper on the set who would sometimes have cue cards - but you can't really have cue cards in a movie scene, because first of all you have to look at the person you're talking to and also, when you're on a boat and going over waves and things, cue cards aren't really that effective. But I feel all that goes into his character and I feel like he used it to give us the fear and anxiety of his bond company stooge.

Q. Did filming at Cinecitta live up to your expectations being a Fellini fan?
The place is steeped in Fellini still. People talk about him every day there. And our stage that we built our big cross-section set on, everyone called it Fellini's stage, stage five, and it was amazing.
It's also absolutely unlike working on an American movie; there's a completely different set of strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes it's frustrating for an American crew because you can't understand why certain things aren't getting done but at the same time we might make some wild request that's almost undoable and they've figured out some way to do it.
The scenic work and the creation of the sets is very detailed and very careful and they do really amazing work. And the lunches are great.
Angelica: And remember that one lunch - I think it was the only one where I went outside the studio and went to that Trattoria across the road, and there was Dino De Laurentiis and Giancarlo Giannini having lunch. That was nice.

Q. Is there anyone else you would like to work with?
I have a number of people that I would think of but none that I particularly want to say. I would have loved to have had Marlon Brando because I can think of a lot of things he would have been great for. But, you know what, I can't think of anybody. The ones I actually think of are people I have an actual role in mind for, but then I don't want to say because I'm probably going to screw it up.
But there's a part that I want Angelica to play in this thing I'm working on, and there's a part that I want Jason Schwartzman to play, and I have three other people in mind for that thing but I don't want to say.

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