THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU - Q&A with director Wes Anderson and Anjelica Huston
Movie interview by Neils Hesse
Anjelica, in the production notes you described Wes as a genius, could you elaborate please and also do you enjoy the sea?
ANJELICA HUSTON: My star sign is Cancer, the Crab, so yes I like coastal areas and sunny beaches but not the open sea which is where Bill Murray and Wes spent a lot of time for this movie. I love working with Wes because he's very intelligent and he's an author. His films are always smart and beautiful.
Anjelica, it must be very flattering when a character is written especially for you?
ANJELICA HUSTON: Yes I had a hankering for the ocean movie he was making, I had heard some talk on the set of THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS but I kept quiet about my desires. What eventually happened was that Wes noticed some chemistry between me and Bill Murray during a scene in TENENBAUMS where we both rise slowly from opposite sides of a keyhole, so that's how I got the part.
Wes, apparently you've had the idea for 14 years for Steve Zissou?
WES ANDERSON: Yeah, I wrote a short story in college describing the ship and Anjelica's character and it was just meant to be a short story no more. Owen Wilson kept on reminding about the story and then I noticed the rapport between Bill and Anjelica and I went from there.
Wes, you translated David Bowie's music into Portuguese for this film, was David Bowie impressed?
WES ANDERSON: Well I heard from a friend that David was on a radio programme talking about it and one day I was told that David was going to call me on my mobile but the call never came.
Wes, Bill Murray seems to get a laugh even when he's doing very little, is there any method he uses?
ANJELICA HUSTON: Yes working with him is like jumping off a high diving board, you never know what to expect. Some days he makes you feel like he loves you and then on other days he'll invite everyone to lunch but you and then you wonder whether it's because you have halitosis or something. His brand of intellect requires a comeback. The days when I would respond to his antagonistic behaviour, I think we got along better than when I would just keep quiet. So at times I suffered from trepidation. I find him to be a man of mystery but also extremely charming.
WES ANDERSON: Bill Murray is a very powerful force, and he's heroic, he can sweep everyone up. Once I went to a Sheryl Crow concert and Bill introduced her onto the stage and afterwards we walked across 5 th Avenue and a group of people just followed us and he chatted to a few of them as we walked on and then we got into a car and he waved to them and they walked off. He has no insecurities about stuff like that.
Wes can you say anything about the walking sequence at the end and was Jacques Cousteau a big influence?
WES ANDERSON: I love Jacques Cousteau, I wanted to dedicate it to him but the Jacques Cousteau society made it a point to include in my words of dedication that they were not involved in the making of this film, I was not bothered about that I was only interested in the dedicated to bit. As for the walking sequence where Steve Zissou walks away in the end, well we were in Naples, Italy scouting locations and I noticed this long kinda like walkway that led to nowhere so I figured all I could use it for was a shot of someone walking.
ANJELICA HUSTON: I grew up on Cousteau documentaries particularly the one about the baby walrus.
Wes did you cut out any characters?
WES ANDERSON: There was a cook in this one and also in THE ROYAL TENEBAUMS we had a whole subplot involving a kid living across the street to have been played by Jason Schwartzman.
Wes, did Michael Gambon have any jokes on set?
WES ANDERSON: No not really. He spoke about flying a flight simulator in his brother's garage and he gave us a demonstration of that, but I am sure he must have made some fun of some people particularly one of the guys who played interns, he looked like someone whom Michael would have had a lot of fun with.
Anjelica, you spoke of Wes being intelligent are there any unintelligent people in Hollywood?
ANJELICA HUSTON: No, they are all intelligent over there.
Angelica, it is rumored that you are planning a documentary on your father?
ANJELICA HUSTON: Well in Puerto Va Afia they are starting a film festival named after him and when he was living there he had a friend he used to play poker with, an ex-spook called Bill Reid. Well Bill called me up not too long ago and told me that he had dialogue tapes of my father, so I might start on those and I know that Bill would like to see me do that. I would like to see a film about him narrated by him. It may be painful and cathartic.
Anjelica, apparently you didn't realise just how big your grandfather was in film until you were a teenager, is that true?
ANJELICA HUSTON: I only realised when I was eighteen and I went to New York and I happened to see Dodsworth on TV, so yes I know about him through film.
Wes, Mr Bud Cort, one of your cast in THE LIFE AQUATIC, has compared you to Hal Ashby, how do you feel about that and how did you end up casting him?
WES ANDERSON: Well that comparison is definitely good to know. I had seen Bud in some bit parts he has done like in HEAT for example so I just felt that he would be the right kind of guy to have around for a film. He's very warm and totally crazy but also totally worth having around.
ANJELICA HUSTON: Bud was led to believe that he would have to learn to speak Korean so he dedicated himself to staying in his room to learn the language. Night after night he would only come out to see the Pope, he's a very strong Catholic.
WES ANDERSON: Yes but then at the last minute we couldn't get any Korean people in the Vatican so we opted for Philippine actors instead to play the pirates, he was very unhappy. He ended up having a Philippine helper on set to help him with the language and at one point he wanted to use cue cards but that wouldn't have worked. I didn't require him to be proficient in any of the languages just a phonetic grasp would have been sufficient but he wanted more.
Wes what was you experience of filming in Cinecittà, Italy?
WES ANDERSON: The place is steeped in Fellini, it's totally different from filming on an American film set and that made it good but frustrating at the same time as we could not organise certain things, but also they would on occasion surprise us and fulfil requests that we'd make that couldn't be done in America, they build stuff from scratch. Also the food was great over there.
ANJELICA HUSTON: I went across the street one day to a deli and I found Dino de Laurentiis and Giancarlo Giannini eating there, I thought that was very cool. There was a time over there when I had to do a shot in a swimsuit but it was too cold so I insisted on doing it in a diver's wet suit and so that's how the scene with me in a wet suit came about.
Wes, who would you like to work with?
WES ANDERSON: I have a number of people I'd like to work with. I would have loved to have worked with Marlon Brando but I don't wanna say who else as it might mess it up. I have parts for Jason Schwartzman and Anjelica Huston for the next thing that I'm working on.