Wes Anderson's brilliantly nostalgic new film Moonrise Kingdom has not only broken independent film records at the box office, it introduces the world to two gifted young actors. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward play precocious pre-teens madly in love, so mature it seems as though they are the adults in a world of grown-up children. Though Gilman and Hayward have no previous film experience, their nuanced performances have put them on the map.
On the other hand, Bob Balaban (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Waiting For Guffman) has had a long career working with some of the most talented modern directors around. Hot off the heels of the Cannes Film Festival, we caught up with these three new Anderson-ites to discuss working with the disciplined director, getting into character, and the joys of filming Moonrise Kingdom.
Jared Gilman & Kara Hayward
Rachel Heine: Moonrise Kingdom is your very first film. How did you two get into acting?
Kara Hayward: I had never done an audition or anything before [the] Moonrise Kingdom open call, it was just little plays that I actually didn’t need to audition for, just little summer camps, those type things.
Jared Gilman: I had been auditioning and stuff, I have a manager so I was going on auditions.
Rachel Heine: What was the audition process like?
KH: The first time I ever saw anyone else when I was auditioning was just an open call, so I did see a few people but really it was just a mix of trying out for parts. There wasn’t anyone who had been chosen to go farther in the auditioning process.
JG: Yeah, my first audition, sitting there in the waiting room, I saw a couple other people in there. We were all just kind of waiting there, I wouldn’t say we were really being competitive like, I’m going to get this part and you’re not!
RH: How did you learn about this project in the first place? Were your parents big Wes Anderson fans?
KH: We did really enjoy The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited -- we did really enjoy a few of his movies before we even knew I was going to be auditioning for this.
JG: I had seen Fantastic Mr. Fox and I had heard of his other movies. I really loved Fantastic Mr. Fox so when I auditioned for this that helped with my excitement.
RH: Obviously you have very specific looks in the film, did Mr. Anderson have you watch or read anything before the film? What sort of homework did he give you?
KH: Yes, he actually had me watch a movie called Melody for the character, for inspiration doing the scenes. He also had me read a book called Over Sea Under Stone because it’s the type of book my character might have read.
JG: He had me watch the movie Escape from Alcatraz ‘cause he wanted to show an example of someone who’s a bit similar to my character. Clint Eastwood’s character in that movie, he’s very resourceful and capable, kind of like mine, so I watched that.
RH: Sam and Suzy seem like adults in children’s body. How did you approach that aspect and develop your characters?
JG: Something we did to help us get into our characters and get to know each other a bit better is Wes had us write letters to each other, except first he had us email them - about midway through he realized it’s better to have us actually do real snail mail and write them and send them, because it’ll help us get into that 1960s setting and also into our characters and we would still get to know each other as much.
KH: They were the Sam and Suzy letters, he had us finish those.
RH: It sounds like this was kind of like a summer camp while you were shooting.
KH: It did feel like a summer camp, you felt like you were out with your friends.
JG: We felt like a family when we were on set. There weren’t a lot of trailers, we [shared] common tents. It felt nice.
RH: You can now say you’ve worked with Bruce Willis and Bill Murray! Were you big fans before Moonrise Kingdom? What was it like to work with them?
KH: Who isn’t a fan of Bruce Willis or Billy Murray? They were such kind people, Bill is hysterical. Off-screen he’s just as funny, if not more, and Bruce is so kind and he’s just wonderful. They’re wonderful people.
JG: They were all awesome. I was really excited to work with every one of them because I was such a huge fan of their movies. It was a pleasure.
RH: How did this impact your regular school activities? How much school did you end up having to miss?
JG: I had to miss the last two months of school, but it was ok because we had tutors on set and my teachers emailed the tutors what work I had to do.
KH: My teachers didn’t really email the stuff, they gave me a couple of papers before I left. They said, just do what you can do with your time, so that’s what I did and over time when I began to finish that I started making up my old little projects and simple things like that.
RH: Moonrise Kingdom premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in France. That must have been quite an experience, what was that like?
KH: Oh, Cannes was gorgeous. It was absolutely beautiful. Everyone was having so much fun. It was just such a great feeling to be there and see the movie get the recognition it deserves for being so wonderful.
RH: You filmed on location in Rhode Island, sometimes in the wilderness -- how was working with the animals on set?
KH: The kitten in particular was very good on set [and] on camera. it was surprisingly funny to watch him just calm down and sit there. He actually ended up being mine. I got to keep him.
JG: It’s really funny. Whenever the camera started rolling this cat would just stop whatever he did and just look good for the camera, we called him Jino the Diva. ‘cause she named him Jino.
KH: Jino Valentino. That’s one of his nicknames. People had so many nicknames for him, he was so cute.
RH: Your casting experiences were obviously a little different than most young actors out there, but do you have any advice for your peers?
KH: If you want to be an actor, you’ve got to stick out and find that thing about you that makes you unique and make sure that you really play on that.
JG: Don’t be nervous. Always ignore your nerves, and if you have to channel your nerves and make your performance better through that. And yeah, what Kara said - very good advice.
RH: After your experiences with Wes Anderson and Moonrise Kingdom, is acting something you’d like to continue?
KH: I would love to continue acting, I love it so much now. It’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.
JG: Yeah, another thing that I’ve come to realize that’s so great about acting is the payoff of watching other people see all of your work and dedication. Like saying a joke and then having that finally hit the day it comes out, it’s just a really great feeling. It really makes me want to keep on going.
RH: Do you have any projects lined up next?
KH: I’ve been looking at some opportunities and I’m just really waiting for something to come along that’s as beautiful a story and as special as this was.
JG: I’m still auditioning, I really hope my next movie’s going to be as great as this.
Rachel Heine: Did Wes Anderson give you anything to watch to build your character of the narrator?
Bob Balaban: Totally, totally. Yes, when I showed up -- first of all, I knew a certain amount about the narrator from trying on my costume. [laughs] Really, it’s going to be summer and we’re wearing all that woolen clothing and the hat and the scarf and the gloves and everything? And so I kind of went, this is really going to be fun, I’m going to be in a movie where I will experience being in a movie -- ‘cause sometimes it’s kind of like coming in the room and talking. But in that case it’s sort of lifted your awareness of -- you’re going to be in somebody’s world and what will that world be like. So from the get go, it was like that. and he cares so much about details.
When I showed up in Newport, Rhode Island for my first week it was me and the crew, a tiny little skeleton crew of 7 people, and we just raced around different places in Rhode Island. Everytime I open my mouth you know that’s a 2 hour drive, so it took a bit of time to do that. The first thing Wes did was take me to the house and show me a video storyboard of what the narrator was going to look like and the scene where I was in the frame he knew exactly, ‘cause there was so many things you could do with the narrator, and he had his own exact vision of it, and in fact he was the narrator kind of going around in these, but I could instantly tell an awful lot from the way he was positioned in the frame and the way it cut from place to place and he was kind of more or less in the same place.
So, whatever that was that informed me it gave me enough to go, "Oh I see what it’s kind of like to be the narrator", and that was how he did it. He didn’t tell me things, he showed me, without telling me anything... like he didn’t say copy what i’m doing but you really got a good feeling just from seeing it...
RH: You have so many fun scenes. Do you have a particular favorite?
BB: There’s one shot in the movie that was really fun ‘cause the narrator mostly says, you know, it’s 25 miles long, and it’s this, and it’s got a rocky path, and there are igrits there or whatever, but there was one scene where I was actually involved with the fate of my little children that I was narrating. I always thought that basically I was the book that the little girl was going to write 10 years later. Books are so important in the movie and she carries those 5 books [around]. Wes lavished an awful lot of care and attention to the books and that’s very key to this whole movie -- literature, and I thought oh, I’m the book that she writes 10 years later. Really this is a movie but it’s sort of a tale, which means it’s sort of a visual book.
RH: Did you see the narrator as a sort of deus ex machina?
BB: Yes I did, but I also saw it as a very un-self-conscious one. Because when you’re reading books, which is points of view, it’s a narrator and then suddenly characters are talking. And the fact that the narrator is actually participating once in a scene and then actually having an interesting scene with the weather balloons where I talk about how awful the storm is going to be and it’s all getting set up, it was great.
We started doing the scene with my weather balloon as soon as it faintly was getting dark, and it’s one shot, and it started with me in the water. You don’t know that I’m in the water, but in order to get to the right position I had to walk on a plank and stand on a rock and be in the water with my slippery shoes that were size 12 -- even though I have very small feet -- and I had to stand on my rock.
We would do probably a three minute scene, so I talk to the camera, walk on my plank, closer to the camera, because I couldn’t just tromp in the water, I would have slipped and fell and been cold all the time, take other positions, hold up a weather-thing, release my balloon, talk to the camera, and then turn off the light at the end.
We started at 6:15 and we finished when it was dark. We just did that, constantly, over and over and over. And then the kids had to be timed, if you noticed, as soon as I finished talking, the heads of these seven canoes manned by fourteen unruly 12-year-olds have to come in the background and they have to unload their canoes. They really had no idea what the contrast ratio would be so they just kept doing it. They eventually selected one that was close to total darkness and you could see enough and it was kind of magical. It was fun.
RH: Wes creates very meticulous, specific universes. What is it like living and working in his world?
BB: Well, it’s all very subtle. Most audiences watching movies, they feel those things but they’re not quite aware of the tour-de-force nature of what it’s like to do something like that. It just kind of feels like life, I suppose. But also it could squish the life out of things. Since I’ve worked in so many situations and some of the greatest directors around in my 300 year career [Laughs] and then, in between, just regular old I got a job and I’ll be directing you in the movie sort of thing, some directors, I would say, are very crazily controlling in a way that is not good for the movie. I worked with a director at one point who just didn’t know when to stop telling you, your foot goes there and your hand goes there, and had no idea that the rest of the movie was going down the drain while he was busy worrying about some detail.
Wes, being a very detailed-conscious director, if you weren’t Wes, it could be destructive -- but in Wes’ case, it’s all part of what makes him be so phenomenally, for the people that love him, so phenomenally enjoyable and fulfilling to watch. I found, as an actor, to be in Wes’ movie [that] the choreography, the precision, was balanced with a love of people and a great appreciation for good acting, whatever that is, or just life, so that it really makes you feel very free to be in a well-constructed box as opposed to a prison.
Wes Anderson's 'Moonrise Kingdom' is now in limited release in Los Angeles and New York,and opens in wide release later this month.