Wes Anderson has brought us a collection of somewhat lost, clever characters on their way through a simple but poignant story, in each of his seven films. In Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson sets his sights on twelve-year-olds in love, Sam and Suzy, and manages to get under their skin in a way that encompasses that fleeting, focused feeling of infatuation. After speaking with narrator Bob Balaban and the young lovers themselves, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, we managed to speak with Anderson about what inspired his latest 'dark family film'.
Rachel Heine: In looking at your previous work, there’s a layer of discipline and attention to detail in your production design and directing. Do you have a preference of shooting as many takes as possible, a la David Fincher, or do you try to be more precise?
Wes Anderson: Well, I think the ideal number is the fewest possible. I don’t usually want to shoot a bunch of takes. But, when there is a complicated shot -- you want to do as few takes as you can because you want to get on to the next thing. There’s usually a lot of work to do scheduled on any day of a movie, in my experience, but complicated shots often take a lot of time... and you plan on that. I also think when you’re shooting individual shots, when you’re shooting close ups, you can often do a lot of takes very very quickly and try different things.
But I know often what I do ends up having a huge range. Sometimes we do things where we do a couple of takes and we have it, and then sometimes it takes a lot of takes. I really run the whole range. I don’t ever recall shooting more than 50 takes, although I did have one thing in the movie that we shot 40-something [takes] of.
RH: Which scene?
WA: There’s a sequence of Edward Norton in the scout camp, near the beginning of the film, and there were lots of different kind of moving parts and things that weren’t working right. So we shot a lot of takes to get it figured out. But it was also stuff that we had planned to spend a lot of time on as well.
RH: Your movies often blur the line between drama and comedy. How would you describe the tone of Moonrise Kingdom?
WA: I think it’s a dark family film. The characters are not a tremendously happy group of people. But I do think these two children in the story are very motivated to become happy, and they’re very determined to be together. That’s really the direction it goes in. And I also think the other people at first don’t know what to make of this relationship between these two people because they’re so serious about it and they’re so young. At first the adults are sort of thrown by it but then I think they get swept up in it.
RH: This is your first film with two young lead actors. Can you tell us something about the time it took, and process involved in your decision to cast Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman?
WA: We spent a long time finding them, that was the crucial thing to me, to make sure we had the time to do the most complete search that we possibly could. And then we spent a long time rehearsing because I felt like, the better they knew the script the better it would be for me. By the time we were shooting the movie they had the whole thing memorized from start to finish. Really, they knew the material better than anybody.
RH: Do you think you’ll work with them again and keep them on your roster?
WA: Yes, I certainly would. You know, Jason Schwartzman had never done a movie before when we met and did Rushmore together, and he and I have been friends ever since and we’ve worked together many times. I think, usually, if I cast somebody in a movie, especially in a movie where it’s very personal like this, I picked them because they seem very special to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had some other part that I’d like them to play along the way.
RH: A lot of your fans were surprised that Owen Wilson wasn’t in this film. Was that a conscious decision or scheduling conflicts?
WA: You know, I think, it’s always tricky for me. The part that Edward Norton plays, Owen could have played that part. I think it has similarities to some parts Owen’s played in the past, and I’ve always wanted to work with Edward. But I do feel like Owen and I are so connected in our careers that it’s almost tricky for me not to have him in the movie. I miss that.
But Owen was a very valuable counsel for me. We read various versions of the script and saw the movie more than once while it was in progress, so I always feel like I’ve got his voice in the equation even when he’s not directly involved.
RH: You’re known for working with large ensemble cast, many who star in multiple films and are, as you’ve mentioned, close friends. What was it like bringing newcomers Edward Norton and Bruce Willis into the fold?
WA: In the case of Edward and Bruce, it was a very simple and quick process. Edward and I had been in touch with over the years and we had corresponded about working together. [It was the ] same with Tilda Swinton. And Bruce, Owen has worked with Bruce in the past and told me about him. In a way I feel like we had that connection going into it. Bruce read the script and immediately agreed, and so did Edward. That’s not always been the case, I mean, that’s rarely the case, but in this movie it came together very quickly.
RH: You’ve mentioned that Moonrise Kingdom felt very personal. Can you tell us more about Sam and Suzy, and where their story came from?
WA: I feel like, in a way I kind of identify maybe more with the girl in the story than the boy. She’s a reader and she [is] very invested in her own fantasy life -- particularly through these books that she’s completely taken with, and she’s also kind of isolated in her own family. In a way I think she seems more like a middle child than what she is, which is much older than these three little brothers.
Also, she has this pamphlet that she’s found on the refrigerator, “Coping with the Very Troubled Child”, which she knows is herself. I actually did find that pamphlet on the refrigerated, that is one of the few things that is directly from [my life] and I knew it was not my older brother, it was not my younger brother, I knew who it was for. The boy in the story is somebody where I think it’s a simpler matter. He has lost his family and he’s totally isolated and he really needs someone to connect with. Anybody who ever feels like an outsider, which is practically anybody, shares those same kind of feelings that these guys feel.
In fact, actually, this is probably not even legal, but both those characters are named for people I knew when I was 10 years old. I have not seen them since, so I hope we’re not going to get sued.
RH: So do we! Besides the characters, what was the germ of the idea -- where did you draw your inspiration?
WA: Well, the first idea I had was that I wanted to try to recreate this feeling of being a twelve year old who at least thinks that he has fallen in love, he or she, and how powerful that can be, how strange and powerful that is, especially for someone that age. The thing I was remembering was how it really made my life as a fifth grader turn into what felt like some kind of fantasy. I remember feeling like I was in an unreality daze. That was the first thing, I wanted to try to get that memory of that sensation across.
RH: After each of your films, we’re always left wanting more. Do you ever consider tackling what happens to the characters?
WA: One thing is, Edward Norton and I always talked about how his character was probably going to Vietnam. Usually I don’t have any notion of that, but we had some images of soldiers that partly inspired his take on his character. But usually when the movie ends, I want to leave everything else to the audience.
RH: You usually release incredible behind-the-scenes extras. Do you have any idea what will be included on the DVD?
WA: We have various things but I don’t know what will end up on the DVD. One thing at some point I’d like to have -- Edward Norton shot a lot of phone-camera kind of stuff and he takes very good little clips like that, so I would like to have Edward create something at some point.
One thing we do have is [that] the stories that the girl in the movie reads -- every now and then we get a paragraph of one of these books that she carries-- we’ve animated those little sequences and those will be released somewhere on Monday. I’m not sure exactly where they’re going to go, but we’re going to put them out into the world via the internet very soon. That’s also the sort of thing that could easily end up being on the DVD too, eventually.
Focus Features' 'Moonrise Kingdom' is on limited release in Los Angeles and New York, before opening nationwide over the next few weeks.