Wes Anderson won't formally begin his next movie, "The Grand Budapest Hotel," until the new year, but he's on the phone after a busy day spent filming "little shots" in Saxony with a very good German driver named Peet who's quite adept, Anderson says, at weaving through traffic behind the wheel of an old car that Anderson's production team has meticulously converted into a taxi.
Anderson admits he's still puzzling over the success of his last film, the coming-of-age comedy "Moonrise Kingdom," which has received best picture nominations for the Spirit Awards and Golden Globes and grossed more than twice the box office of each of his previous three films.
"I've never had a movie I didn't believe in, and I've never had any sense before the movie opens how it might do," Anderson says. "With 'Moonrise,' it may be the subject matter or maybe it's just more the atmosphere. I don't have the slightest idea."
But Anderson did have more concrete thoughts on other subjects, including "The Grand Budapest Hotel," a movie inspired by Ernst Lubitsch's films and, particularly, Austrian novelist and playwright Stefan Zweig.
You've always collaborated on writing, but on "The Grand Budapest Hotel," you have the sole screenplay credit.
I actually wrote it with an old friend who's not in the movie business. We made the story together, and I wrote it with his feedback. The idea is to capture that sort of "Europe on the Hollywood back lot" feel of Lubitsch musicals like "The Merry Widow," even though we're actually going to Europe to do it. [Anderson declined to name his collaborator, saying, "I don't want to publicly out him until he wishes to be."]
So the process of writing it wasn't a dramatic departure for you.
I worked on "Moonrise Kingdom" alone for a year and couldn't get it figured out. I had 11 pages of script and lots and lots of little bits. Only then did I call [co-writer Roman Coppola], and Roman figured it out. But we only worked together for a month.
What was it on "Moonrise" that had you stumped?
I had two different scenes for how the two kids meet — the one in the woods and the one at the play. They could only meet once, and I wasn't sure which one to use. Roman read the first 11 pages where they meet in the woods and he asked, "What if they had pre-arranged to meet?" And then I wrote the flashback with the scenes of them meeting earlier, performing Benjamin Britten's opera, "Noah's Flood." And from there, we started piecing it together.
Did you regret not calling Roman sooner?
Kind of. Maybe I called him when I was really ready to get help. It wouldn't have hurt to call a month or two sooner. [Laughs.]
You had all the pieces. It sounds like you just needed fresh eyes.
Whatever way your brain works in making up your story, once you get the thing that fits it, it feels like you must have known that on some level.
Especially since you yourself were in "Noah's Flood" when you were a kid.
Yes. My older brother and I were in a school production. I was an otter, and my costume was exactly what the kids wore in the movie. That wasn't the original plan, though, for the film.
What were you going to do?
I had planned to model the production on the original, Britten-directed production. But we ended up without enough time or money. So my mother went to the school library and got photographs of the production my brother and I had been in. Originally I was going to have the kids — or their parents — make their costumes, like you do in school. But the costume department didn't feel comfortable with that. They're still felt, though.
There's going to be a new team for "Star Wars"?
Yes. Disney bought Lucasfilm. They're making new movies. You didn't get an offer to direct?
Maybe my agent filtered that offer out. That's the way I'm going to think of it. "Boom. Not available. Sorry."