When in Berlin, where this picture opened the prestigious film festival, we had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Anderson to discuss his latest piece. Just upon walking into the room, instantly you see the man behind the camera, as there’s a sophistication and elegance to his well-kept appearance, matching that of the hand-crafted universe that he creates. In this instance it’s Zubrowka, a fictional world that Anderson believes to serve his characters most efficiently.
“One thing that I like to do, or that I find interesting when I make a movie, is to make a world for the movie to take place in,” he said. “Some setting for the characters that we can create and you can’t just walk outside and find. I want to invent the world for our team to create. I feel like a social networking word is one we have right here in front of us. Certainly Spike Jonze just made a very inventive world that is the next step beyond, and that appeals to me. I would be very interested in the future, it’s just the present, in and of itself, I guess I don’t know how to work with it yet.”
So we asked Anderson if he sees his grandiose, surrealistic creations as a form of escapism – yet he believes his world is one enriched with realism, and one we can relate to ourselves. “I’m not sure if I would use the word escapism, because what I would like to do is make a world that feels as real as it can be within its own context and that is there for these characters to play a story that you can believe in. It’s not my goal to make it matter less somehow because it’s removed from our day to day reality.”
To further extend this point, he even claims that the film’s starring role, belonging to Ralph Fiennes as Gustave H. – the concierge at the eponymous establishment, is based on a dear friend of his. “They’re probably more normal to me, than they are to you,” he claims. “The character played by Ralph is modelled on a real person who is a very close friend of mine. Normal is not the first word I would use for him, but he’s a real person. But normal isn’t something you look for in a character in a story, in an interesting character anyway.”
Fiennes joins a cast that consists of many of Anderson’s regular collaborators, but it’s the new arrivals that excited the director most. “This was the one movie where I got everybody I wanted. Except, before we offered the role to Tilda we had talked to Angela Lansbury about doing it, but she couldn’t. Then I thought, I wanted Tilda somewhere in the movie anyway, so the only thing to do was to make her 85. So we did that. Many of the actors in this are people I’ve worked with before, but Ralph and Jude Law were people I wanted to work with for a long time.”
Though some may seem insignificant, each and every character, no matter how small, feels so imperative to this picture, as though each a piece to a jigsaw, and one that Anderson is delicately working his way through – as a truly layered piece of cinema, that tells so many stories. For the director, the hotel setting is the perfect backdrop for him to place this tale.
“I like hotels as a setting for a story because they’re complicated systems with many stories happening within them. Hotel movies are almost a genre of movies. I can’t say I’m deeply fascinated with hotels in the abstract of my own life, but when I’m working on the story of my movie, I become very interested in whatever the characters are interested in, so during the preparation for this movie I was extremely interested in hotels and we visited lots of places and met the staff and learned all kind of things about a number of hotels around Europe.”
Anderson’s cinematic language seems to one in tune with European cinema, as a director who is evidently influenced by the likes of Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch, of which this is a loving homage. There’s a certain grandiose and kitsch feeling to old Europe that has been perfectly encapsulated within this title, as one that seems to be so entwined with the American’s vision. It therefore comes as little surprise to hear that Anderson has spent a lot of time this side of the Atlantic, with a home in Paris.
“Over the past 10 years or so I have spent a lot of time in Europe, much more than in the rest of my life. I feel like my view of the world is very affected and changed by being here for so long. I feel very much like a foreigner wherever I am travelling in Europe, but when I go back to America I sort of feel a bit like a foreigner there, in a way I never did before.”
That’s not to say Anderson’s influences lie solely in European filmmakers, as he discusses what truly inspired him as a youngster, and how he first came to terms with the notion of a director and the unique brand that they can provide themselves. “When I grew up, I was watching whatever was on the cinemas and on TV, Star Wars was the biggest thing when I was a kid and I liked Disney movies, John Hughes movies. I remember seeing Hitchcock movies, which were released as a set. I knew Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and I knew this concept of directors, but this somehow this was a different thing, this guy from years before and his name is on the front of all of these films, and he’s been put forward as the star, and I loved them.”
So what’s next for this innovator? “I have too many ideas right now, none of which are really good enough to be a movie, so I’m thinking I could smash them all together. But we’ll see.”
The Grand Budapest Hotel is released on March 7th, and you can read our review here.