Bill Murray in The Royal Tenenbaums
Photo: Courtesy of Laura Wilson
Matt Zoller Seitz’s new book The Wes Anderson Collection features deep explorations into all seven of the director’s films, along with in-depth interviews with Anderson himself. The lush coffee table book, which is in stores tomorrow, illustrates these insights with copious stills and illustrations; the chapter on The Royal Tenenbaums (excerpted on Vulture) has a bonus in its candid, alternately warm and dramatic behind-the-scenes shots taken by Laura Wilson. Besides being an acclaimed photographer, Laura also happens to be the mother of longtime Anderson collaborators Owen and Luke Wilson. Owen, who co-wrote Tenenbaums, has been friends with Anderson since college, and thus Wilson’s presence on the sets only enhanced the appropriate family vibe. Here, Wilson walks us through the memories that these Tenenbaums shoot elicit.
This is very typical of Wes, and something interesting about him. When [Wes, Owen, and Luke] were making Bottle Rocket, or even before they started making it — I remember one time he was sitting in our dining room, and it was maybe ten-thirty in the morning. He was sitting exactly the way he is here, in a chair with his head down. And I said, “Oh hi, Wes, what are you doing?” He said, “Oh, I’m thinking.” And I just kind of shrugged and went on with my morning. But I remember coming back through at two-thirty in the afternoon, and he was still exactly in the same position and exactly like this. I said, “Oh gosh, Wes, what are you doing?” and he says, “I’m thinking.” It was great because so few people stop in this way, in silence and concentration. That’s necessary for creativity. So, when I took this picture, when I saw him on the set, it went directly back to that — to however many years before, six or eight years, when he was younger.
This is just the drama of the house becoming a figure in the movie, a character in the movie. Movie sets are extremely interesting and thrilling to me. And mystifying, too. I’ve been on a lot of movie sets, but I never know what the movie’s going to look like. Even though I’m on the set and watching a scene, I’m always surprised by the movie, and it does always seem magical to me. Part of the magic comes from these pieces of equipment that are doing such unusual things: lighting a scene or the sound or changing the angle from what one would normally see with two feet on the ground. And all of that adds to the magic of moviemaking, the thrill of it.
What interested me in this picture is here you see these two longtime friends, one directing and the other listening, working together. Having been an older person observing them, having seen them before many years together, it’s quite touching, isn’t it? And the oddness of the composition, too. The camera looks like it’s dropping out the window. But also the diagonal of Wes and Owen — one at the top, one at the bottom, the strong visual impact of these two friends. It’s more an emotional connection between the two of them, because they even have the same hat — which is so odd to me because it is a hat that they wouldn’t have worn themselves. At this point, they’re still so young. Now, fast forward to this amazing thing that happened this past year and the year before. Last year, Wes’s movie, Moonrise Kingdom, opened the Cannes Film Festival, and the year before Owen’s movie, Midnight in Paris, opened the Cannes Film Festival. Imagine the likelihood of two boys who were born in this place together, who went to school together, with no connection to the movie business, both winding up in that situation back to back.
Anjelica is just a lovely person. The Hustons have dominated American moviemaking the way the Kennedys dominated American politics. Her grandfather, her father, and now she and her brother are distinguished in that history. But she’s also so accessible and so appealing. She was a dancer. And I like, in this picture, her confidence, the sense she gives of being grounded. She’s a person of character, who has seen an awful lot. Plus, that wallpaper is fantastic. Wes sort of made that wallpaper famous. He saw it someplace and then had it re-created for this house. Now this wallpaper has been made into a fabric.
Graphically, this is just a nice picture. The way Wes is sort of against the white — the column is like a white seamless paper behind him, and then you see his concentration on what he’s saying. And then the way she’s leaning forward. I forget what they were talking about, but they could be talking about the scene. He’s listening to her, concentrating, and you see his shape. I like his very linear qualities.
This one says more because you see his real fondness for her. And then the lovely expression she has on her face in response to him. That’s very personal. Here, you can imagine what his face looks like, from the sweetness of his expression or the fact that he’s kneeling. And the lovely gesture of his hand, and the beautiful expression on her face. You see a real pleasure in each other — liking each other very, very much. And the contrast with Gwyneth in the background is perfect, isn’t it?
I like how elegantly Wes is dressed here — his shoes are shined and this lovely suit he has on. He was sitting outside, and he was lost in thought, like he often is. It was a cold day, and that’s a kind of wind protector behind him, so that the light and the wind wouldn’t go into the house. This is the exterior porch. Anjelica came to the door of the porch. She didn’t expect to see him, and he didn’t expect to see her, but they both lit up. When she saw that I was taking a picture of Wes, she sort of held back a little bit. I said, “Oh, no, no, no, come on in. Come on in.” So she actually put her feet up in his lap, which is so completely charming and appealing. And the suit is her costume. And then these long, fantastic legs. I think she and Wes both admire each other and genuinely like each other. They’d be friends even if they weren’t in the same business together.
That’s a pretty strong image. Just the close-up and the strength of the face and the intensity of the look and then the shaved head and then this bizarre thing on the bird’s head. If you didn’t know about birds, you wouldn’t quite know what’s happening there, which is a blinder. So it’s the beak that comes out, but the eyes are covered to keep the bird quiet and manageable. I think this is just as they’re starting to shoot. If they were shooting, I wouldn’t have been here, so I think it’s that he’s taken the bird up and he’s maybe waiting for the scene to begin. And so I’ve stepped in, taken this picture.
This is the close-up of Luke’s hands during the suicide attempt. What struck me about this is how convoluted the equipment is to do a scene like this, to be coming up and over the actor like that. And the lighting, and again the size of the pieces of equipment. Plus, it’s so late at night. Luke is meditative, but everybody’s also just so tired.
When I watch one of my sons in a movie, I still get this terrible anxiety. I like to go see the movie by myself rather than to go with other people, because I don’t like to feel their reaction or feel their response to it, and I don’t like to talk about it. It’s the feeling you might have if you were to give a speech in front of a large audience. And it still occurs. And the fact that they’re established now doesn’t matter. It’s my personality. I’m more anxiety-filled. I should be used to it now, and it shouldn’t matter, but it does.
In my memory, that was maybe one-thirty or two o’clock in the morning when this was being shot. The hair had all been arranged, cut and arranged. But Wes, with his attention to detail, and no detail being too small or hour too late to make it a visually stronger, more affecting, more powerful image, here he is on the floor, rearranging the hair on the floor. And he’s already rearranged it from when the prop person did it in the sink. I remember how tired I was. I had never been up so late on a movie as this particular scene. Everybody is there, everybody is tired. It’s a tiny space, with all his equipment in it, and you can see the equipment, the number of people that have to be in, not just the actor. But Wes’s extraordinary attention to detail is what makes his movies completely interesting.
This shot of Wes and Luke talking — or, not talking. That’s not them acting for me or my camera. They’re concentrating. Wes has maybe said something or is thinking of something. Luke isn’t speaking, Wes isn’t speaking — they’re both just reacting to what one or the other has said. This is real concentration on Luke’s part, looking up at Wes.
This is off-camera … Not every actor needs to talk about getting into something the way many actors do talk about it. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t in it. That’s not the face of someone who’s just doing a serious scene. It’s something more. The scene itself has seeped into his mind. And I think it clearly shows in his face here. That expression is something I’ve not seen on Luke’s face. It shows a kind of vulnerability, and a sensitivity. There is something in the way his mouth is that I can see that he is thinking about what he’s about to do. It’s a self-inflicted wound, and that shows here on his face. I don’t know if Luke is the kind of actor who really gets into a scene in the way that some others do. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t feeling it.
I think this shows the fun of moviemaking. They’re in the hospital, and it’s a serious scene, but Bill Murray arrived on the scene and he sat down in this swivel chair and he grabbed the little boy up on his shoulders and started swirling around and I began taking pictures of it. You can see Luke laughing, and the other little boy, and the camera attendant laughing, the sound man laughing, the boom operator laughing. But then you see the man who is to Wes’s right, I think the first AD, and you can see he’s not so amused by it, ‘cause all it does is waste time and slow things down, and he has the production schedule on his mind. He isn’t nearly as amused as the other people are.
But then there’s also Bill Murray, the big star drawing attention to himself. He’s a master comedian and has spent his life in the center of the action. A younger, less experienced actor wouldn’t feel he could do that on a set. Whereas Bill Murray, he can do what he feels like because he’s a great star.