Those who’ve had a chance to check into Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel already know this, but an underlying theme to the film is World War II and its aftermath — although it never mentions Germany, the Nazis, Jews, or Communism outright. Instead of placing the story in the real world, we get a fictitious one, and a fictitious country called the Republic of Zubrowka, which seems to be somewhere vaguely in the vicinity of Germany or Hungary, both in the grand days before the War and decades after, when “common property” has dulled its luster. Anderson chatted with Vulture about getting bloody, commissioning lesbian art, and the status of his sock drawer.
You’ve been saying that The Grand Budapest Hotel is your bloodiest film yet, but then again, you had Luke Wilson slash his wrists in The Royal Tenenbaums. Wasn’t that bloodier?
Maybe you’re right. [Laughs.] I don’t know. I think this one has maybe more acts of violence. There’s a decapitated woman. Are there any other bloody things? Oh, yeah — when they escape from prison, and he stabs like five guys. There’s more events of bloodiness, I guess, but I don’t know if it’s any more blood than Luke’s scene. And in The Royal Tenenbaums, it’s a more intimate, emotional kind of violence. I think in this one, it related to the fact that there’s a war coming, and it’s sort of referring to a brutal historical period.
What was your thought process about referring to the Nazis, but not actually having them be Nazis?
Our story is about this concierge, this inheritance, and this family, and the war is more of the backdrop. It’s more the situation around our story. And because it’s not exactly the true history, because our country is a made-up country, and sort of a pastiche of different countries, it’s a little more of an impressionist version of the war. But I think it’s pretty clear what historical things we’re referring to. And hopefully it conveys this sense of this cloud, and the doom of Europe that was coming. But before we had reached a point where we were going to have Fascists in the story, we were already making our own country, our own little history, and conflating the two World Wars into one. So really, it was taking place in a slightly fantastic version of Central Europe at that time. And it’s combining these time periods. So it was really automatic that if we’ve got our own Zubrowkians, and we’ve got our own continent, that the politics are going to have to be an invented version of the reality as well.
Your version of the SS is the ZZ — the Zig-Zags. It’s supposed to be referring to something dangerous, but it comes across as adorable.
It’s a combination of the real stuff, and imagination. The Z is maybe because Zubrowka, the country.
Did you go to Eastern Europe for models of these places, before you started filming?
We traveled a lot, and we went to a lot of hotels around Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. And a lot of the ‘60s stuff in the film, we really used stuff we saw in real life, some things that we saw that were kind of Communist-era renovations of these old hotels. But we also looked at a lot of old movies. There’s one by Edmund Goulding called Grand Hotel. There’s Trouble in Paradise, an Ernst Lubitsch movie, which is an Italian hotel. And there’s even an Ingmar Bergman movie called The Silence that’s in a made-up Eastern European country hotel. In The Silence, it’s an old hotel. We actually used a corridor from The Silence that we re-created, but it’s from the ‘30s, because in the movie, it’s an old hotel. So we got lots of ideas from old photographs, old movies, and from just seeing the real places.
Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Fisher Stevens, Waris Ahluwalia, and Wally Wolodarsky turn up as this secret-agent-like group of hotel concierges who can solve just about any problem, procure any object. Where did the Society of the Crossed Keys come from?
It comes from this thing, the Golden Key is the guild of hotel concierges. It’s a very old organization, but it’s not a secret thing. We made ours more like a secret society, like the Masons or something. But there’s a real group called the Golden Key!
Two paintings are key in the film — Boy With Apple, the painting Ralph Fiennes is supposed to inherit, and Two Lesbians Masturbating, which he puts on the wall in its place. You commissioned the latter from Rich Pellegrino, who actually had created fan art of your movies before?
Yeah, that’s the one. He did this one that’s more like a Schiele-type painting. We just wanted it to be funny. Do you know Schiele? The painter Egon Schiele. There’s all variety of Schieles, but there are some very erotic ones. This is supposed to be like one of those, but we made our own version of it. We thought it would be funny if he took down the painting of Boy With Apple and looks for another painting, and this is what goes up. [Laughs.] We wanted a funny painting, used Schiele as the basis for it, and that’s the gag.
In some reviews of The Grand Budapest, critics have wondered if you’re as fastidious in your personal life as you are with what you create on screen? Do you allow any creative mess in your own life? Like, what does your sock drawer look like?
[Laughs.] My own life is totally different from the movies! The movies are just … I like the idea of trying to create a world for the characters to live in, and usually it’s sort of an invented place. And that’s just something you do in the movies. I don’t know if there is a correlation to real life. I’m not even sure if I have a sock drawer!