Two decades ago, Fisher Stevens thought he would be producing Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale with Wes Anderson — but it didn’t work out. But the process did kick off a friendship and roles for Stevens in films like Isle of Dogs and The Grand Budapest Hotel, both directed by Anderson. “For The Grand Budapest Hotel, he said, ‘Why don’t you come over and play a concierge?’” Fisher recalls in a recent conversation with Vulture. “I actually just got back about ten days ago from working with him again in Spain. I love his movies and I love him.”
A nostalgic and elegiac love letter to journalism, particularly highbrow publications in the vein of The New Yorker, Anderson’s latest, The French Dispatch, is adorned with Anderson’s characteristic artifice, whimsy, and attention to detail. It brings to life a collection of stories published in an eponymous magazine, where Fisher’s character works alongside a staff mourning the recent and sudden passing of their beloved founder and editor, played by Bill Murray.
Below, Stevens talks about his usual process with Anderson, his work as an environmental filmmaker, and his role on HBO’s Succession as slimy Waystar Royco comms executive Hugo Baker.
First, is there anything you can tell us about the new Wes Anderson film, Asteroid City, that you were just shooting in Spain?
I can tell you it’s probably the best, the wildest cast since The Bridge on the River Kwai. Most of the actors in this film have been in theater except for the kids. We were all bubbled together in a hotel, which was an old monastery. I think it’s going to be quite an extravaganza.
In The French Dispatch, you have a role in some key scenes with the fictional editorial team. What conversations did you have with Anderson and the cast to understand the dynamics among journalists at a magazine?
Whatever movie I’ve worked with him on, we stay in the same hotels or areas. And when you get into your room, there will be a reading list or videos to watch that were inspirations for Wes. So The New Yorker articles and articles written about The New Yorker writers would be in the hotel room as suggested readings, and movies that inspired him for this particular film. That’s how we did it with The Grand Budapest Hotel, watching Ernst Lubitsch films before we shot it.
I have very little to do in [The French Dispatch], but [my character is] a story editor. I didn’t know what a story editor did! And I found out what the story editor does at The New Yorker, how important it was, and how the story editor had certain relationships with his writers. And how literature was kind of disappearing from that time.
It’s a little tricky to fully grasp the world of The French Dispatch at first. A repeat viewing serves it well. What is it like to read a complex script and then see the finished film, realizing, “Oh, so this was the movie we were making?”
When I read the script, to be honest, it didn’t feel like it was one movie. It felt like three movies. I was like, “How is he going to make this one film?” I was shocked when I saw it, that it was pretty seamless. I did have to read the script a few times, because it’s very dense. Characters [have] incredible names like Nescaffier. When you’re reading a script without seeing a face, sometimes the names get a little blurred together. But I need to see it again as well. When you get to the set, even our little office, just the details alone — the papers on the desk, the way they were typed, the name tags, the name plates … Everything was so meticulous and that’s in every one of his movies. He just surrounds the actors in the world and that really helps us as well.
I want to ask you about your nonfiction work a little. You won the Best Documentary Feature Academy Award for producing the 2009 documentary The Cove. Environmentalism clearly motivates you. How did that journey start for you?
It’s funny you bring that up because I’ve been reading all about the COP26 in Glasgow. I’m not going, and I’m just very upset with the bullshit inactivity. You know, as Greta Thunberg says, “Blah, blah, blah.” Because it’s really so sad. I feel very little is going to happen. Unfortunately Joe Manchin, the West Virginia senator, is going to try to stop progress. And I’m so upset. I’m like, “Well, I should be making another film.” But to be honest, I get so angry now that I need to take a step back. I’m still working on a film about the Amazon that I’m producing that I think is going to be very powerful.
I got into it because I was a scuba diver. I went diving with this wonderful man named Jim Clark, who created Netscape and was one of the fathers of the internet. We went on this dive in the Pacific in 2005. We came up and he was like, “Oh my God. The ocean is dying.” I said, “What are you talking about? It looked cool.” And he goes, “I was here 10 years ago. It was colorful. There were millions of fish.” And then he basically just schooled me on climate change. He is a physicist, a professor. He gave me books and then he was like, “You are a filmmaker, start doing something.” And I said, “Well, you’re rich. You start doing something.” That actually did turn into The Cove, which he financed. The more you read, the more you dig in, the more you see. I’m just feeling pretty negative about it. I have young kids now, so it’s even more like, “Oh my God, I don’t want to fuck this place up for my children.”
Let’s talk Succession for a bit. Your character, Hugo, entered the scene in season two and has quickly worked his way into Logan Roy’s inner circle.
I hadn’t watched the show before they cast me and then they cast me and I was like, “Oh shit, I better watch this.” And then, “Oh my God, this is so good! These actors!” In a weird way, it’s the same as Wes’s films. When I got there, they were like an acting troupe, like a theater company. I think I had a few lines in my first scene. And then they just put me next to Brian [Cox] on the airplane. And I just felt immediately, “I’m a part of this. I’m going to be a scumbag like the rest of these people. I feel good about this.”
You’re on the receiving end of some memorably brutal Logan Roy outbursts this season. “I’m about to eat dicks for three hours straight so, yes, I would like a fucking room” is a good one.
Well, I imagine that Hugo — unfortunately you don’t get to see this, but in my mind — does the same to his underlings, people that work for him. I think that I’m on the phone, screaming at the people that work for me in this similar tone to Brian’s. It’s the only way I can function. I have to get it out because I’m getting crushed. Brian is so good at that, honestly. I gotta do what he says or this guy’s gonna kill me. Or fire me, which is worse.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.