With his courtly, old-world manners and halting stop-start speech – not to mention his tweed suit that seems from another era – Wes Anderson could be a character from his latest cinematic styling, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” a wacky, deadpan comedy caper that happens to be his best film to date.
(The production design by Adam Stockhausen, music by Alexandre Desplat, as well as Anderson’s direction and his screenplay, from a story by him and pal Hugo Guinness, are sure to be Oscar nominated next year.)
Anderson was at a downtown Manhattan hotel recently to promote his eighth feature film, along with cast members Willem Dafoe, Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Saorise Ronan, Jeff Goldblum and newcomer Tony Revolori.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” set in the fictional alpine town of Zubrowka, follows the misadventures of M. Gustave H. (Fiennes), the fey and dashing concierge of an opulent hotel, and his protégé, the naïve and loyal lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Revolori).
The story within-a-story within-a story takes place in the grandest hotel in the world beginning from the 1930’s until the Communist takeover some 30 years later when it becomes a palace of ruined grandeur.
The plot involves a revolving door of madcap characters and situations, including the military police, a secretive brotherhood of concierges, a romance between Zero and a baker (Ronan), a scary but sweet prisoner (Harvey Keitel), the murder of a octogenarian countess (Tilda Swinton under layers of aging makeup), her greedy, depraved son (Brody) and a hit man (Dafoe).
At the junket Jeff Goldblum said of the film, “You go away feeling like you’ve been on an acid trip of some kind. You’ve entered some dream, Jungian place.”
It turns out Gustave, who has a penchant for bedding octogenarians and dousing himself with a perfume called L’Air de Panache, was based on a real-life person he and Anderson know.
Fiennes wanted to make sure he didn’t exaggerate the character.
“One could easily push it to an extreme level of affectation and sort of flamboyancy and campery,” Fiennes said. “Wes, quite rightly I thought, was nurturing it back to something simple and I would say understated.”
A running gag involves Gustave, who reminds Zero to bring him his perfume when he’s in hiding, and then slaps Zero when he forgets.
How many times did Fiennes hit him, Revolori was asked?
“Never, not by Ralph,” he replied. “I did get hit by Harvey Keitel.”
“He hit you quite hard, didn’t he?” Fiennes asked.
“The thing is, he did push ups before every take,” Revolori said. “And he’s an ex-Marine so he’s still got it. And it was about 42 takes I believe of a good, hard slap.”
“You took it like a man,” Fiennes said. “It was impressive.”
Later when Anderson came into the room, someone pointed out that the fairytale design of Anderson’s miniaturized world is symmetrical. What’s his fascination with symmetry?
“I guess that’s probably some form of autism or something like that I think,” Anderson laughed. “Ralph has a similar thing. He is very orderly. This was something that he used in the character. His character is very precise and fastidious, and he would organize all these things. We share a bit of desire to make order. Probably anybody who makes a movie, they’re doing that in one way or another. They’re arranging a thing here for you to look at, but I think I have a particular kind of, you know, visual thing that I like to get that probably kind of jumps out at people a little.”
I asked Anderson what inspired him to cast Ralph Fiennes – someone audiences don’t usually think of as funny – as Gustave?
“I have wanted to work with him just in the abstract because I just think he’s such a great actor and such a powerful actor.” He added that he’d seen him in Martin McDonagh’s “In Bruges” and thought he was funny.
“I didn’t have any question about it but I will say people were kind of like, ‘Are you sure? Is that right for this?’”
Anderson, who was raised in Texas, explained that he wanted to make the film because of personal reasons. “In this case it’s because I’ve been living in Europe for the last 10 years or so, mostly, and it’s still new to me and I live as a foreigner most of my life these days, so I’m interested in what I’m seeing every day and the history of this region, along with the people I met, Europeans. One person in particular, who is the model for this character Ralph plays.”
I asked Anderson to tell us more about this person.
“He’s not a hotel person. He’s not a concierge. But what he wears, the perfume. He quotes poetry, spontaneously. Sometimes you don’t know he’s doing it and then suddenly you go, ‘Oh I see.’ He recites. And he talks like this character. The character in the movie is more Ralph than this guy. I mean, Ralph took over and devolved into what it is but there’s still this inspiration.”
So what was his friend’s reaction to the character?
Anderson imitated his friend’s accent, “I don’t say that? Wouldn’t happen, darling! Wouldn’t do it. But cool, very cool.”
It turns out his friend said with him and Guinness while they wrote the script. “He would sit with us and encourage or discourage us. He had a lot of thoughts with the casting. He was very happy with Ralph. And he’s actually quite pleased with the movie. He’s seen all of the movies I’ve done over the years,” Andersons aid, “and he and Hugo both are people who will sort of say, ‘Not your best,’ that sort of thing. And this one he’s been, he likes it. He relates to it.”
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