Movie Interviews
10:13 am
Tue May 29, 2012

Wes Anderson, Creating A Singular 'Kingdom'

Originally published on Wed February 20, 2013 11:58 am

Director Wes Anderson has many credits to his name — The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited, Bottle Rocket and Fantastic Mr. Fox among them — but Moonrise Kingdom is his first film to open the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.

Starring Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis and Edward Norton, the quirky independent picture tells the story of a 12-year-old girl and boy who fall in love and then make a pact to run off into the woods together.

Anderson tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that the movie, set on a remote (and fictional) island off the coast of New England, is what he calls "a memory of a fantasy."

"I remember the emotion of feeling like I was falling in love at that age, and how powerful it was and sudden and inexplicable," he says. "And nothing happened in my case, but I think it's a fantasy I would have had at that age — would have envisioned. ... These two characters are hit by a thunderbolt and determined to act on it."

Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, who play the preteens Suzy and Sam, were cast after an extensive search, says Anderson.

"My experience with casting children is that ... the whole movie is going to rest on their shoulders, so you have to set aside time and wait for the perfect people to appear," he says. "After we saw [Kara and Jared], we shut down the search, and they're the ones who are in the movie. And they define the characters more than the script does, I think."

In the script, Sam and Suzy are separated by distance — Suzy is at home in her beach house, and Sam is away at scout camp — so they must traverse the woods to eventually find each other.

Anderson himself was a scout for a short time as a child. He drew on those experiences while crafting the plot of Moonrise Kingdom, which stars Willis as a sheriff, Frances McDormand and Murray as absent-minded parents, and Norton as a hapless scoutmaster in charge of finding his missing camper.

"Edward Norton was someone who I corresponded with over the years, and he was somebody who I thought of as a scoutmaster," says Anderson. "He looks like he has been painted by Norman Rockwell."

Anderson says he drew on Rockwell, as well as his other films, while designing how Moonrise Kingdom would look.

"I have a way of filming things and staging them and designing sets," he says. "There were times when I thought I should change my approach, but in fact, this is what I like to do. It's sort of like my handwriting as a movie director. And somewhere along the way, I think I've made the decision: I'm going to write in my own handwriting. That's just sort of my way."


Interview Highlights

On theater

"I have always wanted to work in the theater. I've always felt the glamour of being backstage and that excitement, but I've never actually done it — not since I was in 5th grade, really. But I've had many plays in my films. I feel like maybe theater is a part of my movie work."

On Suzy's house in the movie

"We took details from all of these [houses] that we had visited, and then we made the place in a Linens 'N' Things outside of Newport, R.I. There's not much that takes place in the house, but there are key scenes in the beginning, and it was all constructed to the shots."

On what he tells his actors

"I usually just want them to be as authentic and natural as possible, but I'm oftentimes giving them a scene that is nothing like they would have said it. Usually what's written is a bit odd. It's not my intention that it be odd. But what interests me as a writer is a sentence that's got a surprise in the way it's put together. And so usually I think they're doing something that doesn't feel perfectly natural to them, and then it's combined with the visuals and the movements that I'm drawn to. ... When I see the first dailies on any movie, I usually feel that I had no idea how this combination of ingredients was going to mix together, what it was going to produce."

On casting Bruce Willis as a sheriff

"We had this policeman who is lonely and insecure, and yet, when I was thinking about who could play this, I wanted somebody where, as you got to know his personality and see what a sad character he was, you would get that thing that you sort of get with real police. You can tell when somebody's a cop. There is something that's often projected from an actual policeman, and Bruce Willis has this cop authority, where even if he's playing something away from what he normally plays, you would never question whether Bruce Willis is the police."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MOONRISE KINGDOM")

BRUCE WILLIS: (as Captain Sharp) All right. We know they're together. We know they're within a certain radius of this spot. I'm declaring a case with the county right now. Until help arrives, I'm deputizing the little guy, the skinny one, and the boy with the patch on his eye to come with me in the station wagon. Randy, you drop in and head upriver with the rest of your troops and split up on foot. Becky, call Jed, tell him to circle over this end of the island and fly low.

GROSS: That's Bruce Willis as a lonely cop in a small town organizing a search party for a 12-year-old boy who's run away from scouting camp with a 12-year-old girl. It's a scene from "Moonrise Kingdom," the new movie directed and co-written by my guest, Wes Anderson. He also made the films "Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "The Darjeeling Limited" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox."

"Moonrise Kingdom" had the prestigious position of opening the Cannes Film Festival earlier this month. And it opened in select cities last Friday. It's about 12-year-old Sam and Suzy, who feel fated to be together the moment they meet and make a pact to run off together. He runs away from Khaki Scouts Camp Ivanhoe. She runs away from her home, where her parents - played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand - seem to have stopped caring about each other.

Just as Sam and Suzy want to create their own world on their New England island, Wes Anderson creates his own world in the film. The movie looks like a hand-painted storybook with real actors. The music is an integral part of the storytelling. Sam and Suzy meet at a rehearsal for a church production of Benjamin Britten's opera "Noah's Flood." The opera will figure into the story again later, and a real storm is on the way. Here's a passage from "Noah's Flood."

(SOUNDBITE OF OPERA, "NOAH'S FLOOD")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Forty days and 40 nights, rain shall fall (unintelligible). And that (unintelligible) to destroy.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing) Have done, you (unintelligible), lest this boat unfold, and these beasts will (unintelligible). The flood is high. (unintelligible) Therefore, tarry you not. Tarry you not. Tarry you, tarry you not. Tarry not.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Singing) Sir, sir, sir (unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Kyrie, kyrie eleison. Kyrie, kyrie eleison. Kyrie, kyrie, kyrie eleison.

GROSS: Wes Anderson, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Now, I've read that the first germ of the idea for "Moonrise Kingdom" was in the recording of Benjamin Britten's "Noye's Fludde," which translates to "Noah's Flood." What's the connection between this music and the concept of "Moonrise Kingdom"?

WES ANDERSON: Well, I don't know Benjamin Britten's work that well, but I have always had a particular affection for it, because this play, "Noye's Fludde," or however you say it, he wrote to be performed by mostly amateur church groups, with a couple of professionals thrown into the mix. And it's meant to be performed in churches, rather than auditoriums or opera houses or anything else. So anyway, I was in a production of it, along with my older brother, when I was 10 or 11 years old.

So many of the - I've been sort of humming these, you know, these hymns and things from that play/opera all my life, and I had a thought that I wanted to incorporate somehow into this, which I didn't know how I was going to do for quite a long time. But somewhere early on I sort of thought the movie should be set to Britten, and we use not only the "Noah's Flood" pieces, but also we kind of tapped into his - into the whole body of work.

GROSS: I think one of the things that works about the "Noah's Flood" music is that although it's written to be performed by amateurs, including children, it's a very sophisticated, adult work. It's not like, you know, top 40 radio. So you have children trying on, you know, classical music and, you know, a more serious - a more classical form of singing, with really big themes like Noah's flood. Did you feel like you were doing something very adult when you were 10 or 11 and you were in this, even if you were just one of the animals?

ANDERSON: Yes. And we were animals. We were part of a big chorus. We were in felt costumes. It wasn't - it didn't feel like we were doing a school play. First, there was a guy - the person who was directing the production was - his name is Sandy Havens, and he had - he was a guy who was at Rice University in Houston, where I was - he wasn't somebody who did things involved with our school. He was sort of a ringer brought in to lead this production. And there were musicians who were professional musicians and a few professional singers. And it's a very powerful, kind of complex piece.

And yet it is meant to involve children. And I kind of connect to this period that the movie is set in, which is classical pieces that are meant to - that are - that are meant to have an audience of children, but that are not written down to children, that are meant to kind of educate children in what classical music really is. Britten seemed very motivated by that.

GROSS: Yes. And it's introducing - in your movie, it's like this music is introducing the children to the repertoire of classical music, but it's also, like, a metaphor for introducing children to adult life, to the larger world, which is kind of what your movie's about.

You know, the movie - there's two 12-year-olds, Sam and Suzy who meet and bond in the dressing room while preparing for a performance of "Noah's Flood." And like a lot of lovers in movies, they seem to know that they're fated to meet. But it's not Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It's, like, two 12-year-olds. How did you get the idea of two 12-year-olds falling in love in this fated-to-meet kind of way?

ANDERSON: Well, I remember - you know, someone asked me in the past week, in Cannes - I don't - I can't even remember who it was that asked me this, a reporter. I wish I had noted him, because he asked me something that made me kind of realize what I had wanted to do. He asked if the movie was a memory of a fantasy.

And I thought - at first I wasn't quite sure what that meant. Then I realized that that is sort of exactly what the movie is. It's - I remember the emotion of feeling like I was falling in love at that age, 12 years old, and how powerful it was and sudden, and kind of inexplicable. And yet in this - you know, I - nothing happened in my case.

But the - so the fantasy - so I think it's a fantasy that I would have had at that age, would have envisioned. And these two characters, they are hit by the same sort of thunderbolt - if that's a word, thunderbolt - and they - but they're determined to act on it and see it through.

GROSS: Who did you fall in love with?

ANDERSON: Well, I - I don't - I don't know if I want to even say the name, because it's a, you know, a real person who very likely won't be listening to this, but maybe would be. You know, a girl two rows over and three seats up who was in my class for years, and I never really had much of a conversation with her.

GROSS: Did you cast the girl who plays the lead in your movie to look like the girl you fell in love with when you were 11?

ANDERSON: That's a good question. You know, I think there is some resemblance, but in fact, my experience with casting children is that these - you know, we have to discover these people. And the whole movie is going to rest on their shoulders, and that we that really you just have to set aside plenty of time and wait for the perfect people to appear and just trust that, you know, you know that if you don't happen onto these people there is no movie. But in this case it happened with both of them. It wasn't like I had several different options for each. It was this one appeared for the boy and this one appeared for the girl, and in both cases we shut down the search, we knew we had them, and they are the ones that are in the movie. And they are much more, as so often happens with these things, I mean they are, they define the characters more than the script does, I think.

GROSS: You know, in a lot of romantic movies you know who's going to fall in love 'cause it's the most beautiful actress and the most handsome actor. And because they both look the best, they're the ones who are going to fall in love. But in this case it's like a 12-year-old girl is like taller than the boy is, she looks older than he does, and that so often the way it is when you're that age. I mean I remember when I was that age, so many of the girls I knew had, like, you know, boyfriends who were, like, shorter than they were, you know. And that never happened to me 'cause I'm so short it would be hard to be shorter than I am. But, so you were comfortable with that 'cause that's how it often is at that age, right?

ANDERSON: Well, yeah. Well, in fact, we had, in the script we had described her being slightly taller than he is. And her character is - we had written her character to be a bit more grown-up than the boy. But she was - first, she is, she was taller than him, now he's actually gone past her. But she was those things. So the way we had written it is reflected in her, but the specifics of it really ended up being her version of that. You know, the way they were as actors when they had to kind of become professionals, you know, leave their middle schools and go to our, you know, become like adults, and she was very ready for that and he was into it but in a more - he had with a great childlike enthusiasm, whereas she sort of became a professional actress right in front of our eyes in within a, you know, within the first days of the movie.

GROSS: After the to 12-year-olds fall in love they decide to - they make a pact to run away together. And for him that means running away from Khaki Scout Camp, which is the movie's version of Boy Scout camp. And for her and means running away from home, from her parents and siblings. So he takes with him his scouting gear and they're going to be running away basically into the woods on an island. And she takes with her a yellow suitcase, a basket with her kitten in it, a portable battery-operated record player, her favorite record, binoculars, lucky scissors, a toothbrush, storybooks, a kind of unrealistic set of things to run away into the woods with.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: How did you pack for her?

ANDERSON: Yes. Interesting. Yes. At one point they actually take an inventory in front of us so you can see all the ingredients. Yeah. You know, in fact, I remember that we were, we, Roman and I were working and we sort of said I think she's got a suitcase. Let's figure out what's in it. And we decided what is in it is - the thing we thought about her character is that she is a big reader and we were seeing a certain kind of 12-year-old girl we felt we had known. And so we decided to fill it with library books, which end up being stolen, you know, she's stolen library books. But that's a sort of, we then made the books. You know, I sort of wrote a little paragraph of text that from each book because she reads them and then we had different artists draw the covers and we sort of invented this little series of books and she's caring around. And over the course of that I sort of started thinking that the movie ought to feel like it could be in that suitcase and could be one of these young adult fantasy books.

It's not, the magic in them, you know, the movie doesn't have actual magic the way the books do, but the atmosphere of it we started feeling like ought to be like that and it kind of, you know, sort of set the tone for the whole thing, I think.

GROSS: I love too that she brought with her a battery-operated record player. And I imagine you owned that record player because that record player is more or less also in "The Royal Tenenbaums."

ANDERSON: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ANDERSON: Yes. That's probably right. I think that's right. You know, in the case of this movie, I have a good justification for analog equipment, which is the movie takes place in 1965. In the past I've used the same stuff and I have no real way to defend it, except that I think it's nicer to put a camera on a spinning thing rather than something that just sort of beeps or, you know, numbers that tick off.

GROSS: My guest is Wes Anderson. He directed and co-wrote the new movie "Moonrise Kingdom."

We'll talk more after a break. This Is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: My guest, Wes Anderson, directed and co-wrote the new movie "Moonrise Kingdom," about two 12-year-olds who fall in love and run away together. The boy runs away from scouting camp. The girl runs away from home.

So the boy is in Scouts camp, and it's that part of the movie is almost like a kid cavalry movie. It seems to me it was almost it was like a John Wayne cavalry movie but it was all like children and Scout camp, instead of like men in the cavalry. It might look something like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ANDERSON: Yes. Yeah. Yes.

GROSS: Were you thinking of those movies?

ANDERSON: Yeah. In fact I looked, there's one "Fort Apache." There's a scene where one of the little Scouts scolds the rest of the troop and then tries to rally them around the underdog who needs their help. We're not the first to play that scene. We just happen to have a particularly young, you know, soldier who's playing it.

GROSS: Why did you want to draw on that for the film?

ANDERSON: I had this idea that maybe we would be doing a sort of Norman Rockwell version of America. That we would, that at least the surfaces might be sort of like that and that's part of why I thought Edward Norton, you know, Edward Norton is someone who I kind of corresponded with over the years and wanted to work with, and I thought he might be a kind of great scoutmaster. He looks like he has been painted by Norman Rockwell. Yeah, there's something that, something about that that felt interesting to me.

GROSS: It's funny you should mention Norman Rockwell in the sense that there are scenes that look explicitly two dimensional. I mean I think filmmakers are always trying to get their movies to look like 3-D even if they're not actually high-tech 3-D movies. But there's times when you seemed to really be going for a storybook illustrated two dimensional look. Flat.

ANDERSON: Yes. Flat. Yes. Well, you know, in this movie I was deliberately wanting to make it feel like a sort of fable and something in the visuals I did, you know, I did want to have a sort of storybook feeling. But I also think - I have this feeling, I was just thinking about this because of a question somebody asked me recently. I have always wanted to work in the theater but I've never actually done it, not since I was in fifth grade. But I've had many plays in my films. In this new one there's a theatrical presentation in the middle of the movie. Maybe theater is a part of my movie work and that is part of what I think you're describing, is something to do with that, wherever it comes from.

GROSS: So watching "Moonrise Kingdom," I kept thinking you must've learned so much doing "Fantastic Mr. Fox," which is stop-motion animation, because there are so many things in "Moonrise Kingdom" that are life-size but look like miniatures, like the kind of thing you have to do for the stop-motion animation in "Mr. Fox." And there is that kind of storybook look to it. And even, like the houses that are actual full-scale and you couldn't have made out of cardboard, they're painted as if they were maybe made out of cardboard.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ANDERSON: Yeah.

GROSS: Can you talk a little bit about creating like an adult-size storybook look?

ANDERSON: Yes. Yes. You know, I loved doing "Fantastic Mr. Fox." And it was a very long process and it sort of just took over my whole life for a few years. And when you're making an animated film, you have to, you have no choice but to build everything. If you want a pencil in the scene or a cup of coffee, or if you want a tree or grass, you have to make it and somebody's going to choose how it's made. And so you have the opportunity to design everything, you know, including the clouds.

So after spending all this time doing "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and enjoying it very much, when I started this movie I planned it and sort of executed the planning process for many of the scenes in the same way we had on the animated movie, which I had not done before, and I also built more sets. You know, we, the house where the girl in the story lives, we went to a house in Cumberland Island in Georgia and we went to a house in the Thousand Islands on the border between New York and Canada, and we went to various houses around New England. But we ended up ultimately, the way I had planned the thing and wanted to shoot it, the only way to really do the same the way I envisioned it was to build it. You couldn't shoot it that way otherwise. So we took details from all of these places and, in fact, we even got paintings and furniture and things from these places we had found over the course of this process and we made the place in a Linens N Things outside of Newport, Rhode Island, and that was a, that's something I just would not have done. There's not much that takes place in the house, but it's some key scenes especially the beginning, and it was all constructed to the shots.

GROSS: Well, in that opening scene there's a tracking shot of every room in the house, so in order to do that that house has to not have a wall so that you can...

ANDERSON: Exactly. Yes.

GROSS: ...can see from outside into the house. So I could see how I guess you would have to build it since houses have walls.

ANDERSON: Either you build it or you buy the place and chop it in half.

GROSS: So you said something about a Linens N Things?

ANDERSON: Yes. Our sound stage was a Linens N Things, an abandoned Linens N Things, a former Linens N Things. The Petco next door was still operational but the Linens N Things was us.

GROSS: So you built a house and then the Linens N Things was the sound stage for that interiors?

ANDERSON: Well, the outside of the house is a real - the outside - the exterior of the house is a real house in Jamestown, Rhode Island. We modified it a certain amount. There's a house that was once owned by the Lunts in I think it's in Wisconsin. It's called Ten Chimneys and I found it on the Internet so we sort of redid the outside of his house to be like the Lunt's house, and then we built the inside in the former Linens N Things.

GROSS: Wes Anderson will be back in the second half of the show. He directed and co-wrote the new movie "Moonrise Kingdom."

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with director and screenwriter Wes Anderson. He made the movies "Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "The Darjeeling Limited," and "Fantastic Mr. Fox." His new film, "Moonrise Kingdom," is about two 12-year-olds who fall in love the moment they meet and make a pact to run away together. He runs away from scouting camp. She runs away from home. The movie has the look of an illustrated storybook, but it has real actors in it, including Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis and Edward Norton.

The film opens with this beautiful tracking shot showing, you know, all the rooms in the house and all the people in the rooms. So you get an overview of the family and the house and the look of the movie. You love those tracking shots and you are so good at choreographing them. There are some shots in the movie that are so perfectly synchronized, where things are moving in and out of the frame at exactly the right time. First I'd like to know why you love that kind of shot so much, that kind of shot that you've become famous for?

ANDERSON: Well, I have always been drawn to long takes in films. In movies, you know, I like the experience of seeing the actors play the scene through, and maybe that's like the theater a bit - not having cuts. There's something, it gives a tension, and for me, a kind of excitement. I don't know if this, I don't know if this could be considered a positive thing or not, but I like having a cast do something difficult in a shot. I enjoy it when there's a challenging blocking and, you know, actors that I've worked with, like Jason Schwartzman, for instance, who's worked with me for a long time, or Bill Murray, these guys are - they've done lots of shots like that with me and it's fun.

Gene Hackman, when we did "The Royal Tenenbaums," he was happiest when he was doing a hard shot, because he's such a good actor he can do anything and he sort of likes a chance to, you know, stretch his legs and say we've got to do this all in one and there's a lot that has to happen exactly right.

GROSS: So you have a very strong visual tone in the movie. And you have a color scheme too, and most of the colors in the movie they are very autumnal, it's reds and yellows and oranges, dark greens, browns. And, you know, you have this storybook kind of look. And you needed the actors, I think, to fit with the look of the film and there's something very storybook about their acting. It's not quite realistic acting. It's like a notch different than that. How do you describe the type of performance you wanted from the actors?

ANDERSON: Well, I usually - my thing about the acting is I usually just want them to be as authentic and natural as possible, but I'm almost always giving them a scene that is nothing like how they would have said it. You know, I usually - what's written is a bit odd. I mean I don't, I'm not - it's not my intention that it be odd. But the thing that, what interests me as a writer is usually a sentence that's got a surprise in the way it's put together.

GROSS: Now you said that you'll give the actors a line that's different from how they say it. It isn't quite the way somebody would say it. Can you give an example of that?

ANDERSON: Well, you know, I'm not sure if I can come up with a good example. I think, you know, I have one thing that has often happened to me is, I will have what seems like a simple scene with short lines and an actor will think this is easy - and they won't have really - we won't have had the chance to prepare it together and we'll end up having to do many, many, many takes because the phrasing is slightly different. And I want the phrasing the way I have it but they're not, you know, the details of it are not really familiar. They've got to practice it quite a lot to be able to do it.

In fact, this is an interesting thing about working with children. My process of working with children is we rehearse for a very, very long time, they know the script better than anybody, so when it comes down to it they are able to be, you know, to kind of do their thing as with what is written, exactly. I think it helps me to have a lot of rehearsal time, which we usually don't have, otherwise we end up doing lots and lots of takes. Can't think of an exact line reading. I can't remember the lines from any of my movies, normally.

GROSS: So let me play a short scene here and we'll hear how some of the dialogue sounds. So...

ANDERSON: We'll see if I'm right. OK.

GROSS: Yes. I do know is this is an example of what you're talking about, but we're limited to what's on the clip reel, so...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ANDERSON: Yes.

GROSS: ...on the clip reel this might be the best illustration. So this is a scene with Jason Schwartzman and he's the - well, he's the cousin of the Ed Norton character? He is the cousin of the scoutmaster?

ANDERSON: Is the cousin of another, of one of the scouts. What is that scout called? He's played by a kid named Gabriel Rush and he is called Skotak. He is the cousin of Skotak. Jason's character, his Cousin Ben.

GROSS: Right. OK. So the kids want to - the two 12-year-olds, they want to get married. And they asked him to marry them and he explains that he can't do it legally, and he also wants their money....

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ANDERSON: Yes. A small fee.

GROSS: ...exchange for the ceremony. So he's got his own ulterior motive for going through with this. But this is him explaining to the two 12-year-olds why they can't legally get married, but why he can perform a ceremony anyways.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MOONRISE KINGDOM")

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JASON SCHWARZTMAN: (as Cousin Ben) I can't offer you a legally binding union. It won't hold up in the state, the county or frankly, any court in the world, due to your age, lack of a license and failure to get parental consent. But the ritual does carry a very important moral weight within yourselves. You can't enter into this lightly. Look into my eyes. Do you love each other?

KARA HAYWARD: (as Suzy) Yes, we do.

SCHWARZTMAN: (as Cousin Ben) But think about what I'm saying. Are you sure you're ready for this?

HAYWARD: (as Suzy) Yes we are.

SCHWARZTMAN: (as Cousin Ben) You're not listening to me. Let me rephrase it.

HAYWARD: (as Suzy) We're in a hurry.

SCHWARZTMAN: (as Cousin Ben) Are you chewing - spit out the gum, sister. In fact, everybody.

(as Cousin Ben) I don't like the snappy attitude. This is the most important decision you've made in your lives. Now go over by that trampoline and talk it through before you give me another quick answer.

GROSS: I love that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: First of all when he says look into my eyes, he's wearing these really dark sunglasses so...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ANDERSON: That's true.

GROSS: ...they couldn't possibly look into his eyes. But does that illustrate any of what you were talking about?

ANDERSON: Yes. And it's also in fact because it's Jason, Jason is so comfortable with, you know, he's done so many scenes that I have written and we've written scenes together. So Jason is actually, can do this stuff automatically but I could see somebody getting a little - wanting to kind of re-write it as they go, and sort of straighten it out. But, yeah, I loved, you know, Jason was with us only a few days and he just brought this scene to life and it was, we had such a great time, with him, doing it.

GROSS: Now the other great thing about that scene is that in some ways it sums up the movie. Because here's two 12-year-olds feeling this really adult feelings of, you know, but they're feeling the children's version of adult feelings. They're feeling this great and meaningful love for each other. At the same time they really are 12 years old. Who were you when you were 12?

ANDERSON: Well, I don't really remember that well. In a way my way of remembering what I was like then is by how other people acted towards me, things I remember about how people acted towards me. I know I had - there's a thing in the movie where the girl finds this pamphlet on top of the refrigerator in her house. And the pamphlet says Coping with the Very Troubled Child. And she gathers that that's her. Well, I found that pamphlet, in fact, at about that same age and when I saw it - and it was literally on top of the refrigerator - and I, and it was and I know that if either of my brothers had found that pamphlet they both would've known it was me. No one was going to - they were never going to make a mistake and think it was themselves. I knew it was me. They would've known it was me.

And the other thing I remember from that age is that our - is my fourth grade teacher - maybe this is a little younger, but I must've been some kind of troublemaker, because she made this arrangement with me that each week that I did not get in a certain amount of trouble she was giving me some points. And when I added up enough points, she let me put on a play in our school because she knew I'd written this one little short play that we had done in our class and she let me kind of become a little theater person at that age. And I did many of these five-minute plays over, you know, over that year. And I feel like in a way what I do now is vaguely, you know, continuing something from then that she kind of got me going on.

GROSS: That such a brilliant idea, to have the art, to have the theater be the reward, the gift, you know.

ANDERSON: Yes. I remember on my folder she would put little stars and things. And then every now and then it said: Time for a new play, with exclamation points after and it was always like I was so excited when I would see that on the folder.

GROSS: That's so great. So in what other ways were you a very troubled child?

ANDERSON: Well, I don't remember. I really don't. Like the thing of her giving me these rewards, I don't remember making any trouble, but it's clearly, she wasn't just inventing this. Something must've been going wrong but I don't, I think I was - I...

GROSS: But you knew at home that you were the one who the book was referring to, that your parents had the book because of you.

ANDERSON: At home I felt I think I felt angry. I do remember that. I was not - I was probably one of the grouchiest kids you could be around in the household. But I feel like at school I was a reasonably, you know, well-mannered person, but I suppose I wasn't always.

GROSS: Why were you so grouchy at home?

ANDERSON: I don't - you know, I mean, I, you know, I mean, my first thing is the thing, you know, my parents split up maybe around that time so I would think it had something to do with that, but, I mean it wasn't like they, we were all still very close together. We spent a lot of time with my father and my mother in our separate houses, but probably I was kind of acting out against something to do with not wanting to have a divorce. That was probably my way of refusing to accept what needed to happen.

GROSS: Now your father ran an ad agency, right?

ANDERSON: Yeah. Well, advertising and public - PR firm in Houston.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. And I know you've done some ads, some really terrific ads, especially that American Express ad that you did with the really long tracking shot. It's very funny.

ANDERSON: Oh yeah. Thanks.

GROSS: So did you, I know you worked for a time in your father's agency. Did you do any - did you work on any like TV ads for that?

ANDERSON: I was told to prepare scrapbooks. This was a, you know, in a different technological age, and I was meant to pull different newspaper clippings of ads and press releases and, you know, articles and things related to its clients and to make them into these big scrapbooks and they had little bits of artwork and stuff in them. But there was no, you know, it was a clerical task and I was let go.

GROSS: You are fired?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ANDERSON: I was fired. Yeah.

GROSS: Why?

ANDERSON: Lazy.

GROSS: You? God, your movies are so detailed, I guess...

ANDERSON: Yeah. You know, it was - my father has always been a very hard worker, very industrious and gets up very, very early. And I was, you know, required to get up very early and, you know, to do the scrapbooks, and go in at 6:30 and start these scrapbooks and, you know, my heart was not really in it. I'm very happy working very hard on my movies, on my thing. But I think he - I'm sure he was completely justified in saying that I was not really giving my all to his scrapbooks.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Wes Anderson. He's talking to us from Marseille. His film opened Cannes film Festival. The film is "Moonrise Kingdom" and he directed and co-wrote it.

Let's take a short break here, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is director Wes Anderson. His movies include "Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "Fantastic Mr. Fox," and his new movie, "Moonrise Kingdom."

I love the casting in "Moonrise Kingdom." And one of the really interesting choices you made, is to cast Bruce Willis, who usually plays this kind of, you know, tough guy, superhero, I can do anything, I can blow up anything, I'm invincible, I can shoot anybody, nobody is going to shoot me kind of guy.

ANDERSON: Yeah.

GROSS: And in this he's just this melancholy, small-town sheriff who is, you know, trying to be responsible, it's kind of helpless about a lot of things. It's really casting against type. It's a really nice performance. Why did you think of him?

ANDERSON: Well, I thought of him because I, you know, I mean we had this policeman who is so kind of lonely and insecure, and yet, when I was thinking about, well, who could play this, I was kind of picturing - I wanted somebody where, as you got to know his personality and see sort of, what a sad character he was, you would still get that thing that you sort of get with real police.

Which is you can tell when somebody's a cop. I mean, I don't know if I can always tell if somebody's a cop. But there is something that's often projected from an actual policeman, from what they do every day. And Bruce Willis has this sort of cop authority that even if he's playing something so against what he normally plays, you still would never question whether Bruce Willis is the police.

I mean, he's been the police so many times and has done it very believably. So I sort of thought - I don't normally really think about somebody's persona in other movies in relation to what I want to do. Usually, I mean, I've watched their performance to see what I - you know, I've loved all these actors' work in movies. But in this case I did feel like we were sort of using a bit of Bruce's whole, you know, movie persona against this role.

GROSS: Did you have to talk him into it or was he onboard immediately?

ANDERSON: He was very - that's a nice thing and that's a kind of rare thing with actors. I've always felt one of the best ways to get an actor to not be interested in your movie is to offer them the role. That usually - the first thing that you get when you offer somebody a part is for them to start second guessing it. Better if their agent says, you know, you should read this. I mean, if we could get you in on this thing.

But in the case of Bruce, he read it and instantly, I mean, he immediately got back to me, you know, within a couple of days and said yes and told me right off the bat how he saw the character and what he wanted to do and it is what he did.

GROSS: I love the way you use music in your movies and in "Moonrise Kingdom" we talked about your use of Benjamin Britten and his music which was designed - who introduced young people to symphonic music. But you also use a lot of Hank Williams records in the movie and to me the Hank Williams is more about the adult lives, the adult lives that are just kind of gone wrong, that the adults are kind of broken, they're lonely, their lives haven't turned out the way they wanted.

They're sometimes inept at what they're doing. And the Hank Williams seems to speak to that. Is that what you intended?

ANDERSON: I would say that is exactly the right - those are the exact reasons. I feel like the Britten music is full of possibility and sort of opening up to the world and there's something grand about it. And this Hank Williams is really about loss and what you've learned to live with. But I would never - which is - the way you just described it is the way I will now describe it. Usually when I'm making these choices I almost never have a clear way that I could articulate why I'm doing what I'm doing.

It's usually kind of - it feels like this goes with him. In the case of the Hank Williams, you know, we start sort of putting it on Bruce Willis' character's radio but I think you're describing the reasons why it seemed like the right thing for his character.

GROSS: So just intuitive for you.

ANDERSON: Yeah. And usually I don't want to - I try - I'm happy to have it described to me later because then I can feel - it sort of gives me a - I like to have a reason afterwards. But when it's happening I want to not be too connected to that. I don't want to be reinforcing my points and making them more clear.

Instead, I want to kind of keep them open to different connections and keep them a bit abstract or something like that. You know, I want to try to make it sort of poetic if I can.

GROSS: Wes Anderson, thank you so much for joining us and thank you for making the movie.

Thank you, Terry. It's such a pleasure to be back with you again.

Wes Anderson directed and co-wrote the new movie "Moonrise Kingdom." Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a posthumously released Paul Motian session featuring pianist Masabumi Kikuchi. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.