With The Grand Budapest Hotel, director Wes Anderson has made possibly his best film. We caught up with him at the Berlin Film Festival to talk about his influences, why he always works with Bill Murray and who was the inspiration for Ralph Fiennes' memorably camp hotel concierge Monsieur Gustav.
Sky Movies: Where did the story come from?
Wes Anderson: First and foremost, I wanted to do a European movie. That was my first impulse. The story was inspired by this friend of mine, Hugo, with whom I’ve been friends for years. He’s a painter and he’s also very funny. We had this idea to do a story about our friend, and we wrote maybe 15 pages of this story that was set in the present in England and France. That was maybe eight years ago.
Then, I had been reading these Stefan Sweig books – I’d never heard of them before - I really loved them. From the first page of one of these books I read - Beware of Pity was the first one I read - and I started thinking I wanted to do a Sweig-esque thing. I was reading some other things at the same time that were getting into dark moments in Europe, and I had an idea to mix these things together, and make him a hotel concierge. Anyway, we’re in a made-up country, we’re making wars together, we’re mixing up nationalities, cultures and the like.
SM: How did it come together?
WA: Well, with this movie, we made the script. Then, we went on this journey around Eastern Europe. We went to Vienna, and Budapest and all around the Czech Republic. We spent a lot of time traveling in Germany and a little bit of time in Poland. We were looking for where we were going shoot the movie and I felt for various reasons, especially tax incentive, we were feeling like it would end up being Germany anyway. We collected all kinds of ideas and a part of the story that wasn’t in the script. In the script, there was this hotel in the ‘30s that was in its heyday, and there was the ‘60s when it was in decline, on its last legs. It became communist and, just in the architecture, we put in a bit of history and ideology and regime.
SM: Where did Ralph Fiennes' character Gustav come from?
WA: He's modelled on a real person. Most movies I've done most of the characters are related to someone in real life. This one is very much based on this one friend, a close friend for many, many years. He's not called Gustav and he doesn't work in a hotel. But it's his personality and it's his language - it's literally his words that Ralph is speaking. He knows he's the inspiration...but if you asked him he'd say 'no, no, no.' If you said to him it's not you is it, he'd say 'well...I didn't say that'
SM: You use certain actors all the time, particularly Bill Murray. What is it about him?
WA: I'm very lucky that I got to know him early on when I started making movies. I got to work with an actor who was entering a new part of his career, doing more and more adventurous movies. He's a great powerful and extremely funny actor and, at the same time, the greatest friend a film-maker can have. He's someone who can really help you. He's a smart man and somebody you can rely on.
Last night, for instance, we had the opening of the festival and, as the movie started, I had to go and introduce another screening. I said 'I don't know what to say, I haven't prepared anything, nobody told me, what am I going to do?' The Bill did just five minutes of comedy and then he started speaking German at the end and the place went crazy. I went out...and I thought I had just done a great job.
SM: What does Bob D Yeoman [cinematographer] add to your movies?
WA: Well, I’ll tell you one thing. Bob is a great guy. We’ve done a million movies, every movie I’ve done with him, but, I’ve done a lot of other stuff with directors of photography who were great, Bob is by far the best operator of everybody that I’ve come across. He’s 63-years-old or something now but he’s still the best at that for me.
SM: Do you think this is your most ambitious project yet?
WA: I can’t say I thought about that. I think I knew it was gonna be a big undertaking at a certain point. Somewhere along the way, I started thinking this is gonna be hard. Like we were talking about before, there’s just a historical element to it. There’s something heavy that’s there that I was aware of, and I’ve never had a movie where there’s this much blood.
SM: Do you find yourself drawn to this era?
WA: The Library of Congress has this thing called the photo chrome library. It’s this collection of black and white photographs...cityscapes and landscape photographs all over the world. And they colourised them, printed them, and mass-produced them. They sold them, and they’re like these thin paper pieces with very beautiful views. Very rarely do they have people in them, and if they do, they’re usually crowds.
They’re taken between 1895 and 1910, something like that. There are thousands of them, and they’re all over the world, but our interest was Austro-Hungarian empire and Prussia and other parts of Europe. It’s like Google Earth access to the turn of the century.
SM: Is it a more serious film than you're used to?
WA: It's certainly a serious time - there's a cloud hanging over Europe. I don't think I've had a movie with so many dead bodies and a general threat over the whole story.