I love everything about Wes Anderson movies. From the way he creates unique worlds to the unusual characters that occupy the screen, Anderson is a one-of-a-kind filmmaker that always makes something special. His newest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, just premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and it continues his streak of making exceptional films. The story mostly takes place in early 20th-century and revolves around the goings-on at a famous European hotel where a legendary concierge (Ralph Fiennes) mentors a young employee (Tony Revolori) against the backdrop of a changing continent. The film also stars Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Lea Seydoux, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwarztman, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, and Owen Wilson. For more on the film, watch 13 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage and here’s all our previous coverage.
The day after the world premiere, I participated in a great roundtable interview with Willem Dafoe and Jeff Goldblum in Berlin. They talked about the Wes Anderson experience, preparing for their roles, Dafoe’s look in the film, if the way they prepare for a role has changed over the years, their reaction to the finished film, and so much more. Hit the jump for what they had to say. The Grand Budapest Hotel is now playing in limited release.
WILLEM DAFOE: No, we did something in between.
JEFF GOLDBLUM: We did something since then, Adam Resurrected.
DAFOE: Paul Schrader.
GOLDBLUM: That came here to Berlin. Were we both in Berlin here for that?
DAFOE: We were, but [2:08]
But the last film you guys did together was Life Aquatic.
DAFOE: We did a Paul Schrader movie called Adam Resurrected, which is Yoram Kaniuk-
DAFOE: Who is no longer with us.
GOLDBLUM: That’s right, last year.
DAFOE: But it was a very popular Israeli novel.
I remember you guys talking a lot about your experience with Wes back then and had raves of that, you’re in another movie of his playing completely different characters different roles, you have some scenes together, some very classic scenes together. Was this experience very different experience? Was it something where it was almost like ten years hadn’t passed since the last one?
GOLDBLUM: It’s the Wes Anderson experience, which is a lovely, delightful, uncommonly beautiful, art communal project and sweet experience, yeah.
DAFOE: One of the big differences, at least from my perspective, was in Life Aquatic I remember that sometimes we’d get there and he would sort of find the shot in the respect that there was a big ensemble and there were also some characters, me being one, that he really didn’t- there weren’t that many scenes, but he wanted to fold, because it was this community of people- if you remember that movie there was this group so some of those scenes weren’t so scripted, weren’t so figured out and he’d fold people in. In some of the long takes he really choreographed it with the people there kind of saying, “Oh and you go over there, you go-”
GOLDBLUM: Like they do in most movie, like what is more common. That’s more common, that’s what a lot of people do.
DAFOE: Yeah, he kind of made some of the shots in the place. For this, and we both were talking and we probably attribute it to the fact that he did this animation Fantastic Mr. Fox, he loved that kind of preparation. Because with animation, of course, you have to know how you’re going to do the animation and you have to have it really worked out. So for this, before I even shot, he showed me this animatronic, a line drawing where he did all the voices and it was fantastic. It’s as good as the movie. I thought, “Boy this is sad, he doesn’t need actors, he’s a one man band, this is so beautiful.”
GOLDBLUM: It’s a beautiful version of the movie, yeah.
DAFOE: It’s a beautiful version, and it was clear and beautiful and witty and gorgeous and fantastic, but a line drawing with him doing all the voices. I guess what I’m pointing to is that for this, partly because of that Fantastic Mr. Fox experience, I think he liked designing the shots more completely and it made it really efficient and I think also- I don’t know, less chance to get hung up in the shooting.
Which you like or you don’t like?
DAFOE: Oh, I loved it. I loved it because it was so clear and some people can imagine that that’s deadening, it’s done. In fact some actors didn’t want to see the animatronic they said, “Oh I cant listen to you doing my lines” or “I cant watch your idea of how we should gesture.” I like it. I see it, I’m clear with it, and then I have to bring myself to it. That’s basically what performing is, a series of actions and applying yourself and that’s the pleasure.
It’s such a structured movie it actually feels like the performances, outside of Ralph who has all that room, it’s like a very narrow thing and then he hired actors who he knew could pop in thirty second or ten seconds and that was it.
DAFOE: Absolutely and that’s the other beautiful thing, he’s designing these things with actors in mind, with specific actors in mind.
GOLDBLUM: Yeah, I liked it too. You know, Stanislavski supposedly gave line readings. When some of these actors or directors go, “Oh, line readings, it’s a very forbidden thing’, supposedly Stanislavski would. I always like to hear somebody figuring I can make it my own somehow. It was great to hear because he’s got a very particular musical, he’s very musical- literally musical, but dialogue too, very musical. So to hear the whole pace of the thing and how he wrote, even in lines, what he intended was very good. They sent it to us on our computers, you could watch the scenes on the computers.
We’ll never see it though. We’ll never get to see this thing.
GOLDBLUM: I’ll bet on the DVD- I don’t know, but I’ll bet on the DVD they might show it to you.
DAFOE: It’s beautiful. It was also a good way to say, “This is what we’re doing, this is what I see. Let’s do it.” And you say “make it my own”, I don’t give shit about making it my own. I care about doing it, because it naturally happens.
GOLDBLUM: Yeah, but you’re not going to lose some unique thing that you can bring to it by imitating, by being an imitator of Wes or something. I talk to students and they go, “Oh I don’t want to see somebody else’s version, because I’m afraid.” I go okay, but- if you’re somebody who’s uncontrollably a mimic and loses your own kind of creative direction maybe so, but I think its more a cliché and magic carpet for laziness. See the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, see what these people are doing and then you might use some of those ideas, you might throw them out, but get in the ball park. This was like that and this had cuts in it too, so you knew what was there. He’s very meticulous, but still- and I think he admires Robert Altman. He’s a kind of existential master about how you’re going to do it. There’s something very free.
Was there something about all of you living together in that town that also is that Altman thing?
GOLDBLUM: I think, I thought- yep yep yep, reminds me of Altman, yeah. Come on, let’s do it together. We had dinners every night.
I wanted to ask you, Jeff, both this film and Le Week-End, which I recently saw, requires a lot of lovely vocal dexterity from you. Bill was in here and he was making a lot of noises and talking about using your voice as an instrument.
GOLDBLUM: Bill was?
Yeah. He made quite a few interesting noses.
GOLDBLUM: I would love to have heard that, really? Was he fooling around?
He was playing it straight.
GOLDBLUM: Yeah, because he’s a musical artist also, I’ll bet he was.
I’m wondering about preparation for a lot of these vocal requirements. Are you doing any kind of vocal preparation before you’re getting into these scenes?
GOLDBLUM: I do, I bothered him- we were living on the same floor of this hotel that we all took over and I’m obsessive, I sing all day long everyday whenever I’m not working. I have a piano, I got a piano in my room because I play piano and I sing, but it’s part of my continued study. I’m a late bloomer and nothing if not a humble student of elements of craft and instrumentality, and I like- you know, I just did a stage thing. He’s 8th degree black belt stage actor. I’m a humble student of it. I just did something very demanding. I like to keep working on things. I wont bore you with what, but I keep working on things and get to use it in movies to one extent or another, I’m not sure what you mean. To me it’s very interesting.
I’m curious about what you did with your face with that weird jutting jaw, was that something that you just added in?
DAFOE: A little bit. Wes at one point, as we said over and over again he’s got very specific design ideas, and he said “I want you to have some sharp teeth,” and I said okay, and then I thought it’s like a vampire, he’s all dressed in black, and I’m so done with vampires I said, “Really Wes? You really want this?” And he said “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Then- I’m taking credit for this, then I said, “What if we did him like this? Like a bull dog?’ And of course, for me, that was a better way to go. Just naturally you get these artificial teeth and you can just see them barely, but the mouth is always open and has that just kind of-
It makes him scarier.
DAFOE: Yeah, like a bulldog. [11:12]
Was it a similar process with Klaus on The Life Aquatic, finding his look and his voice?
DAFOE: Klaus it was different because Klaus wasn’t quite formed, and actually, one thing interesting about The Life Aquatic is another actor was going to play that role and then he decided to work on another movie, so Wes called me at the last moment. I think it was originally designed for someone else who was psychically much different than me so we made it up as we went along.
I feel like Out of the Furnace you also came in late. Is that very common for you to get called late and being able to just jump into something like that?
DAFOE: Eh, it depends. If it’s a smaller film and I’m more headlining then it’s early because you’ve got to find the money and you attach yourself early, but for these more supporting character roles yeah, sometimes late in the game. Because now more and more movies come together very late. It used to be you would know what you’re doing six months ahead, but financing is such that- you know studios don’t make movies any more, I mean, where the money comes from is always someplace else, people that aren’t in the movie business and because of that they’re very late getting financed. So stuff gets cast sometimes a month before.
Isn’t that difficult for preparation?
DAFOE: It depends on what the role is, yeah.
For Klaus for example, is that intimidating or is that freeing? That must be so different because you’re saying that Wes is so meticulous now and back then that character wasn’t formed, is that intimidating or freeing?
DAFOE: No, they both were good. They’re booth good. They’re just two different ways, but I don’t want to overstress that. I just felt like that in this he was like- to see that animatronic blew my mind. I thought, “Send everybody home, you’ve got a movie here.” I really felt like that.
Have you got to see either version of the Von Trier Nymphomaniac?
DAFOE: I haven’t, I haven’t. He sent me a link so I could watch it, but I didn’t want to watch it on my computer and also I was working on something, and sometimes when you’re working on something you don’t want to watch movies. And then finally when I get a break and I thought I want to watch this, like I had a nice four hours, it expired [laughs].
While we have you both here I think we should bring up the scene with the cat. Is that one of those scenes where it’s- it’s so deadpan obviously because it’s a Wes Anderson film, is that one of those scenes where once he yells cut you just crack up?
Or anything you want to say about that scene.
DAFOE: [Laughs] The only thing I remember is there was some question I said, because we wanted to use a real cat and I was happy to try that, because I figured- a cat I’m not going to throw him and he’ll land on his feet, but I didn’t, I didn’t. But he was very angry at me. So once that happened once, if you watch the movie closely, I’ve got what is a very bad doll and most of the time I’m doing like that. There’s like maybe three shots and one is definitely a very bad doll and if you look close- it’s very unusual for Wes to allow something like that.
GOLDBLUM: Oh really? I’ll be interested to see this movie and be able to- because it goes by so quickly and every frame is filled with stuff that I’ll enjoy going “Stop, because you know.” I remember- animals are difficult and I feel bad, I don’t know that any animal should be have to be made to be in show business at all if they don’t want to, and this one is wrangled and it’s just not like- and I spent time with the cat, because they didn’t know exactly, everything was planned out, but they didn’t know that I might have another moment or two with the cat. It wasn’t planned and I turned out to do it, so I had a period of courtship with this cat and with it’s owner and wrangler, so everyday I would spend time, talk to it, become friends with it. It takes more than that. I spent as much time as I could, but finally the only thing that I did with it was when I enter, my first entrance in the car, I come out with the cat and hand it to Ralp. That was all we could manage and that was not so comfortable. I was like, “I’m sorry, sorry, sorry.” I was doing whatever I could, but we were not pals and it was not happy about me. We kind of did that while not trying to bust the illusion that this was not my love cat, because that’s the idea. But it’s tough and I feel bad for the kitty cats.
Did you guys have a shot together in that entire sequence? Did you know what the other one was doing?
GOLDBLUM: Well, we’re there. We did it all together in the same spot, but I don’t know that we’re ever on camera together, but no, everybody does their off camera happily in this.
Do either of you have cats? Not to linger on this too long.
DAFOE: No, I don’t and I never have because I travel too much.
GOLDBLUM: I’ve got a dog. I got a nice doggy recently, a standard poodle, red-haired standard poodle.
I’m curious about how your process of getting ready for a role has possibly changed over the last few years or as your career has gone on. Do you find that you spend the same amount of time breaking down a script? Have you streamlined your process?
GOLDBLUM: That’s a very interesting question and I’m interested. You never know what other actors do, I love to hear what he does because he works in different things. I’ll be interested to hear what he says here. Me, I do a case by case basis. If there’s no time to do anything I figure however much time, I got the part, that’s how much time I’m supposed to be working on it. I start doing things if I’ve got the time, but I’m just as happy if I go, “Hey I didn’t have any time. Good. Let me see, let’s go.” So it depends on that. And then the other- it’s a big question, it’s boring inside baseball stuff, but I like to have sparring partners, especially on movies, especially on theater things, but I like to get students or other surrogates who will go though the other parts with me and I work on it with other people. There are things you can do on your own and depending on the part you learn things and research things, work on things, but I like to go through things and learn it like that, learn it with other people there. I do a bunch of that. I did on this and other things too.
DAFOE: I don’t know from over the years how it’s changed, but sometimes you really feel the need to do a lot of research and sometimes you feel the need to do very little, and it mostly has to do with your confidence and your comfort zone and where your imagination is. Sometimes literally, and I’m not putting this in a better or worse or a hierarchical thing, sometimes you get a great costume, you get a great look and it does something to your imagination. You know what has to be done. Don’t overwork it, don’t overthink it, do it. Sometimes you don’t know what it is and you really have to do a lot of things to have you say, “Oh, I am this guy.” So it really depends. Something like this, not so much research to tell you the truth. It’s really about inhabiting something that’s very well designed and knowing what your function is. But like right now I’m playing Pasolini and I could be studying him for lifetime in terms of reading what he read and interviewing people that are still around, many many different things, so it really varies.
Do you do a lot of variety like Jeff Does? Do you like to change it up and get in different situations?
For both of you, are there films you’ve done that you’re surprised have found this kind of life after being released? Or maybe the reverse, things you thought would have taken off and did not?
DAFOE: Happens all the time [laughs].
Are there any examples you’d like to give?
DAFOE: I always think of something like To Live and Die in LA, which is a very old movie, but that was a huge failure when it came out. A huge failure in the respect that it didn’t really play, and critically it was lambasted basically, and I think it’s interesting historically, because they basically said this movie is flawed because there’s not a character to identify with, everybody’s a scumbag. This was years before Tarantino and a kind of different language of characters, but that was a movie that with time found people that really loved it, particularly in the film community, and when I was a young actor that was kind of a calling card for me. People really responded to that movie and with time it’s kind of become a classic for some people. Then of course there’s always movies that you think are going to do well that you really like, and the timing is just wrong or it gets sold the wrong way or it depends what else is out there at the time. There’s no such thing as a good or bad movie, you even see it country by country. Some places really perform well because of cultural orientation and other places they just don’t work. So its always a head scratcher. I think if we knew, I’d be a studio executive.
Is there any example you can give?
GOLDBLUM: That was wildly surprising? Not really, people come up to me, I’ve done these couple of things that seems to have fervent devotion amongst a group of people- Buckaroo Bonzai and this movie Deep Cover, different things that people go, “I like this movie” or something like that.
Wes screened a bunch of movies in advance for everybody, classic films, could you guys talk about those and maybe the ones that you liked or the ones that helped inform what you guys did?
GOLDBLUM: I liked those. I had not seen many of those. I had not seen To Be or Not to Be, the Jack Benny one, loved seeing that. And you know, one could imagine where Wes was coming from. I’d never seen Grand Hotel, shame on me, and loved seeing that. I had never seen- well actually Paul Schrader recommended for our movie and then for this I saw it again, The Silence, the Bergman movie. I enjoyed seeing it a second time.
Did Wes say anything?
Or did he just put them on?
GODLBLUM: Yeah, he put them on. We talked about things, I think. The Mortal Storm, did you see Mortal Storm? That was good. That’s about the guys conscience, about fascism and standing up at the right moment and the difficulty of heroism, and the circumstances had something to do with this movie.
DAFOE: I watched a bunch of them. He never really formally screened them, there was a library that was one of the rooms in the hotel.
GOLDBLUM: We had DVD players.
DAFOE: Yeah, and when you had time off you would just watch movies. It just gave us kind of an idea of the world.
GOLDBLUM: Books too, books on hotels and design things.
DAFOE: But not really, because it’s really a world apart. It just kind of reminds you of some of the things that he’s kind of referencing and playing with. In the movie it’s quite different, so it’s just fun.
Did he help you prepare in other ways besides the animatronic?
DAFOE: He tells me, “You better know how to drive that 1938 BMW.” Can you imagine that?
In the snow.
DAFOE: In the snow.
What was it like?
DAFOE: Slippery…cold. The craziest thing about movies is when they’re so fucking cold, but you don’t see it.
Bill was talking about that too.
DAFOE: So cold.
DAFOE: When you’re cold it’s hard to talk after a while.
What impressions did you guys have of the film when you finally saw the finished version as far as the unspoken, the undercurrents of it? What were your feelings about it?
DAFOE: One of the things that I like about Wes’s movies, they kind of hover and then they land and I think by the last- the surprising thing is how moving the last part was, and these expressions about- it’s a beautifully thing, I get moved when I hear him say, “Oh that world that he was living was already gone but he was sure putting a up a good show.”
GOLDBLUM: Marvelous grace.
DAFOE: That’s about movies, you know? This is about dying movies and some people hanging on and carrying on, and a kind of romantic attachment to a certain way of thinking. I found that really moving and that’s when the movie works for me, because its fun getting there and that’s the thing that lands and makes it stick, makes all the fun stick, makes it not just good jokes and kind of wise guy stuff and beautiful gags and funny beards and all that stuff. It really lands and becomes about something.
GOLDBLUM: Yeah, I was knocked out by it. I just adore it. I think it really works. It’s a knock out. I find this very, very moving. When she starts her poetry about their relationship, two brothers, that’s a very beautiful thing. Yeah, and he says “That glimmer of civility in a world of brutality.” That’s Wes, too. That’s what he’s making and devoting his life to and offering. Here’s something lovely. Here’s something that I can do that’s beautiful in a world of coarseness and…
DAFOE: Productivity and fastness.
GOLDBLUM: Yeah, it’s a very beautiful thing.