Cannes 2012: Wes Anderson on Making 'Moonrise Kingdom' and His Cannes Debut (Q&A)

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Life turns topsy-turvy on the picturesque island of New Penzance, off the New England coast, in Wes Anderson’s new film Moonrise Kingdom, from Focus Features, chosen to open the 65th Cannes Film Festival.

The midsummer madness begins when Sam (Jared Gilman), a Khaki Scout, and Suzy (Kara Hayward), the daughter of two lawyers ( Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), run away together, triggering a chain of events that involves the local sheriff (Bruce Willis) and an anxious scout leader (Edward Norton). Anderson spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about what he expects to encounter during his first visit to Cannes.

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The Hollywood Reporter: So how do you describe what this film is about?

Wes Anderson: I usually avoid answering that, but I think I would have to say it’s a romance between two 12-year-olds in 1965. To me, that’s the center of it.

THR: Why 1965?

Anderson: The truth is I thought I would have this narrator hosting the film. The first paragraph I wrote for him, I just spontaneously wrote, “The year is 1965.” I hadn’t really intended it. It was sort of a spontaneous moment. I do think that the scouts and its Norman Rockwell-type of Americana is sort of part of it. It seems like 1965 is really the end of one kind of America.

THR: The scouts ­— in the movie they’re called the Khaki Scouts — are a big part of the film. Were you a Boy Scout?

Anderson: I gave it a shot. It didn’t really take. I never really was much of a camper. I don’t think I even made it a month. I didn’t get any rank or anything.

THR: Is this an idea you’ve been developing for some time?

Anderson: I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while. For probably eight or 10 years I had it vaguely in mind, but I didn’t know what it was likely to evolve into. I spent about a year working on the script, and I didn’t make very good progress. But then I got some help from Roman Coppola, who’s worked with me before. He really helped me sort it out, and then we had the script in a month, and six weeks later it was completely finished. It started with the idea of a romance between two 12-year-olds, and a lot of the story would take place among children and not really involve the adults. The adult characters sort of came later.

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THR: Your two lead actors, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, have never appeared in a film before. Was that by design?

Anderson: I didn’t really have much in way of preconceptions of what they ought to be like. My experience with casting children has always been "start early, keep going, keep going, keep going." Eventually they just appear. We had a number of different kids I kept setting aside for this thing. Most of them became the scout troop. I always knew I didn’t have the one who seemed right for the character until this kid, Jared, appeared. When he read, he was wearing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-style plastic glasses with a strap around the back of his head. His hair was very long. He couldn’t look like that in the movie, but he was immediately funny, and it was more his interview with the casting director that first grabbed me -- his voice and his spirit. The same thing for Kara, the girl. In her audition, she just read so authentically, she really seemed as if she was making up the dialogue herself, and that didn’t happen with any of the other kids I read for anything.

THR: How did you put together the adult cast? You’ve worked with Bill Murray many times before, but Edward Norton and Bruce Willis are new to your films.

Anderson: I had wanted to have Bill Murray and Fran McDormand together. That was something I had very early on. Why Bill agreed to do it, I don’t know. But I always have such a good time with him, and I’ve always loved what he did for my movies. I’m just lucky enough that so far, he doesn’t pass on them. Edward Norton is someone I’d been talking with for some years. Edward definitely does seem as if he could have posed for Norman Rockwell. And as for Bruce Willis, his character is not what you’d normally associate with him, but he is a policeman, so you just know he’s going to be an authentic policeman. It seemed like he might kind of ground the whole thing.

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THR: The opening of the movie reminded me of your animated film Fantastic Mr. Fox. Did the design of that movie carry over into this one?

Anderson: I think it did. On Fantastic Mr. Fox, I got used to working with animated storyboards as a way of planning for the shoot. We did a lot of sequences that way with this movie. Partly as a result of that, I decided to build more sets in order to do certain shots. The interior of the Bishop family house is a set. In the past, I always would have used locations. But we modeled the interior of the house on five different houses in different parts of the country. We mixed them all together as if it were one thing. The rooms were laid out completely horizontally. It’s not really suited for living. It’s really suited for a dolly track.

THR: This is your first visit to Cannes. Are you feeling any pressure about being selected as the opening-night film?

Anderson: No, I feel quite honored. As much it’s about opening night, it’s about being invited to be in competition. That was great news because the whole plan for the movie’s release was based on starting it in Cannes. And I don’t really have to do anything. As far as I’m told I have to walk up the staircase and then sit and watch the movie. I don’t have to give a speech. So it’s not like we’re putting on a play. I more or less know how the movie’s going to go. I don’t know what everyone’s going to think of it, but there’s nothing I can do about that anyway.

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