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NEW YORK — Introducing the 10th anniversary screening of The Royal Tenenbaums at the New York Film Festival Thursday night, director Wes Anderson made reference to programming committee chief Richard Pena’s presentation the previous evening of Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In.
“He made the point that Almodovar is not content in any way to rest on his laurels,” said Anderson. “That struck a chord with me because obviously that’s what I’m here to do tonight with a movie I made ten years ago.”
An event organized by NYFF’s New Wave program for young patrons, the screening drew as rousing an audience response as any festival entry this year. The crowd got especially vocal when the end credits rolled and the spotlight hit Anderson with cast members Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Mirroring the epic dysfunction of the Tenenbaum family itself, the playful Q&A that followed the screening included both celebration and good-natured skewering of the absent cast members. Prime target was Gene Hackman, whose performance as wayward patriarch Royal Tenenbaum is among his best, even if his mood on set was not always the most amiable.
Huston confessed that she was a little scared of Hackman, who was better disposed toward the women than the men, which made her concerned for Anderson. “He told you to pull up your pants and act like a man,” she reminded the director. “I don’t know that we’ve heard from or seen Gene since this movie.”
Anderson acknowledged that working with Hackman was a challenge, but said it was the veteran actor’s involvement that helped secure the rest of the stellar ensemble, which also includes Danny Glover, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson and Owen Wilson (the latter co-wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay with Anderson). The director said that while Hackman continued to pass on the role for more than a year, his persistence paid off.
“He was sort of forced to do the movie,” said Anderson. “I just kept bothering him. I wore him down. I don’t even have that much access to him, so I don’t know how I went about that, but eventually he just caved.”
“Well, he’s weak,” deadpanned Murray. “Gene is weak. That’s what we found. When you challenge someone like Gene, you find his weakness.”
“I loved being in scenes with him,” said Paltrow. “He was kind of a bear of a guy, but I also found something very sweet and sad in there. I think he’s one of the greatest actors who ever lived. I mean, if you’re Gene Hackman you can be in a fucking bad mood if you want.”
Huston described her first day of working with Hackman, shooting an exterior scene on a cold morning, which required her to slap the actor across the face.
“I was particularly terrified because I could tell he wasn’t in a very good mood,” she recalled. “In rehearsal, I think I slapped his lapel, and then we went ahead and shot it, and I hit him a really good one. I saw the imprint of my hand on his cheek and I thought, he’s going to kill me.”
Anderson added that while Hackman had been reluctant to say “Goddamn,” as per the script, the slap prompted him to utter the word spontaneously. The director joked that he tried to have Murray on set for protection when shooting scenes with Hackman.
“I’ll stick up for Gene,” volunteered Murray. “You know, the word ‘cocksucker’ gets thrown around a lot. But I will take that word and throw it out of this room because it doesn’t belong here. I’d hear these stories like, ‘Gene tried to kill me today.’ And I’d say, ‘Kill you? You’re in the union. He can’t kill you.’”
On a roll, Murray then went on to say Hackman’s problems on the shoot were caused primarily by having to act opposite Luke Wilson, who was swooning over Paltrow at the time; and Kumar Pallana, who played Royal’s Indian sidekick, Pagoda.
“He had to work with Luke, who was dizzy in love and couldn’t think straight, and Kumar, every single day,” said Murray. “Kumar makes Luke Wilson look like Gielgud.”
The last time The Royal Tenenbaums screened at NYFF, at its 2001 premiere, the film had a different soundtrack, featuring Beatles music. But Anderson said rights had not been secured at the time, so he enlisted Paltrow’s help to lock them down.
“Wes put me on a mission. I tried to bribe Paul McCartney. Sex and everything,” joked Paltrow. “Didn’t work. He loved the movie. Then we went bowling, and he said he has nothing to do with the rights.”
“Paul McCartney, too, is weak,” said Murray.
Anderson is currently in post-production on Moonrise Kingdom for Focus Features, but declined to talk about the new feature.
“I don’t really have a thing to say about that movie,” said Anderson. “I’d just give you a circular long answer that doesn’t have any real punch line. But I think it’s going to be good.”
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