'Moonrise Kingdom's' Bob Balaban on Being 'Your Guide to the Creative Experience of This Movie' (Video)

The esteemed character actor talks to THR about his collaboration with writer-director Wes Anderson.

Bob Balaban is one of the most respected and versatile character actors in Hollywood, having appeared in everything from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Seinfeld to A Mighty Wind to Lady in the Water. In his latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, however, Balaban technically doesn’t have a character – which he tells THR made his job tougher than usual.

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“You can’t do nothing,” Balaban says of playing the film’s Narrator, who occasionally interacts with the characters in the story. “But you could also get very distracted if you’re like, where am I? So I made a few basic decisions based on the text of the movie – I was a teacher, and I did know these people. But I just came to accept the fact that I was narrating something, but I wasn’t the narrator in the traditional sense – I was your guide to the creative experience of this movie.”

Balaban explains that the process was actually much simpler in many ways than one might expect, thanks in no small part to writer-director Wes Anderson’s meticulous preparation. “I wish I had a really intelligent answer,” he confesses. “But Wes created a costume so I knew instantly who I was to some extent, and then he had made some demos with the narrator’s footage…  just so he would show me how I was in the frame.

“And I can’t tell you why – I think he just knew instinctually, but it was a very good thing to share with me because it very much did make me feel like I was placed in a way that I could understand it.”

The role is not the first for Balaban in which he plays more of an archetype than a full-fledged character; in 2005, he played a film critic in M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water, and he was called upon to comment upon the storytelling conventions that were unfolding within the world of the film. He admits it’s a tough challenge to bring roles like these to life: “There’s always a danger in archetypal because in acting and directing, it’s all about specifics,” he says. “So to me what was very helpful was that Wes seemed to know what he wanted from the Narrator and he could communicate it to me, and without saying too much.

“And sometimes that’s the best because you can’t goof up that kind of communication,” he continues. “If it’s easy and fast, chances are you really did absorb something that the other person was trying to get you to absorb.”

Watch the video above for more details about Balaban’s collaboration with Anderson on the film. Moonrise Kingdom is now playing in theaters.