Wes Anderson on the Fantasy of Moonrise Kingdom — and the Myth of His 'MO'

Wes Anderson on 'Moonrise Kingdom' set

A week and a half after its world premiere kicked off the 65th Cannes Film Festival, Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom arrives Stateside this weekend in limited release. Starring Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman and Bob Balaban, acting novices Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward steal the show kids on the cusp of their teens who fall in love on an island off New England in 1965. To stay together, the couple make a pact to make a dash for the wilderness, but the authorities are on their trail.

Movieline caught up with Anderson, who gave his insight on young love, how he cast two newcomers in the lead roles, not rehearsing a first kiss and why he wishes Moonrise Kingdom had been like his adolescence.

You've worked with Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman before, while Edward Norton, Frances McDormand and Bruce Willis are new to Wes Anderson movies. What made you decide which characters they should play in this film?
Yes, yes, Bill I've worked with so many times. If I can convince him to be in a movie, it always makes me happy. I liked the idea of him and Frances McDormand together. I thought that they seemed like they'd have great chemistry, you know? She's great. And Edward Norton, I had this feeling he could be like somebody in a Norman Rockwell painting. Bruce Willis, I thought that it would be nice to use his persona a bit, and the character is itself sort of unlike what he usually is [in his roles], but he's still a policeman. And Tilda Swinton is someone who I have loved since the very beginning of her career in movies, and so this was my chance to have her. I also thought she seemed like she could be Deborah Kerr or something in this part.

Did Norman Rockwell inform your aesthetic for Moonrise Kingdom?
Yes, sort of. I mean, I guess I didn't spend a lot of time looking at Norman Rockwell pictures, but I had this feeling about the world of scouting. There are a lot of Norman Rockwell scouting images.

You mentioned that this film isn't autobiographical, but you said something along the lines that it's what you wish your adolescence had been like. Can you elaborate a bit?
I think it was just sort of... Well, someone asked me if the movie was a fantasy, and yeah. I think that's right. I think that's exactly what it is. So, it's an autobiography about something that didn't happen.

Why did you decide to go with newcomers to acting for the main two roles of the children who fall in love?
Well, I didn't make a conscious decision about it. I just sort of said, "Well, let's see what happens." It wasn't like there was some kid out there who I specifically wanted for this, but I said "Let's look at everybody." And these ended up being the ones who just seemed right for the characters.

Did you have an image in your mind of what you wanted the kids personas to be like? Perhaps a nerdish or alpha-male or anything that fit an image in your mind about the kids?
Not really. I knew the Sam character would need to be an outsider and that Suzie would need express an anger. The kid in the Scout troop who is sort of the bully of the group, his name is Redford. And I thought that he needs to look like [Robert] Redford. But many of the other kids could have been anyone.

How did you work with the kids in helping them to get to know their characters?
I rehearsed for a long time. By doing that a lot they really got to know the script and to feel comfortable with their characters. Whatever happened [along the way] if there were distractions going on around them, they'd still be able to do their scenes — they wouldn't be thrown off.

I read that there was one particular scene, however, that you purposely didn't want (Jared Gilman) and (Kara Hayward) to rehearse.
They hadn't met before this film. They'd never had their first kiss - literally in their lives [as well]. So I decided to put that aside and we made that our last scene filming. We didn't want to think about it too much and let it just happen naturally even if it was awkward, you know? That's OK.

Do you think children have a certain wisdom that is somehow lost as they get older?
Well, I think they have — or often have — a certain clarity. They often know what they want. They don't have wisdom, but have a purity with how they express themselves and how they proceed that can be an advantage — a big advantage. In Moonrise Kingdom, they're not really making great decisions but they do know what they want. And for all the adults around them, it's much more murky territory.

I think sometimes having wisdom makes things more confusing. If you start to say, "I can picture what the other guy feels about this," and then you might say, "Man, I’m not so sure if I’m right. And do I want what I want and how am I going to feel when this happens?" In the past I’ve been through this, and kids aren’t thinking like that. These kids, I don’t think they have given much thought to what their next step will be. They know the one step they’re going to take now, but they don’t really necessarily know the two steps.

Discussing your film with someone, that person said he thought there were symbols in Moonrise Kingdom that perhaps signified a new direction for you - or that you are perhaps gearing up to move into a new direction vs the style you've developed in your previous work. Is there any truth to that?
The thing is for me, I don’t really see what my MO is. But I know that every time I start on a movie I feel like I’m doing something different. I mean, I feel like [perhaps] now I’m in India doing a movie on a train about two brothers, and then I’m doing an animated movie with little puppets and you know, and then I made a movie in America for the first time in 10 years and it’s about first love. 

And for me this movie is different — it has its own MO. I am certainly aware that there are links between my movies, and I have a kind of something that is consistent and people can recognize these things. But really, for me, that’s like my handwriting and it’s not something that I contemplate so much. It’s just my sort of own way that I developed, how I feel I can do movies. I would doubt that a movie I’m making contains a suggestion of what I’m going to do next or contains a deliberate statement or link to anything else I’ve ever done before.

So tell me about the time period in Moonrise Kingdom. You picked 1965, but could this have taken place in 1995 or 2005?
I think it might have, yeah. But I picked that time because, you know, I think it feels like a more innocent time.

And then these kids are going to be 18 in five or so years and they'll be living in a very different world.
Yeah, yes.

How have you found audiences approach your films on this side of the Atlantic vs the U.S.?
An audience is really a whole bunch of different people who are wanting something different. But I know you can observe different things. I would relate French moviegoers close to Canadian moviegoers. They have a particularly avid sort of old-fashioned approach to movies in which they go to often. There's this public belief and respect for movies that I Iove and I share. In America, everything is sort of faster and much bigger. The machine of promotion for films is giant, so there's a different energy to it. But in places like New York, you can go to the Walter Reade Theatre or Film Forum and they're also filled with movie lovers.

Read more of Movieline's Cannes 2012 coverage here.


  • matt says:

    It's great to be Canadian, where your American neighbour is so brash, that you're considered "thoughtful" by a guy like Wes Anderson.
    Looking forward to this film! It has me at, "Robert Redford.. the bully." lol.

  • Karen reynolds says:

    Gee I was pretty sure that us hicks here in philadelphia had a love for good movies too.... Oh well, I guess only in France, Canada, and New York....

    • j'accuse! says:

      Don't be so sensitive Karen. Wes is from Texas after all, so it's not like he's a coastal elite who rides the subway.

  • Kimberly says:

    Relaxing on the beach with hubby. Home in both cities where my son’s live.

  • Faith says:

    You could certainly see your skills within the paintings you write. The arena hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. All the time go after your heart.