It's hard to recall Ralph Fiennes being in such a good mood. The 51-year-old monument of British theatre and cinema—not to mention the penultimate Harry Potter villain Voldemort—is sniggering uncontrollably as he is flanked by an array of stars that more than ably support his leading role as M. Gustav, the concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel in a fictitious Eastern European country called Zubrowka. Wes Anderson says that he wrote the part with Fiennes in mind.
For a filmmaker to make the film they want to make is very rare
“This character is quite grand and theatrical and recites poetry and has paragraphs of text,” notes the director. “The crucial thing is that he be a real person—even if he's talking very quickly and is in a situation that doesn't feel like real life. That's what all these actors do is bring these real people to a fantasy context.”
Fiennes: “I was sent an amazing screenplay written by Wes and it was not like anything else I'd read. I responded to Wes, to his spirit and to how he'd written the film. There are certain rhythms and details and we see how constructed and designed they are. As an acting experience it was fantastic. Wes encourages his actors over many, many takes and you feel exhausted but happy because you've been given this great ride. For a filmmaker to make the film they want to make is very rare.”
Bill Murray may only appear briefly as a rival concierge at another hotel, yet he made up for it with his quizzical demeanour at the star-studded opening press conference. Sporting an elfen cap that was half falling off his head—and seeming like he'd just arrived from one of his road trips—he chuckled with co-star Ed Norton and dove in the minute a question was asked about big stars like Tilda Swinton, Willem Dafoe and Jeff Goldblum coming along for small roles in order to work with Anderson.
“We are promised very long hours and low wages,” he bellowed, “and stale bread. That's pretty much it! It's that crazy thing where you lose money on the job—you end up spending more on tips—but you get to see the world and we allow Wes to live this magical life where his dreamscape comes true. He gets to have all the fun, I guess because we like him and we go along with him.”
“We did a movie in India,” Anderson notes, referring to 2007's The Darjeeling Limited.
“I remember!,” a droll Murray responds.
Anderson: “Bill did one day and then he had one other appearance in the movie that we maybe shot a month later and he stayed in India the whole time.”
Murray retorts: “It's not true, I was flown home and I came back and was forced to shoot for 90 minutes!”
Ed Norton has likewise joined the Wes Anderson fold. After donning a Boy Scout's uniform for Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, he's a police Inspector called Henckels here.
“I think Wes just likes tight trousers and epaulettes for a man and I'm happy to wear them,” muses Norton. “I think he's going to have me play the Scout of The Boer War next.”
Perennial scene-stealer Tilda Swinton is up to her old tricks and is unrecognisable as Madame D., an aged Dowager Countess with a flailing jaw and hazy blue eyes. According to reviews, she's also a standout in another Berlin entry, South Korean director Joon-ho Bong's Snowpiercer, which will release through Roadshow. (More on that later.)
Swinton: “The look of Madame D. was created in the fantastical head of Wes Anderson and the makeup was by the man who did the Margaret Thatcher film. My part was small because Wes didn't want any more. Ralph and I would have been happy to flesh out the sexual peccadillos that went on for decades. [Gustav provides an extra service by sleeping with many of the rich women who stay in his hotel.] We're hoping for a prequel. Size is not everything.”
Saoirse Ronan was a novice to the Anderson experience and says it was the first time she has been intimidated by a film's cast. Anderson points out it's the first time the Irish actress has kept her own accent in a movie, and he decided everyone should speak in their own way, even if they are all meant to be from Zubrowka.
“Tony is from Anaheim and speaks Anaheim,” Swinton notes of Tony Revolori, the 17-year-old newcomer playing Gustav's young protégé, Zero Mustafa.
Dafoe had wanted to put on a nasty voice though retains his own accent in his jagged-toothed role as a henchman to Adrien Brody's central comic villain, while Harvey Keitel is impressive as a tattooed bare-chested convict with a bald head (The Pulp Fiction star is in great shape at 74.)
So what's the movie all about? Anderson says it's is an ode to Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, a writer who was famous in the '20s and '30s and is still read widely in Europe, though not so much in the English language.
“I loved his novel Beware of Pity and I loved it immediately from the first page,” Anderson explains. “I started reading his fiction and wonderful memoir about the world of yesterday. Although our story is not based on one of his stories, it has some of his devices and atmosphere. My intention was to do our own version of a Zweig story.”
The Grand Budapest Hotel is set for release in Australia on April 10.