by Andy Jones
When I heard that Wes Anderson was traveling across country on a bus to promote Rushmore, I assumed that he was driving around in a big yellow school bus. I don’t know why. But it seemed very Wes and very Rushmore — which is an odd, riotous, deeply satisfying, crushingly original film that Anderson directed and co-wrote with his good friend Owen Wilson. Both are also responsible for the equally out-there Bottle Rocket. Anyhow, it’s not a school bus. It’s a high-tech tour bus painted bright yellow and Anderson holds court in the back bedroom… with a mirrored ceiling. Very rock star. We caught up with him in Atlanta, early in the morning, between television interviews.
I hear you stopped flying two years ago. Why?
There is no real reason. I’m probably going to go to England next month, anyway, so I’ll be flying again.
So, you’re not going to take a boat?
No. Actually, I think [the bus] is just kind of good, because it’s sort of a nice way to hit a lot of different cities. I don’t mind driving, so….
Tell me about working with Bill Murray. Do you think that he’s going to be able to pull an Oscar out of this?
I don’t know. I mean, I think it would be great, but who knows? I have no idea. Our movie hasn’t even come out yet, so I’m wondering if all the Academy voters have even seen it.
Typically they’re older, too. I don’t know if they’ll get Rushmore.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t.
People have described this movie as indescribable. They have no words for it. How do you do it?
Well, the way I see it, I think there’s this kid who is a sort of an unusual character because he sort of runs the whole school. He’s founded all these different clubs and societies, but he’s a horrible student and he’s got all these problems in his background. And then the other the story is that he falls in love with a teacher at school and his friend, a steel tycoon, Bill Murray, tries to help him win over the teacher, but Murray falls [in love] himself and when the kid finds out about that, he goes to war with Bill Murray. That’s pretty much my own description.
How disappointing was it when Bottle Rocket didn’t work?
Not many people saw the movie. Well, it was bad. But we sort of felt good about the movie itself. And so that made a difference for us, because we’d felt like if we had blown the whole thing on the movie, then we probably would have just been devastated by it. But we sort of felt like it wasn’t totally our fault that people didn’t go see the movie. It’s really not our job to go get people into the theaters. Our job is to make the movie. And the studio is supposed to take it from there. And then also we didn’t have much trouble getting our next movie set up. So, we really didn’t have to worry too much about the fact that it didn’t make any money. But, having said that, it was still not a good thing.
How depressed were you?
Well, I was depressed after we had our test screenings of Bottle Rocket, because those were just really bad. And test screenings are sort of wrong for unusual movies. They’re always a disaster. And so after the test screenings, once we started showing it to other people who were critics, who were writing about it, they liked it. Everything after that, we were lucky. I felt like at least we got away with our skins, you know?
How hard was it to go back to the creative process?
By the time the movie was out, we were already well into writing [Rushmore]. And commercial success is important because they’re going to be spending these millions of dollars, even for a super low-budget movie like Rushmore’s $10 million. Disney never makes a $10 million movie. So, even though it’s low budget, we make the movie as good as it can be. But, having said that, if you lose enough money, they just won’t give you any more.
Why didn’t you take Rushmore to Sundance?
See, once we had our thing with Bottle Rocket, I was mad then.
How important is Sundance to a film’s success?
Well, I don’t know. But it’s not going to be important to any more of mine.
Really? What happened?
When Bottle Rocket got rejected… our short had played at the festival, we had been part of these workshops where they tell you, “We’re in this together.” They’re gonna help you and then when we finished the movie, I feel like we had done something very difficult, we had navigated our way through a very complicated thing and we made our movie at Sony with no stars to speak of, just the guys who were in our short. The guys who we planned to have. And in a way, that’s what Sundance is supposed to be about. We made a movie that was ultimately well-received. And then, to not get in there, I felt like, “I can’t believe they’re doing this to us,” because we felt like that was part of our whole game plan, but also it killed everything. As soon as it was rejected from Sundance, anything [the studio had] even invested in it, which was very little, was just gone.
I heard about you hanging out with Pauline Kael. When did you get interested in her?
I read her in [The New Yorker] in high school. In college, I just got the books. They had them at the library at University of Texas. And I remember her reviews really sort of influenced the way I was writing term papers… I was reading so much of her stuff that it really got into my way, because there was a certain kind of way her things are constructed. Which is like searching for what is the [subject of the] movie, trying to get to something the whole time and finally arriving at the thing.
What are some of your other influences?
Well, it tends to be novels and things. But other movies …tons of movies. I mean, movies I liked this year [were] The Butcher Boy, Buffalo ’66…[and] The Slums of Beverly Hills.
There are a lot of movies about the high school experience lately. Is it because high school is so traumatic?
High school’s more intense than the rest of your life, in a way. Even if you’ve got lots of things going on, things are so confusing and weird, painful things and all that stuff. As you know, you’re never quite in that mode again. You have to remember that when I would read a novel back then, I would get so into the novel. I was, like, susceptible, in a way. And now I could get really into something, but it never becomes my entire world while I’m reading it.
What were some of those novels that became your entire world?
Well, you know, I was really into (F. Scott) Fitzgerald. And I loved these stories that he wrote. The Basil and Josephine stories I was really into, but I remember when I read The Sun Also Rises, I got really caught up in that book. Then I read it again right afterward, and then all the traditional sort of adolescent books, like A Separate Peace and The Catcher in the Rye and Huck Finn and those kinds of things. I was really into (J.D.) Salinger, you know? Everything I was doing was, like, ripped off — all ideas were stolen from him.
Will you and Owen Wilson work together on your next project?
Yeah. We’re writing a movie that’s set in New York and it’s a comedy about a family of geniuses.
And you write it in long hand?
Yeah. [Picks up his notebook. Opens it to a drawing.] This is where I was working on it in this house on this island… this is a view from the window of my room, which was way up high. And there’s a dog named Vince and the little sailboat in the little harbor.
With the eminent success of Rushmore, you’ll probably be able to do any movie you want. Are there some uncommercial ideas that you’ll get a chance to experiment with?
I do have a couple of documentary ideas and I’d like to do those. I mean, one of the guys I want to have in the documentary will never do it. I know he’ll never do it. But the movies, I think, tend to be about as commercial as Rushmore. So, after a month, we’ll be able to say exactly how commercial the rest of the movies are. Rushmore’s got a pretty good push behind it from Disney. I mean, they’re not doing an Armageddon number, but at least they’re very serious about it.
How do you write with Owen across the country? You’re writing on the bus, for example, and what does Owen do?
Well, right now, Owen is acting in this movie called The Haunting of Hill House, which is coming out in the summer. It’s [directed] by Jan de Bont. It’s big in some way, I’m sure. And maybe it will be good.
Well, after Speed 2 we’ll cross our fingers.
I liked Speed though… but Speed 2 stunk. It was one of the worst movies, [with] a terrible script. And bizarre. The things they were trying to render made no sense. And I didn’t see Twister. He shot Basic Instinct [as cinematographer]. I remember Basic Instinct had a real look, so maybe he’ll do a good job on The Haunting. I don’t know. I didn’t see the original film.
So, what is Owen saying?
Oh, he likes him. You know. he’s worked with lots of guys who like to do the big, huge movies, and they are always a character in some way and yeah, he likes de Bont.
How collaborative is your work on a script?
Well, right now, it’s just us talking on the phone. But the way it usually is, is that we write scenes on scraps of paper and trade them back and forth. And then it goes round and round that way.
Does the character Max have any idea that he’s different?
I think he thinks that he should be a leader and he’s got ideas that other people don’t have and can get them going. And also, deep insecurity, feeling like he’s not everyone in a bad way. And that’s why he’s not willing to accept the fact that he’s a poor kid at a rich kid’s school. And, you know, his mother has died, and I think maybe the rug’s been pulled out from under him. The father always encouraged him about everything, but the mother was probably more specific about introducing him to things and probably made him kind of a playwright in a way and the father was more like a barber.
I always thought he was president of clubs that had two people in them. He was the president and, like, his friend was the vice-president and that was the club.
Right. I think there’s a little bit of that. But I think his following is probably strongest among the much younger students. And he’s hated by a lot of his peers. Like, Bill Murray’s sons really hate him. The Scottish kid tries to kill him, but I do think [with] the plays that he’s putting on… he does get people behind them.
‘Cause he makes them stars.
Right. He makes them stars. And I think he probably genuinely leads those things. And I think the plays are sort of the center for him. ‘Cause the rest of the stuff, the clubs and everything, are just almost out of insecurity. But the plays are out of something else. You know, out of his own real ambitions.