Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City” is a nesting doll of a film – a telecast of a documentary about a project, assembled with the same precision and detail as “The Royal Tenenbaums”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The French Anderson’s Dispatch among others. Thematically, the connective tissue between the layers of reality, like many of these earlier films, is the concept and treatment of loss. But Anderson, who co-wrote the film with his longtime collaborator Roman Coppola says one of his long-time leads inspired him to put her pieces together in the first place.
“The movie ends up being about sadness, but it evolved into that,” Anderson tells Variety. “Roman Coppola and I started this with the idea that we wanted to build something around a role for Jason Schwarzman.”
He and Schwartzman, one of Coppola’s cousins, have collaborated since he cast the then-young actor as precocious, ambitious lead Max Fischer in the 1998 film “Rushmore.” Anderson says some of his ideas for “Asteroid City” began percolating while filming “The Darjeeling Limited,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Moonrise Kingdom.” “I’ve had this idea for a long time to do a story about something like the Actor’s Studio, and a story to do a sort of ’50s American desert movie,” he says. “We mixed those things together and built it around Jason.”
A fruitful collaboration with Scarlett Johansson on “Isle of Dogs” prompted Anderson to consider her as his co-star and presenter for a rich ensemble with other veteran producers such as Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton and Adrien Brody. as well as newcomers such as Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Margot Robbie. “I may have had a better experience with the whole cast than I ever had before,” he says. “While I’ve loved the actors I’ve worked with in all my films, this one had such a great, great ensemble.”
However, Anderson admits that the film they planned had enough moving parts that it would take a nimble hand to assemble them. “We wrote a slightly complicated script where there are these parts that are the movie within the play within the movie and then the play stuff,” he explains. “And as we were writing it, those things were mixing together.” Despite its disjointed structure, the director says he saw the different characters each of his actors played as part of an ensemble.
“We’ve written roles where even though Jason is playing an actor and this role is played by the actor, for me it’s a role with these different aspects that fit together,” Anderson says.
He credits the cast members for developing connections between their characters on the different levels of the story. “I really felt like I could just give it all to them and they interpreted it and put it together,” he says. “Obviously, they’re the ones bringing it to life, but in this case, they had to transform it in the process.”
In fact, despite the palpable control Anderson exerts over his works—from the meticulous design of each to their stylized performances—he acknowledges that the scale of the “star city” took a village to build. “We worked well together,” he says. “We had Bob Yeoman, our cinematographer, Adam Stockhausen, the production designer, [costume designer] Milena Canonero and many other people.
“These are all people I’ve worked with for so long and we’ve done something gigantic as we’ve built this desert and this city in Spain,” he adds. “But it was a lot of fun to do, because everyone is in such great sync with each other.”
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