Key to the Kingdom

Like his movies, Wes Anderson is an original. A flawed genius who specialises in bright colour palates and meandering plot lines with eccentric characters caught up in existential angst, he has created a cinematic genre unto himself: the Wes Anderson film.

His best-known film is 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums, for which he enlisted his loyal cronies (including Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston, Luke and Owen Wilson) to portray a fictional family of the kind he wishes he had. His latest effort, Moonrise Kingdom, has been his biggest subsequent success, and while its story branches out into a larger community, like most of his work, it focuses on the ties that bind.

Shy by nature, Anderson isn't the most expansive of interviewees. He's distinctively old-world in the way he dresses and speaks, so it's easy to imagine he must be old-fashioned in how he lives. It comes as no surprise to learn the Texas native now lives in Paris. Anderson had flown from New York to write The Darjeeling Limited with long-time collaborators Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola in Paris, where they were working on Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. After sharing Schwartzman's apartment for two months, Anderson fell in love with Paris and never left. He now lives in the grand old neighbourhood of Montparnasse.

''For me, living in Paris is always like an adventure,'' says Anderson, today wearing a cream wide-lapelled '40s-style suit and tie and looking far younger than his 43 years. ''It's a much more liveable city than New York, let's say, and I love that you can walk down a street and it's like going to a museum.''

Moonrise Kingdom possesses an old-world charm too, right from the start with its ornate title cards, early-1960s innocence and the folks with real country values who pull together in a crisis. Set on a New England island, the drama surrounds a precocious 12-year-old Boy Scout, Sam (Jared Gilman), who entices 12 year-old Suzy (Kara Hayward) to run away because they are in love. Not unlike Max Fischer, the overachieving kid (played by Schwartzman) in Rushmore, they are smarter and more self-aware than the adults, most notably Suzy's parents, played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand.

''I'd have loved at that age to have acted on my feelings in the way that these two kids do and to go on this expedition together and to insist that they will be together,'' Anderson notes. ''But I was probably too scared. The girl I would have envisioned this happening with, I never even had a conversation with her. She was in my class in some years but I was too shy.''

The middle of three sons, Anderson was, unsurprisingly, an outsider. After his parents' divorce when he was eight, he became unruly at school and found a pamphlet, ''Coping with the Very Troubled Child'', on the family fridge - as Suzy does in the film. By making adventurous films as an adult could he be working through his early anxieties - including his failed two-week attempt to be a Scout? If so, he is making up for lost time. Anderson has even got the girl, dedicating Moonrise Kingdom to his Lebanese partner, writer Juman Malouf.

''I made a choice to do that,'' he admits reluctantly. ''But at the same time I feel like that is the extent of what I want to say.''

The more expansive Roman Coppola recalls how after being summoned to Paris when Anderson was struggling to write the film - he'd had the story for more than a decade - their girlfriends became their sounding boards. ''It was a thrill to see something come to life in this way; it was like magic,'' he says. ''We'd work all day and then, in the evening, we'd describe what we had cooked up to our girlfriends. You had this sense there was something bubbling up.''

Anderson admits: ''In the cutting room and during the writing process I like to have an audience. Juman happens to be the audience that says: 'I don't think so.' She's not a cheerleader. She's been writing a children's book, and I am very direct with my criticisms of her and she responds just as defensively as I do. Juman drew one of the covers of the books that Suzy carries in her suitcase.''

Anderson hired artists to design each of the covers and he also wrote a brief excerpt that Suzy reads out aloud. This strikes me as fastidious. ''Yeah,'' Anderson concedes. ''I wanted the books to seem like they were real books.''

Such attention to detail is typical, Schwartzman says.

''Wes never stops working, there's no off-season. Most people at least have a certain part of the day for themselves, whereas even if he's walking around talking to people, Wes loves to work.''

Having friends around is very much part of Anderson's creative process. In Paris, they sit together in cafes dreaming up ideas and then, at a certain a point, he needs to be alone to collect his thoughts. He doesn't completely know where his ideas comes from - he cites Ingmar Bergman (Woody Allen's guru), the Coen brothers and Pedro Almodovar as his influences - and writes about 90 per cent of his characters for specific actors. Bruce Willis is his latest recruit as Moonrise Kingdom's lonely town cop.

Casting the action star as an authority figure, even a damaged one, seemed right, Anderson notes. ''You have to listen to him; you don't have a choice!''

But it's Anderson they listen to. Johnny Depp has signed on for The Grand Budapest Hotel, of which not much is known, beyond it being ''a European story''. Doesn't sound so original - but you can bet it will be just that.

Bill's excellent adventures

''I don't really get any other work outside of Wes,'' quips Bill Murray, who has been in all of Anderson's feature films since Rushmore.

''I just sit by the phone.

''The making of these films is a fun adventure. I'm delighted I've known Wes a long time.''

These days, of course, nobody sits by the phone. But Murray had, until recently, never had a mobile and was renowned for being uncontactable. ''Now he has a [mobile] phone,'' Anderson says. ''He has a lot of family things in different places, so it's good … He can even be texted.''

Clearly, Murray is tailor-made for Anderson's sensibility. ''Yes, yes,'' the director says.

''But I've just loved Bill since the beginning and on top of that, I've loved working with him. I loved having him in Rushmore; he transformed the movie and was everything I could have ever hoped for and I've lucked into having him as not just an actor who agrees to work with me, but as someone who has supported me for many years.

''It's really this tremendous luxury and I don't know why that occurred.

''It's his choice because he has so many choices.''

Moonrise Kingdom opens August 30

The story Key to the Kingdom first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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