"In his introduction for Pedro Almodovar last night, Richard Pena made the point that after so many years and so many wonderful films, Almodovar is back at the New York Film Festival with a movie as new and as adventurous as any he's ever made. He's not intending to rest on his laurels," Wes Anderson said during his introduction for the 10th anniversary screening of 'The Royal Tenenbaums' at the New York Film Festival on Thursday night. "Which really struck a chord with me because that's what I've come here to do."
Anderson could do far worse than resting on the laurels of 'Tenenbaums': it's arguably his best film and inarguably his most financially successful. Released on Dec. 14, 2001 -- just over three months after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 -- the now-quintessential New York film grossed $52 million at the domestic box office, grabbed an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay (Anderson and co-star Owen Wilson), and, as Anderson said during the post-screening Q&A, took him out of the art-house ghetto for a little while. The good news is that 'The Royal Tenebaums' is as funny and heartbreaking as you remember (R.I.P. Buckley); the better news is that in honor of the film's 10th anniversary, Anderson and stars Gwyenth Paltrow, Bill Murray and Angelica Huston appeared at the Alice Tully Hall in New York's Lincoln Center to discuss the crowning achievement. Ahead, six observations from the night.
"I'm not talking about dance lessons. I'm talking about putting a brick through the other guy's windshield. I'm talking about taking it out and chopping it up."
While Paltrow, Murray and Huston appeared for the 10th anniversary, star Gene Hackman was not present for the festivities. Which was probably for the best, considering how much he intimidated Anderson.
"I was [scared]. They weren't," Anderson said, though that wasn't actually true.
"I was very scared," said Paltrow.
Huston agreed: "I was a lot scared, but I was more concerned with protecting Wes."
The fear of working with Hackman aside, Anderson said he couldn't imagine doing 'The Royal Tenenbaums without him. Something that almost happened.
"Gene passed for a year and a half. He was sort of forced to do the movie and that was not fair, really. I just kept asking him and bothering him. I just wore him down. I didn't really have that much access to him, I don't know how I went about that. Eventually he just kind of caved."
What caused the change of heart? Murray had at least one idea. "He's weak. Gene is weak," the star said to thunderous laughter. "When you challenge someone like Gene, you find his weakness. He's a great actor and he was great in the movie and all of us here hate Gene Hackman." Kidding. Probably.
"Let's shag ass."
The version of 'The Royal Tenebaums' that you've seen dozens of times actually isn't the version that premiered at the New York Film Festival ten years ago. That cut used many Beatles songs, for which Anderson wasn't able to secure the rights. Not that he didn't use all his connections in an attempt to get them.
"I tried to bribe Paul McCartney," Paltrow said. "Sex and everything."
There wasn't sex involved, but there was some... bowling? "I ended up taking him bowling, weirdly enough, with Heather Mills, his ex-wife, and Luke Wilson," she said. "Wes put me on a mission. 'You gotta get the rights!' He loved the movie, then we went bowling and he said he has nothing to do with the rights."
Womp womp. Or as Murray summed it up: "Paul McCartney, too, is weak."
"You made a cuckold of me."
From top to bottom, the cast of 'The Royal Tenenbaums' was perfect, a fact that didn't escape Murray. "It was a great bunch. The other people are so big they didn't even have to come," Murray said, jokingly referring to Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, Danny Glover, narrator Alec Baldwin and Hackman. "It was a great group of people. I liked the little kids a lot. They were not weak, those two. They were strong. It was a good job."
In the film, Murray shares many scenes with Paltrow. Did he enjoy working with the Oscar winner? "To work with Gwyneth, I really loved working with Gwyneth," Murray said to laughter. "I don't want to say anything that you'll misinterpret, but I loved working with Gwyneth. She believes what I believe." Sounds like they had a ball.
"That's the last time you put a knife in me!"
What makes the same group of actors keep coming back to Wes Anderson films?
"I don't want to say he's weak; that puts him in a category with McCartney and Hackman," said Murray, who has worked with Anderson five times. "I don't know if there's a word that says he's someone I look forward to working with again. I don't want to say exciting. 'Exciting?' I'm animated. I think he gets things out of people that they don't get out ordinarily. He makes us all do something different."
Huston, who has done three films with the director, agreed: "He's someone I like to be around. He's somebody who you're happy to be included within his circle."
Paltrow never worked with Anderson again, but he still ranks as one of her most challenging film bosses. "My word would be specific," when asked to describe Anderson. "I've never worked with any director who is so precise about not only what he wants, but it's far beyond that. I remember our first meeting in SoHo, and he was just explaining the role. 'She wears black eyeliner and her hair is kinda the color of your coat' -- camal -- 'and it's about to here, and she wears Izod dresses.' It was like, 'OK, great.' I felt so comfortable because he knew exactly what he wanted. It was constructed in such precise way and I had this freedom underneath it. I didn't have to worry about what I was doing."
"Baby, I'm dying. I'm sick as a dog. I'll be dead in six weeks. I'm dying."
One of the many great scenes in 'The Royal Tenenbaums' is when Royal tells his estranged wife Ethel that he's dying. Except he's not. Except he is. "That was my first scene with Gene Hackman and I was particularly terrified, because I could tell he wasn't in a very good mood that morning," Huston said. "It was a very cold morning, and I was wearing kid gloves, and in rehearsal, I slapped his lapel. When we went ahead and shot it, I hit him a really good. I saw the imprint of my hand on his cheek. It was pretty good; I really liked that scene."
So did Anderson, since it got Hackman to say a line he had previously refused to utter.
"The take we use is when you whacked him. I remember I was trying to get him to say goddamn," said the director. "He said he didn't want to say goddamn; he wanted to say damn because, 'They'll just change it later.' I said, 'Nobody is going to change it later.' He said, 'No, not saying it.' Then when you hit him he said, 'Goddamn.'"
"I don't think you're an asshole, Royal. I just think you're kind of a son of a bitch."
While much of the night was spent recalling Gene Hackman horror stories, the 'Tenenbaum' group agreed that he was not nearly as bad as they made him sound.
"I loved working with him," said Paltrow. "I loved being in the same scenes as him. He was kind of a bear of a guy, but I also found something very sweet and sad in there. I liked him a lot. I think he's one of the greatest actors who ever lived. To be in his presence and watch him do his thing. It's like -- you know, you're Gene Hackman, you can be in a bad fucking mood."
"I'll stick up for Gene too," said Murray. "I'd hear these stories, like, 'Gene threatened to kill me today.' 'He can't kill you, you're in a union.' 'Gene threatened to take all of us and set fire to us.' 'It's a union shoot, it's New York, he can't set fire to you.'"
Hackman thankfully didn't light any fires, though Murray said he understood some of the rage issues when he visited the set one day for a scene between Hackman and Luke Wilson.
"[Gene] does his thing and it takes about 50-60 seconds, and Luke blew his line 13 or 14 times. Luke Wilson. I thought Luke was good? He's not good. Because at the time, he was in love with this girl over here" -- Murray pointed at an embarrassed Paltrow -- "and he couldn't think straight. So that's the problem with Gene. He had to work with Luke who was dizzy in love and Kumar Pallana, every single day."
Kumar Pallana played Hackman's onscreen sidekick, the immortal Pagoda.
"He had, like, a complete spaced-out high school kid and Kumar every single day. How many of you have worked with Kumar? None of you! You wouldn't be here if you had. Kumar makes Luke Wilson look like Gielgud. If I had to work with Kumar and Luke Wilson, I would have set fire to this whole building."
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