Wes Anderson on his new '50s-set film 'Asteroid City,' AI and all those Tik Tok videos

Streaming HUBMay 23, 2023

Cannes, France (AP) – When Wes Anderson comes down from Paris for the Cannes Film Festival in the south of France, he and his actors don’t stay in one of Cannes’ luxury hotels, but on the coast and well an hour live longer than outside the frenzy of the festival.

“When we got here yesterday, we arrived at a quiet, calm hotel,” Anderson said in an interview. “We’re an hour away, but it’s total normal life.”

A normal life can mean something completely different in a Wes Anderson movie, and that goes double in his latest “Asteroid City.” It’s one of Anderson’s most charmingly chock-full of creations, a much-layered, ’50-set fusion of science fiction, midcentury theater, and nearly a hundred other influences ranging from Looney Tunes to “Bad Day at Black Rock.”

Asteroid City, which Focus Features will release on June 16, premiered at Cannes on Tuesday. All together in a coach bus.

The film, which Anderson co-wrote with Roman Coppola, takes place in a southwest desert town where a group of characters, some of them nursing an untold grief, gather for various reasons, whether it be a Staring conference or broken car. But that story is also part of a Russian doll legend. It is a play being performed – which itself is being filmed for TV broadcast.

All of which is to say that “Asteroid City” is going to give all those Tik Tok videos fresh fodder for new social-media replicas in Anderson’s distinctive, diorama style, both human-made and AI-crafted. Anderson talked about those Tik Toks. In an interview the day before the debut of “Asteroid City” in Cannes, as well as other questions of style and inspiration in “Asteroid City,” a sun-dried and nostalgic work of vintage Anderson density.

Anderson said, “I feel like this might be a movie that benefits from two viewings.” “Brian De Palma loved it the first time and had a huge reaction the second time around. But what can you say? You can’t make a movie and say, ‘I think it’s best that everyone watch it twice. ‘


AP: It’s quite a treat to read the opening credits of the movie “Jeff Goldblum as Alien” before you even know there’s an alien. It seems to be announcing something.

Anderson: We were naturally debating whether or not it was necessary to have it in the opening credits. I said, “You know, that’s a good thing.” This is a bit prescient. In our story, this is not a detailed role. But part of what the film is to me and Roman has something to do with the actors and it’s funny what they do. What does it mean when you perform? If someone maybe wrote something and then you study it and learn and you have an interpretation. But essentially you take yourself and put it in the film. And then you take a bunch of people and put themselves in the movie. They have their faces and their voices, and they are far more complex than anything, even AI, to come. AI needs to know them in order to invent them. They do all these emotional things that are usually a mystery to me. I usually stand back and watch and it’s always pretty moving.

AP: The aliens could signal doom for the characters in “Asteroid City” and there are nuclear bomb tests in the area. Is this your version of an apocalyptic movie?

Anderson: The apocalypse stuff was all there. There probably weren’t any aliens, but there was certainly a keen interest in them. Of course the atomic bombs were exploding. And I think we can say the worst war in the history of mankind. There’s a certain point where I remember saying to Roman: “I have a feeling that not only is one of these men suffering from some kind of post-traumatic stress that he’s completely unaware of, but he’s making it his own.” Sharing with the family in a way that is about to end.” with Woodstock. But also: They must all be armed. So everyone has a pistol.

AP: Probably since “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” it seems like you’re adding more and more frame within frame for Russian Doll movies layering one layer after another. Your first movies, “Bottle Rocket” and “Rushmore,” are starting to feel almost realistic. Compare. Do you find that your films become more elaborate as you get older?

Anderson: Ultimately, every time I make a movie, I’m just trying to figure out what I want to do and then figure out how to make it so that we do what I want. It’s usually an emotional choice and it’s usually quite mysterious to me how that ends. The most improvising aspect of making a film for me is writing it. I have a tendency to obsess over stage directions that aren’t in film. With “Grand Budapest” we had many layers of it, and “French Dispatch” certainly had that. It is actually split in two, but has more complex layers. We know that the main film is drama. But we also have a behind-the-scenes look at the drama. We even have a guy telling us that this is a television broadcast of a fictional drama that doesn’t really exist. It is not intended to make it complicated. It’s just me doing what I want.

AP: Have you seen all the TikTok videos you make in your style? They are everywhere.

Anderson: No, I haven’t seen it. I’ve never actually seen any tiktok. I have not seen those who are related to me or those who are not related to me. And I haven’t seen any AI-type stuff related to me.

AP: You can see it as a new generation discovering your films.

Anderson: The only reason I don’t see things is because it takes things that I do over and over again. When I make a film we are forced to accept, it is made by me. But what I will say is that anybody is reacting with enthusiasm to the films that I’ve made over the years, that’s a good, lucky thing. So I am happy to have it. But I have a feeling I would feel the same way: Oh my God, is this what I’m doing? That’s why I protect myself.

AP: People sometimes miss in your films that the characters operating in this kind of precise world are deeply flawed and comical. Ornate tableaux may be perfect but people are all imperfect.

Anderson: Anyway, that’s what I’d like. In the end, it’s much more important to me what it’s about. I spend more time writing the movie than doing anything to make it. It is the actors who are central to it for me. You can’t follow them. Or maybe you can. If you look at AI, I’ll probably see that you can.

AP: In “Asteroid City,” you really combined the interest in different ideas — Sam Shepard’s ’50s theater with the automatons. How does such an alliance happen?

Anderson: We had an idea that we wanted to do a ’50s setting, and there’s these two aspects to it. There is a New York theatre. There is a photo of Paul Newman in Actors Studio in T-shirt and sitting with one leg on a chair. It was about that world of summer stock, behind the scenes, and these towns that were made and never went away. That becomes East Coast and West Coast and theater and cinema. There is a series of bifurcations. And one of the main things was that we wanted to create a character for Jason Schwartzman that was different from what he’s done before. The things that go into making a movie end up being too much to even pin down. Lots of things get mixed into this mix, which I love. And part of what the movie is about is what you can’t control in life. In a way, the invention of film is also one of those things.


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