Roman Coppola, a frequent Anderson collaborator (he co-wrote the screenplays for Moonrise Kingdom and The Darjeeling Limited), says the director tends to work on instinct and impulse instead of careful calculation and intellectual thought. The combination of his peculiar, specific style and the freedom of his narratives is what keeps his movies from feeling suffocating.
“There were times when we were working on Darjeeling and we’d get stuck on something,” Coppola says. “I would start getting a little heady and ask things like, ‘What’s the theme of this movie? What are we trying to say?’ And Wes couldn’t have been less interested in those questions.
“In most movies, you can easily discern the ideas behind them. But Wes works more intuitively, out of his interest in the characters and their lives and the details of their worlds. The themes of his movies are built into their DNA, but they are not imposed or sought.”
Moonrise Kingdom isn’t as much about a quirky narrative as it is about imparting a mood — the way we see the world as children, when it’s filled with adventure, wonder and possibility. But the film also offers the deep pleasure of watching a large ensemble cast play in Anderson’s dollhouse universe. They bring life and personality to his impeccably realized recreations of the world, where even the tiniest details — the covers of books and record albums — contribute to his vision.
“Wes loves actors, and he loves to demonstrate things,” says Jason Schwartzman, an Anderson stock player who has a small role in Moonrise Kingdom. “He builds into his scripts the experience he’s hoping to have on the set. On Rushmore, there was a scene where I had to drive a go-kart, and he said ‘Here, let me show you,’ and he climbed it and started driving it around. I remember thinking ‘Not only does he want to make this movie, but he also wanted to drive that go-kart!’
“…Sometimes he’ll write a part for a specific actor so he can work with them and become friends,” Schwartzman says. “He wants the set to be this kind of super-fun, supportive, insane environment. That’s why there are no trailers on his movies. Trailers are these boxes for actors to go into between takes and sit by themselves. Wes wants everyone to hang out and get to know each other. And as he keeps making movies and builds a catalogue of work, more actors are drawn to him.”
Moonrise Kingdom features a memorable turn by Tilda Swinton as a woman named Social Services who threatens to swoop in and separate the runaway kids. Swinton has only a few minutes of screen time, but you remember everything about her — her impeccably tailored dark-blue dress, her orderly manner, her bureaucratic logic. The deep impression her character makes is less a result of her function in the plot and more a testament to Anderson’s excitement over the opportunity to work with her.
“I had never met Tilda before,” Anderson says. “But she is so striking and such a powerhouse actor — have you ever seen this movie she’s in Julia? It’s a staggering performance.
“In Moonrise Kingdom, her performance feels larger than life, but it’s also really natural, like a documentary. I was so excited when I saw her doing it on the set. She turned that character into something I couldn’t have predicted. That’s the key to all my movies, probably. Even I don’t know what it’s really going to be until we’ve finished shooting it.”