His Royal Highness

Wes Anderson's Genius Lessons

Unsurprising, then, that Wilson's Richie—with his shaggy, doleful Bjorn Borg mien—is the broken heart of The Royal Tenenbaums. "Luke is so hidden away behind his beard and his glasses and his long hair, and he wears that headband for the whole movie—he seems kind of wounded and gentle," Anderson says. Richie's spectacular, nationally televised tennis-court crack-up is the film's tragicomic peak; he also figures in an indelible pair of scenes that, in quintessentially Andersonian fashion, enlist ethereal vintage pop to express the characters' interior weather. In one, Richie rides alone on a graffiti-ravaged bus after something terrible has happened, his journey scored to Nick Drake's bruised, plangent lover's ode "Fly." In the other, the camera watches through Richie's eyes as his unattainable Margot disembarks from a different bus. As she begins to walk toward him, looking at once stricken and hopeful, the picture swoons into slow motion and all goes silent for a moment, until Nico's regret-soaked "These Days" ambles in.

"When you shoot a scene like that, you constantly second-guess yourself," says Anderson, who notes that the immortal "These Days" was a crucial starting point in the genesis of the Tenenbaums script. "You do as many takes at as many angles as possible, because you never know what you're getting. When it's slowed down, anything might jump out at you—it might be a single hair blowing up in the air or someone blinking. It's really tricky. But Gwyneth has this very beautiful expression on her face, and really, that's all we're photographing. You can't just tell somebody to have that expression on her face. And there was obviously something between her and Luke that was brewing anyway." (Paltrow and Wilson have been an item since filming ended in June.)

With just three movies under his belt, Anderson has reportedly "reinvented" Bill Murray by casting him in Rushmore ("I don't know about that," replies Anderson, furrowing his brow), helped make two Wilsons into major stars, and attracted a bundle more to The Royal Tenenbaums at a deep discount. A critical darling and a cult hero—last month's Film Society of Lincoln Center tribute, called "Wesworld," was overrun with spiky-haired, bespectacled fanboys—Anderson may now be on the cusp of Oscar nominations and household-name recognition. Does it matter to him whether or not the Tenenbaums cash in at the box office? "That's never happened so I don't really know," he says. "I say, eh, it's not that big a deal, but maybe if I had a movie make a lot of money I'd have a different attitude towards it. I don't know what it's like to have your movie be like a huge hit and maybe it's so exciting or something. For me, when a movie's done, the thing that's most exciting is working on the next movie."

Related Articles:

J. Hoberman's review of The Royal Tenenbaums

J. Hoberman's review of Rushmore

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