Who Is Wes Anderson?
Wes Anderson is an American film director whose works feature a recurring ensemble of actors, including Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. He is known for quirky, comical movies with flawed characters, with projects ranging from The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou to Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Anderson has also enjoyed success with the stop-motion animated films Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs.
Filmmaker Wesley "Wes" Wales Anderson was born on May 1, 1969, in Houston, Texas. His father, Melver Anderson, ran an advertising and public relations company, and his mother, Texas Anne Burroughs, worked in both real estate and archaeology. Anderson grew up with his two brothers Eric and Mel, but their parents divorced when Anderson was eight. While trying to cope with the disintegration of his parents' marriage, Anderson often misbehaved at school.
In time, he turned his energies from mischief making to artistic endeavors. The young Anderson directed movies starring himself and his brothers, filming them with a Super 8mm camera. He read avidly, developing a passion for novels and finding himself consumed by storytelling. Anderson attended St. John's School in Houston, where he became known for his large and complex play productions. Often these productions were based on well-known stories, films and even TV shows: One work was a sock puppet version of the 1978 Kenny Rogers album The Gambler.
After graduating from St. John's in the late 1980s, Wes Anderson enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin. There he met Owen Wilson, who has been a writing partner or cast member in almost every film Anderson has made since. Anderson was a philosophy major and Wilson was studying English, and they had common interests. Anderson said to the AMC Blog in 1996 that the two first encountered each other while "doing a playwriting class together: this thing where everybody, about nine of us, sat around a table and discussed plays. And I always sat in one corner, not really at the table, and Owen always sat in another corner, not really at the table, and we never spoke the whole semester."
After this class, Anderson recalls running into Wilson, and the two "started talking about writers, but we also talked about movies right off the bat," he said to Interview Magazine in 2009. "I knew I wanted to do something with movies. I don't know if he had realized yet that it was an option." The two eventually became roommates, and worked on a script for a full-length movie they called Bottle Rocket. Anderson earned his B.A. in philosophy in 1991.
Early Films: 'Bottle Rocket' and 'Rushmore'
Originally, Bottle Rocket was planned as a serious movie starring Owen Wilson and his two brothers Luke and Andrew. However, it became apparent that the realm of serious drama was not for them, and they began to focus more on comedic plot elements, and thus the script for Bottle Rocket became a hard-to-label mix of comedy, romance and crime. Through Andrew Wilson's connections in the movie industry, the group was able to raise a small budget and a stock of film. Eventually these provisions ran out, and the envisioned full-length movie had to become a short film.
The resulting short impressed a filmmaker named Kit Carson, and he showed it to producer Polly Platt. Carson also pushed Anderson to enter the film in the Sundance Film Festival. It was met there with enthusiasm and came to the attention of director James L. Brooks, a partner of Pratt's. Through his connections at Columbia Pictures, Brooks got the film a larger budget, which eventually reached a respectable five million dollars. The feature-length film did not achieve box office success but was generally praised by critics. Anderson also won Best New Filmmaker at the MTV Movie Awards in 1996. Like most subsequent Anderson films, Bottle Rocket featured a soundtrack composed by Mark Mothersbaugh, founder of the band Devo. When the film came out on video, its audience grew.
After Bottle Rocket, Anderson and Owen Wilson went to work a second film, Rushmore. The story revolves around a teenager named Max Fischer, who suffers academically but thrives on extracurricular activities. Max, played by then-unknown Jason Schwartzman, attends a preparatory school much like the St. John's of Anderson's high school years. In another connection to Anderson's life, Max, like Anderson, creates elaborate plays that are performed at the school.
Disney chairman Joe Roth agreed to fund the Rushmore project, and the final version of the film generated far more pre-release buzz than had Bottle Rocket. The Critics Associations of both New York and Los Angeles declared Bill Murray best supporting actor for his role as a wistful businessman who strikes up an unlikely friendship with Max. The film received rave critical reviews and was the subject of a wide publicity campaign. Still, the movie failed to gain a large audience, and though it was nominated for and received numerous critical awards, the Academy did not nominate the film in any Oscar categories.
'The Royal Tenenbaums' and 'The Life Aquatic'
Mainstream success, though, was not far away. With the release of his third full-length film, The Royal Tenenbaums (again written with Owen Wilson), Anderson gained the combination of critical, box office and Academy notice that had so far eluded him. With an all-star cast that included Gene Hackman, Anjelica Houston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Danny Glover, Bill Murray, Ben Stiller and the increasingly famous Luke and Owen Wilson, Anderson described the film at a 2002 press conference as "...a New York film... about a family of—quote unquote—geniuses, and about their failure and their sort of development of their family..." The film grossed more than $50 million domestically at the box office, received an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay, and enjoyed near unanimous critical praise.
Because of the success of The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson was able to gain a much larger budget for his next film, a total of $50 million. Due to the rising demand of Owen Wilson as an actor, Anderson partnered with Noah Baumbach to write what became The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. The story is about an oceanographer and wildlife documentarian of dwindling renown named Steve Zissou who is chasing the elusive—and possibly imaginary—jaguar shark.
Though the film is live-action, many of the sea creatures in the film are animated, marking the first use of animation in any Anderson film. Anderson again hired Bill Murray, whom in a 2002 interview with The Telegraph he called "[some]one that I'm most likely to describe as a genius," to act in the film, but this time as the lead.
The Life Aquatic posed the biggest filming challenge Anderson had faced, as detailed in a New York Magazine interview: "You'd get all these pirates on one ship, and then get the main actors in place, and a boat positioned behind them so the viewer could get some perspective on the scale we were working with, and the boats are heaving back and forth, and by the time you get everything all set up, the sun is gone." At its 2004 release, the movie met with mixed critical reviews and even received some criticism from the core group of fans Anderson had garnered since the release of Bottle Rocket.
Also at the time of The Life Aquatic's release, many critics began noting the importance of father figures in Anderson's movies. Rushmore had shown a young Max Fischer attempting to identify himself with a successful businessman, The Royal Tenenbaums had revolved around a once-famous lawyer patriarch who had been uninvolved in his family for decades, and a huge point of The Life Aquatic's story line dealt with a character named Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) trying to determine whether Zissou is his long-lost father.
In response, Anderson mused to New York Mag: "I finally realized it's just the opposite of what I really grew up with, and for me there's something exotic about it…I'm drawn to those father-figure characters that are larger-than-life people, and I've sought out mentors who are like that, so I relate to them. But they're not my father."
'Darjeeling' and 'Mr. Fox'
Anderson soon began work on yet another film. Fellow director and fan Martin Scorsese—who once referred to Anderson as "the next Martin Scorsese" in an interview with Esquire and has named Bottle Rocket one of the best films of the 1990s—encouraged his friend to explore India in his next film.
Anderson took this advice to heart and paired it with another desire: "I want to write with Roman [Coppola] and Jason [Schwartzman]," he said to New York Magazine in 2007. In order to accomplish both of these goals, Anderson, Coppola and Schwartzman boarded a train in India "to do the movie, trying to act it out. We were trying to be the movie before it existed." The result was 2007's The Darjeeling Limited, starring Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody. The movie revolves around three estranged brothers taking a train ride through India in an attempt to reconnect. Again, critical reviews were mixed.
For his next film, Anderson returned to his childhood tendency of making his favorite stories come alive. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) is a stop-motion animated feature based on Roald Dahl's book of the same name. It stars the usual ensemble of Anderson actors, including Murray, Owen Wilson and Schwartzman as well as George Clooney and Meryl Streep, who voice various woodland animals coming together to fight against an evil farmer. This film was met with much wider critical acclaim than The Darjeeling Limited and joined The Royal Tenenbaums as another film that received Oscar nods in Anderson's filmography.
Oscar Wins for 'Grand Budapest Hotel'
Additional distinctively-styled ensemble projects followed in the form of Moonrise Kingdom in 2012 and the commercially successful The Grand Budapest Hotel in 2014, with the latter winning a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy. With a cast that featured Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham and Tilda Swinton, Budapest also received a whopping nine Academy Award nominations, with Anderson receiving his first directing Oscar nod. At the ceremony itself, the film was recognized for its stunning visual tableau, winning for makeup, costume design and production design as well as for original score.
Though Anderson's films tend to include characters whom, he admitted to Interview, "could walk into another one of my movies and it would make sense," his brand of awkward and sometimes sad comedy remains remarkably unique. Anderson has flourished as a filmmaker who has been able to create independent-feeling movies under the eye of big studios for years.
'Isle of Dogs'
In March 2018, Anderson returned to the realm of stop-motion animation with Isle of Dogs. Based on the story of a 12-year-old boy who seeks to protect his city's canines from a vengeful mayor, the film featured a star-studded cast that included Bryan Cranston and other longtime collaborators, like Murray.
Isle of Dogs debuted to an estimated $1.57 million over 27 theaters across six North American cities, the biggest opening of the director's career, and later nabbed an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature.
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