Wes Anderson did not know where he was going. The problem was not that he was lost, but that his mind kept wandering, darting off in too many directions at once—a common and not entirely unwelcome problem for the 38-year-old director. Part of him wanted to stick around Venice for another day or two, now that the Venice Film Festival was over and the promotional business surrounding The Darjeeling Limited, his new film, was behind him. He liked Venice, liked the whole idea of wandering the catacomblike streets of a city that should have been swallowed up by the Adriatic centuries ago. But there was talk of moving the party elsewhere—to Paris, maybe, where he has kept an apartment since 2005; or perhaps to Rome, where some friends were heading. Eventually Anderson would have to figure out a way back to Manhattan, his other semi-permanent residence, in time for Darjeeling to open the New York Film Festival, but logistical details like that were, for the time being, best left out of the picture.
“I’m thinking Rome,” he eventually said, as if Rome were an appetizer he frequently orders, and twelve hours later he finds himself here: on a train bound for the Eternal City, joined by Roman Coppola and his girlfriend, Jennifer Furches. Coppola and Furches are the director’s old friends who, like most of his old friends, double as frequent collaborators. This is the dynamic at the heart of what those close to him affectionately refer to as “Wes’s world,” which resembles a vaudevillian family by way of Evelyn Waugh. Coppola, for example, is the cousin of Jason Schwartzman, the star of Anderson’s Rushmore, and together the three of them wrote the script for Darjeeling. (Furches was script supervisor.)
That we happen to be traveling by train to discuss a movie that takes place on a train was not part of the original plan, though I’m starting to think of it as yet another example of Anderson’s knack for retouching reality with an idiosyncratic gloss. (It may be connected to his fear of flying as well; until recently, Anderson traveled to Europe by boat, and he far prefers trains and automobiles to anything airborne.) Also somewhat peculiar is the fact that buried in one of Anderson’s monogrammed suitcases is 10,000 euros in cash—about $14,000—an amount that may or may not be legal to carry, and that was given to the director by Bill Murray, who asked that the money be “delivered to Luigi.”
“It’s not as weird as it sounds. Luigi was Bill’s landlord when we shot The Life Aquatic,” explains Anderson, talking about his last movie, parts of which were filmed in Rome.
“But,” I ask, “wasn’t that back in 2004?”
“Yeah, Bill can be a little weird with time. But there’s no hard feelings or anything. I think Luigi and Bill have a pretty good rapport, though Luigi will probably be happy to get his money.”
Anderson often finds himself in situations like this: real-life circumstances that have the same absurd, art-directed quality as his films. You may be tempted to shake your head and simply say that Anderson has been incredibly lucky, which is true, but that doesn’t give enough credit to his talents—not just as a director, but more generally as someone who has constructed a life almost preposterously conducive to the pursuit of fantastical whims. When he was editing Darjeeling, for instance, he convinced Fox Searchlight to rent him a suite at the Inn at Irving Place, an unmarked hotel on Gramercy Park designed to re-create an era of faded glamour that probably never actually existed. Given that Anderson owns a spacious loft in the East Village that doubles as a work space, and that the studio could have rented any number of generic editing rooms for significantly less money, the logic behind this could be considered questionable. “I remember walking in there and thinking, Man, only Wes would figure out a way to pull this off,” recalls the photographer Gregory Crewdson, who befriended Anderson at a dinner party four years ago. “There was the little guy behind the desk, the narrow wooden staircase leading up to the room—it was just perfect. In his films he creates a very particular and unmistakable world, and I guess you could say the same is true in his life.”
You need only watch a few frames of one of his movies to spot it as an Anderson production. Though he is originally from Texas, there is something distinctively European in his obsession with aesthetics: a belief that the way something looks is what dictates how it will make you feel. His impeccably composed wide-angle shots have the feeling of a childhood fantasy: wistful, more than a bit ridiculous, with a darkness creeping in at the edges. Pepper in some resurrected classic-rock songs; deadpan dialogue; themes of failure, nostalgia, and fractured families; and the result, at its best, is a world unto itself.