Wes Anderson in Conversation - A Journey Through American Cinema

American film director Wes Anderson was on stage in a sold-out Sala Petrassi at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome on Monday evening to present the Italian release of his latest film Fantastic Mr. Fox. The immensely entertaining stop-motion movie was preceded by an interview conducted by Antonio Monda and Mario Sesti, hosts of Viaggio nel cinema americano (A Journey Through American Cinema) – a regular series of interviews with Hollywood actors and directors, in which guests chat in a relaxed way between clips from their movies. Monday's encounter was actually their 28th interview and marked a return visit for Anderson who had also appeared in 2004 – and true to form, Sesti and Monda once again asked a minimum of pertinent questions and let their guest - one of contemporary cinema's most interesting directors and an auteur in the truest sense of the word – to chat freely.

Questioned about the reoccurring motif of family relationships in all his films, the director - who tends to use a core pool of actors and friends - replied that whilst starting work on a new film it does feel rather like a reunion of sorts, but that his intention is always that of NOT making another film about family! As if to further underline a sense of friendship and complicity, however, three people involved in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (filmed at Cinecittà in Rome) happened to be present - the interviewer Antonio Monda had actually had a small part in the movie and both the costume designer and the set designer were sitting in the audience. We were treated to a heartbreaking underwater scene from that film in which almost the entire stellar cast are seen sitting inside Zissou's Beatles-like yellow submarine accompanied by the haunting notes of Staralfur by Sigur Ros. Anderson talked about his childhood love of Jacques Cousteau, the obvious inspiration behind the Bill Murray character in the film, and the somewhat complicated dealings between the Disney studio and the late explorer and filmmaker's family who eventually insisted that both a thank you and disclaimer be added to the credits.

Monda and Sesti are always particularly good at prising anecdotes about actors from the directors they interview (and likewise about directors from the actors). This was the case with Wes Anderson after we were shown a street scene from his 2001 movie The Royal Tenenbaums in which Anjelica Huston strikes Gene Hackman (for real, apparently, leaving a red mark across his face). Was everybody on set really terrified of Gene Hackman? they asked, which led to a wonderfully revealing discussion about Hackman's working methods. He wasn't happy working outside in the cold, with all the surrounding noise and distractions, and was also furious with the paparazzi buzzing round the set. However, after filming that particular scene in a state of extreme tension, once it was in the can and the actor was assured that he'd done a good job, he then relaxed and even gave Anderson a birthday present – a pair of braces emblazoned with falcons (because he disapproved of the director wearing his trousers low). Priceless!

Wes Anderson is a wonderfully unique director so it was interesting to hear him name some of his own favourite American directors and those he saw as having best recounted America – John Huston, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese were on the list and he then added Mike Nichols and Peter Bogdanovich – one got the impression that he may well have continued adding names indefinitely if time had allowed. He also stressed the influence and importance of Roman Coppola (with whom he co-wrote The Darjeeling Limited) and Noah Baumbach (co-writer on The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) on his work and mentioned his respect for the work of namesake and immediate contemporary Paul Thomas Anderson.

With two clips from the The Darjeeling Limited – inspired in part by the films of Satyajit Ray – and another clip from Anderson's 1998 film Rushmore – completing the evening, this was a both fascinating and entertaining encounter. Time constraints allowed for only a couple of questions from the floor – asked about the making of the short film Hotel Chevalier which played alongside The Darjeeling Limited he joked: I think I'd like to make a short film for all my movies...just to confuse things even more! Well deserved applause closed the interview as his fans gathered below the stage where he signed numerous autographs, before the lights dimmed for Fantastic Mr. Fox, which in its turn, was also met with rapturous applause as the final credits rolled.

Photo © Auditorium Parco della Musica