One of the unlikely mainstays of the season, since its world premiere as the opening night presentation of the Cannes Film Festival in May, has been Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom.” The filmmaker’s (lucky) seventh feature has generated plenty of awards season love and critical approval, picking up Independent Spirit Award nominations, a Gotham Awards trophy and critics awards recognition, and it appears likely to bring him his second Oscar nomination to date as screenwriter.
On a brief call before being whisked away on a location scout, Anderson speaks of these kinds of things as a crap shoot. “You spend all this time working on the thing and you do your best and you have absolutely no idea how it’s going to go over,” he says. “I’ve had the experience of thinking, ‘This one might really land with an audience,’ and then suddenly ‘x’ number of days after it comes out we realize, ‘Well, this is not going to happen this time.’ I’ve had movies where it did really well in the limited release and you go from 75 screens to 300 and by Saturday morning you know, ‘Well, that’s the end of it for this one. This is about where this one’s going to top out.’ It’s so much more fun to have a kind of good following for it. But it shouldn’t really be the end-all. You better be doing it because you love the movie yourself or you’re signing on for an extremely risky life.”
And in the case of “Moonrise Kingdom,” he was very much in love with the movie. It reads as perhaps his most personal work to date, an observation he doesn’t dispute, and he traces it back to one of his own experiences with young love.
“The thing that most strongly made me want to do this one,” he says, “was remembering being a fifth grader sitting at a desk in my school and not really being able to focus on reality because of this girl two rows over and three desks up, and what a spell that put on me — being blindsided by that experience. It’s just something that always stuck with me — and not having anything come of it at all — so I just wanted to make a story that was my fantasy of that age.”
So he set about, in some sense, duplicating the journey he would have taken had the proper sparks flew all those years ago. He cooked up something of a surrogate in Kahki Scout Sam (Jared Gillman), a misfit who meets the love of his young life in Suzy (Kara Hayward). Where Anderson’s bout of romance went nowhere, Sam’s takes flight, led by his own undying, endearing confidence and unique swagger. But like so much of this or any filmmaking experience, there were surprises in store for Anderson in the casting process.
“Neither one of them is particularly anything like what I might have pictured,” he says. “I guess I knew that I wanted them to feel like kids from real life, not from a movie. I wanted them to feel a bit like kids you might see in a documentary, even though our movie is more of a story book or something. I knew that this needed to be a girl who you believed was a non-stop reader and that she could have some kind of dark cloud over her, and I needed a boy who I felt like could be brave and kind of an adventurer and at the same time not accepted, really, by the guys around him.”
In the case of Hayward, Anderson first saw her audition on a “postage stamp-sized Quicktime” file after seeing thousands of other girls reading the same scene. “She just sounded like she was making it up herself,” he says. “It was definitely the first and only time where I saw somebody who did not seem to be reciting the same scene I had grown to hate. It was instead someone who appeared to be having a conversation with an off-screen person that was totally spontaneous and I thought immediately, ‘This has got to be the girl.'”
In the case of Gillman, the spark for Anderson really came after the audition, during an interview with the casting director that he watched. “I thought he was funny, and he looked so funny, and he had a good spirit [in the audition],” he says, “but in this conversation, he really made me laugh and was a real nut. So I was entertained by him.”
Nevertheless, as with all things, and the running theme here — Anderson had no Cassandra-like foresight on what the finished product would be. He knew the film he wanted to make and set out to accomplish that, but he was prepared for it to be a different shade, as his work across seven features has taught him.
“With any of these movies, I never look and say, ‘I didn’t make the movie I wanted to make,'” he says. “But I always have the feeling of, ‘This is nothing like what I had pictured.’ The mixture of everything always ends up being a surprise. It’s usually a discovery in the first dailies when you look and say, ‘Oh, so that’s what this recipe is like. We’ll see how this all goes along.'”
Well, on this one: so far so good.
“Moonrise Kingdom” is currently available on DVD/Blu-ray.