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Daniel Day-Lewis spoke with poet, Eileen Myles in this 2002 interview. Photography by Terry Richardson.
 

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  JERRY HALL
STEPHANIE SEYMORE
MARC JACOBS
  ASIA ARGENTO
DENNIS HOPPER
ABEL FERRARA
BRIAN WILSON
WILL OLDHAM
DJ SPOOKY

Wes Anderson/Owen Wilson, 1996

WITH MARIA ISOLA


You and your friend are 21-year-old movie fanatics, dreaming of some day doing a film. You make a short and it ends up at the Sundance Film Festival. Before you know it, Columbia Pictures is throwing millions of dollars your way to make a feature. You're directing James Caan. You're wheeling and dealing with producer James L. Brooks (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Simpsons, Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News) and telling production designer David Wasco (Pulp Fiction, El Norte) how the movie should look. You even get to star your brothers and your friends in it. It may sound like dreaming, but it really happened to a couple of boys from Texas. Bottle Rocket, to be released in theaters this month, is their offhand comedy about friendship, dreams, and an impossible heist. Dignan (Owen Wilson), is the determined aspiring thief, Anthony (Luke Wilson) is his reluctant accomplice. Mr. Henry (James Caan) is their mysterious guru. Road trips and petty crime distract them from everyday banality, as they work their way up to a ridiculously elaborate but hopelessly botched robbery. According to director Wes Anderson, all the characters "inhabit a world about five degrees removed from reality." Here, Anderson, who also co-wrote the screenplay, and actor/co-writer Owen Wilson tell tales of their maiden voyage into Hollywood.


MARIA: How does a first time director get to work with James Caan?
WES: We ended up having the same agent and we kept hearing stories about him which resembled the character, who is very eccentric. We wanted someone like him for Mr. Henry's role.

MARIA: He is thuggish, but offbeat.
WES: Rights, he's got this Zen thing and the Asian guy who played his business manager in the movie is actually Caan's karate master. We hadn't cast that part, but we heard about him, and wanted him. He does all sorts of strange things, like pound his own hands and feet with a sledge hammer to build up the bone from the hairline fractures. So they become weapons, like a rock.

MARIA: And Caan is really into martial arts, too?
WES: Absolutely. One time he knocked on my hotel door at 11pm, as I was asleep, but he was really up, and had these ideas for a scene we were going to shoot in five days. He wanted to throw the character on the floor and do all this weird karate stuff. So he starts demonstrating. He pulls me in front of the mirror - he is an extremely physical guy - and here I am in the middle of the room, in the dark, in my bathrobe, and he puts me in all these different holds, and he's throwing me around for about half an hour.

MARIA: Of course you have to keep your actors happy.
WES: Yeah, but at the same time that it's weird, I'm also totally interested in everything he has to say.
OWEN: When we first met Caan, we wanted to put him at ease, so next thing you know he has me demonstrating some karate moves, one of which was to try to strangle him. So he keeps saying 'c'mon strangle me harder,' so I'm pressing on his neck, and then he just knocks my hands away. I thought it was the most obvious thing, if someone is strangling you, to knock his hands away. You don't have to know karate! But everybody was like, 'Oh, my God, that's just incredible!"

MARIA: Did he also have lots of ideas for the movie?
OWEN: Oh, he had lots of ideas, but no prima donna stuff. He would invite us to his trailer and tell us stories about working on The Godfather.

MARIA: You were basically inexperienced, and suddenly plunged into the lead role in a big feature - how did you know what you were supposed to do?
OWEN: I had performed a little before, although I have never taken acting classes. I am hesitating to say this, but I don't think there's much to acting. Wait, that sounds horrible. No, it's difficult to be a good actor. about working on The Godfather.

MARIA: Was Dignan's character a big stretch?
OWEN: Dignan is sort of childlike in his enthusiasm and energy. He doesn't censor himself. He has little boy ideas about what it is to be a criminal.

MARIA: It's not an adult reality. He was into organizing things the way a kid would.
OWEN: Yeah, like in The Adventures of Huck Finn, when Tom Sawyer comes to get Jim out, he can't just open the door. He makes them dig a tunnel under the house and do all this stuff they got from The Count of Monte Christo. So Dignan has the same things, where it's not just doing it, it's the style you do it in.

MARIA: It's more like the idea of the ritual.
OWEN: Right, it's not the amount of money you're getting out of the robbery, it's the process.

MARIA: There are lots of funny parts.
OWEN: So you liked some of the jokes?

MARIA: Yes, like when Anthony gets ready to rob the warehouse and he goes over these totally ridiculous preparatory, frame-by-frame, flip-book sketches of the character pole vaulting over the security wall.
OWEN: Oh, good. I'm glad you liked that..But did I answer your question?

MARIA: About acting for the first time.
OWEN: Oh, yes, well, it was made easier by the fact that it was a comfortable situation. It was a big crew, but I saw friends and relatives everywhere.

MARIA: What about all the minor oddball characters, weren't some just friends from home?
WES: Yeah, the Indian safecracker is from Dallas, and he spins plates and juggles, some of which was in the movie, but had to be cut.

MARIA: How long did this entire project take?
WES: It took almost five years, including the short.

MARIA: Did Brooks have a lot of changes from what you had envisioned?
WES: We thought we would just tell him about the movie, and then just go and shoot it (laughs). Of course it was much more complicated. After screening the short at Sundance, we had a reading of the script for Brooks and Polly Platt, who was the producer on location. It was 130 pages printed, but it was this really tiny typeface, and we realized it was a four-hour movie. The reading went on forever!

MARIA: Were they beginning to look worried?
WES: Not really, or at least they hid it well. Owen and I cut it down at the Sundance labs. Then we went to L.A. in February '93 and had a another reading with actors.

MARIA: When did you move there from Dallas?
WES: Shortly after that. The studio put us up in a hotel for eight months.

MARIA: When a studio is involved to that extent, what kind of agreement do you have - any guarantee?
WES: At that point we had a contract that guaranteed money, but not that the movie would be made.

MARIA: How do two people write a script together? Were you ever at each others' throats?
WES: Actually, it was fairly civilized. But we worked with lots of different producers, and they each had criticisms, so we would end up on the same side - angry at them.

MARIA: What was the biggest surprise in the process?
WES: The main one was how much time it took. I would go up to Brooks and ask 'are you going to do this or that?' 'Is it going to be yes or no?' They won't really answer you, because they haven't decided and don't want to say anything.

MARIA: The movie has a very particular, spare and clean look. How did you find the production designer?
WES: We met David Wasco through Quentin Tarantino, who had seen the short and liked it. He was very helpful. I wanted the setting to look black and white, and really control the colors. Wasco set up this great art department in an auto shop in Dallas, where the film was shot. He covered it with all these photos of paintings, mostly Hockneys and Gauguins for the color. Also, the director of photography used a 27mm lens for the entire movie which is unusual. That's how we got the great depth of focus and everything looking very crisp. That, the primary colors, the jagged movements, and the odd props were ideas we had before.

MARIA: The props are strange. How do they fit in with the story?
WES: They're from circa 1975 to 1978, when we were age eight or ten, which is a bit where the mindset of the characters is. So it's not the trendy 70's stuff, but just what we had around as kids. There's all this commando stuff, like bulky boy scout binoculars, big old digital watches with the bright LED readouts, and those yellow jumpsuits.

MARIA: The music also sets a certain offbeat mood which is really great.
WES: That's Mark Mothersbaugh, who was the guy with glasses in Devo. He is very strange, but I really like him. Our original plan was to do all existing songs, like this Ennio Morricone stuff from the 60's, which is like Doris Day but Italian. And the music from the Charlie Brown Christmas Special- but we couldn't get the rights to any of it. I had a big feud with the Charlie Brown guy, who would not let me communicate with Charles Schultz. But Mothersbaugh saw the movie scored with that stuff, and used it as a template.
OWEN: Another central idea was that, with all these movies about young people being so cynical, we wanted to do something different. The characters are not trying to act cool or jaded. They have a great enthusiasm and vitality, even though it is misplaced in a life of crime.

MARIA: Did either of your backgrounds prepare you for any of this?
OWEN: Not really. Wes and I met at the University of Texas at Austin. I had gone to a military academy after I got kicked out of private school in Dallas when I was in 10th grade.

MARIA: Did your parents make you go there?
OWEN: It was actually my own decision (laughs). And it was really terrifying - people screaming at you the whole time. Actually three Pulitzer Prize winners went there, and Sam Donaldson. But in these horrible situations you can make good friends and find yourself laughing really hard at things because they are so horrible.
WES: I had done a little stuff for the local cable access channel, but my first 16mm. was the Bottle Rocket short. I was going to go to Columbia Film School - they had Scorsese, and Milos Forman, and it sounded really good, but then I got caught up with the movie. They still have my $100 Deposit to keep my place - I've tried really hard to get it back, but it's non-refundable.
OWEN: Maybe you'll end up back there after all as a director.
WES: Yeah, and then maybe I can get my $100 back.


 
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Owen Wilson in the film Bottle Rocket, 1996
 
 
 
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