'Moonrise Kingdom' director Wes Anderson on its box office record and casting his young leads

Wes-Anderson

Image Credit: Niko Tavernise

When Moonrise Kingdom opened last weekend, the sweet coming-of-age dramedy — about two lovesick 12-year-olds who run away on a remote New England island in 1965 — set a new per-theater-average record for a live-action film ($130K over four locations). If the film keeps up this pace as it expands into other markets over the month of June, it could very well surpass The Royal Tenenbaums as director Wes Anderson’s highest grossing film ever.

So we just had to ring up the idiosyncratic filmmaker to find out his reaction to the per-screen-average record, as well as how his now-13-year-old leads Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman have been handling their sudden stardom, what it was about the actors that led Anderson to cast them, and, just for fun, what it was like designing all those maps of the film’s fictitious setting of New Penzance Island.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you end up hearing how well the film opened?
WES ANDERSON: Gee, I’m not so sure. The studio emails us minute-to-minute reports literally saying, “At the Union Square 14 2 p.m. screening, we did this many sales.” That is not necessarily the most easy thing in the world for me to interpret. But anyway, everybody seems to feel we had a very strong opening weekend, but only on four screens, so hopefully it will grow.

How well are Jared and Kara taking all of this, from the Cannes premiere all the way to this past weekend’s record opening?
I was with them in Cannes, but I haven’t talked to them since we left Cannes, so I’m not sure if they’re in the loop. I’m sure somebody’s telling them how it’s doing and everything. But these guys were middle school students when we met, and then they were kind of thrust into being professionals — not just being actors but being under-age laborers, 12-year-olds who suddenly have a job, and they’ve gotta show up to work every morning.

This was their first audition, not just their first time they were cast. By the time we were halfway through the movie, I remember kind of registering, “Now they are completely comfortable with this whole routine of what happens in front of the camera.” They bring a particular discipline, in a way, because they memorized the script much more accurately and completely than anyone else. They’re the ones where when somebody messes up, they can always say to Bill Murray, “Here is your line.” So hopefully they’re continuing to have a good time.

What did each of them do to clinch the roles?
With Jared, it was more the interview between him and our casting director. He really made me laugh, and I like his voice. He was just funny. With Kara Hayward, she played the scene, which I’d seen performed a thousand times by then, and I just felt like she was making up the dialogue. It was a scene that was not fresh to me by that point, and she really just seemed completely spontaneous, and that had not happened with anybody up to that point. So in both cases I felt, “I think we’ve got it.” And it was quite instantaneous.

SPOILER ALERT: SKIP THE NEXT QUESTION IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM

At one point in the film, the kids share their first kiss on a pebble beach while dressed in their underwear. I was really taken with that scene — it had such sweetness and maturity. How did you go about shooting it?
We didn’t shoot it until the end of the movie. So they really were kind of professionals by then. But they were also 12-year-olds. They had not kissed anyone before. We didn’t rehearse the scene. We rehearsed the blocking of it a bit and what they they needed to do. I knew we were gonna have to shoot the scene very quickly because we didn’t want to start shooting until the sun had gone down, so [we had] however much time you’ve got — 40 minutes — from when the sun goes down to when you lose the light completely.

We only had three people on the set other than them. Everybody else was somewhere else. The pressure of making the movie was over. They had done it. So this was a scene we sort of saved. And we knew this location very well — this little cove. There was a strange mist also, which was an odd atmosphere that was just what was there that evening. But then beyond that, I really felt like we were just sort of the audience, and they were playing this scene, and they had their own relationship by then and their own whole approach. I sometimes felt like I was watching a documentary of these kids playing these scenes. There’s something a little more authentic, at least from a director’s point of view, about watching people this young when they’re playing a scene. There’s something very natural about child actors once they’ve kind of got a handle on it.

I’m personally kind of a map fiend, so I’m very curious how you went about designing the maps for the fictitious New Penzance Island? 
That’s the kind of thing I think I drive some people bananas with the process. I actually have a good group of people who are used to me. And now I kind of realize, “Okay, we want to make the maps. This is probably gonna take forever.” That’s exactly what happened, getting lots of reference and starting to make maps and just getting it wrong a countless number of times. It’s weird because you’d think that you could make a fake island and map it, and it would be a simple enough matter, but to make it feel like a real thing, it just always takes a lot of attention. And it’s quite fun also. The movie has a lot of different things like that. It has maps, and it has books, and it has watercolor paintings and needle-points, and a lot of different things that we had to make. And all these things just take forever, but I feel like even if they don’t get that much time [on screen], you kind of feel whether or not they’ve got the layers of the real thing in them.

Read more:
The best Wes Anderson soundtrack songs
EW Review: ‘Moonrise Kingdom’
Cannes 2012: Wes Anderson and the Americans take over

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