Ever since his 1996 directorial debut Bottle Rocket, which featured tracks from The Rolling Stones (‘2000 Man’) and Love (‘7 And 7 Is’, ‘Alone Again Or’), music has been an integral part of Wes Anderson’s movies. That remains the case with his star-studded eleventh film Asteroid City, not least because Jarvis Cocker and Brazilian artist Seu Jorge both feature and contribute music to the 1950s-set comedy-drama.
NME got the chance to chat music and film with Anderson at the Cannes Film Festival last month.
NME: Not only did you co-write ‘Dear Alien (Who Art In Heaven)’ with Richard Hawley and Jarvis Cocker, Cocker also plays one of the cowboys in Asteroid City. How did that come about?
Wes Anderson: “Well, Jarvis was in Fantastic Mr. Fox: he did a song and was an animated character. He then covered ‘Aline’, a French pop song, for The French Dispatch, and we used his image in the movie as this French pop star. I’ve been friends with Jarvis for pushing 20 years. But in terms of the singing cowboys in Asteroid City, we had Rupert Friend playing Montana. We built it around Rupert, but we also have a French banjo player and a Spanish bass player… so we ended up with a completely international group of cowboys, none of whom are American. Including Seu Jorge, who is a Brazilian pop star!”
You previously worked with Seu Jorge on The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, where he covered David Bowie’s ‘Starman’…
“In the script, we described this character [Pelé dos Santos] as singing a David Bowie song in Portuguese. But when it came time to do the movie, we suddenly realised we wanted to have [Jorge] do 12 David Bowie songs in Portuguese, and so we wove him into the whole movie. That was great: I mean, he took over! He reinvented these David Bowie songs he didn’t know – he hadn’t heard these songs, so he made his own versions of them. I didn’t realise until three-quarters of the way through shooting the movie: I thought he had just translated the lyrics into Portuguese! He had completely rewritten them. So I was like, ‘What are you singing?’ I had no idea what any of it meant, and I still don’t entirely, but it was much more abstract than what I thought. But he was wonderful.”
You’ve worked with composer Alexandre Desplat on a number of your films. Do you two share a creative kinship?
“He did Fantastic Mr. Fox, and we’ve done every movie together since then. He’s a composer who can work in any genre of music, I think, more or less. I mean, I wouldn’t ask him to write a pop song, but he can write for an orchestra or he can write for a New Orleans jazz combo. We did a score with mostly taiko drumming for Isle of Dogs, and he was just excited to dig into that. The banjo was not an instrument that he was particularly enthusiastic about before we worked at it, but we’ve used banjos again and again because he’ll try anything.”
Do you have a methodology when it comes to using music in your work?
“Well, sometimes there’s music in the script, or there’s music in the plan of the movie. Sometimes, we’re shooting a thing with an idea for how it’s going to be scored. There’s a Who song [‘A Quick One, While He’s Away’] that we built a sequence around in Rushmore, for instance, that’s a recording from The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, and I wrote the sequence to the music. Sometimes, I plan the shots and I can’t get it to work until I have some music to help shape it. But then a lot of music comes in the cutting room, and you feel out what belongs. With Asteroid City, the songs in the movie… aside from the opening titles and the very end, the rest of the music is theoretically playing on a radio or playing somewhere in this town. That’s the kind of thing you normally figure out later.”
Is there any song you’ve not been able to get the rights to?
“There were some Beatles songs that we planned to use in The Royal Tenenbaums. We had planned to use ‘Hey Jude’ and we ended up making an instrumental version of it, but it was supposed to be the real song [by] The Beatles. We then had a similar circumstance with The Darjeeling Limited: we had three Beatles songs that were part of the thing, but we didn’t get permission. But by the time [we knew this], I had found some other music.”
You used Peter Sarstedt’s ‘Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?’ in The Darjeeling Limited. Was it an old favourite of yours?
“I didn’t know it until the summer before. Darjeeling Limited had a short film in front of it, Hotel Chevalier, that’s built around this piece of music in a way. I heard this music in a summer setting: it was English people who were playing it and knew the song, and I’d never heard the song in my life and I was really taken with it. I think I started writing [the film] based on this, I was inspired by this song. It had nothing to do with what I was writing about, but it set some mood.”
Wes Anderson (Picture: Serge Arnal / Press)
Do you find putting music to images to be fun?
“It’s such a fun part, and so much emotion comes into a movie with music. When the pictures and the music come together, you never quite know what the chemistry is going to be. Sometimes it really surprises you with something that is just arresting.”
Have you ever wanted to direct a silent movie?
“I have to say, I did not grow up watching silent films. I wasn’t watching silent films when I was discovering the world of cinema and watching movies from all over the world. I mean, I saw Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin… but it’s only in the last 10 years, maybe, that I’ve become more interested.”
Asteroid City is in cinemas today (June 23)