Movie miniaturist Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore) expands his horizons in The Darjeeling Limited, in which three estranged American brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman) broaden their horizons during a railway journey across India. Owen Wilson’s reported suicide attempt seems to echo his self-destructive character in the film, but Anderson, who spoke to me by phone while promoting the movie’s selection as the opening-night feature at the New York Film Festival, says the character was based more on himself and traces the project’s origin to the desire of its screenwriters (Anderson, Schwartzman, and Schwartzman cousin Roman Coppola) to make something intensely personal. They started by making a 13-minute film, “Hotel Chevalier,” that you can now download for free on iTunes.
What’s up with the distribution of “Hotel Chevalier” over the internet? Why isn’t it attached to the feature in theaters?
I had written the opening scene of Darjeeling, and then I wrote the short. Then I asked Jason and Roman if they wanted to work with me on the script. As we got going, I realized that Jason’s character in the short was the same character in the feature, and I started linking them together. And then we made the short a year before we shot the feature.
In the short, you see Natalie Portman put a little box inside the suitcase, and in the feature, he takes it out, and it’s a bottle of perfume.
Well, when we shot the short, we didn’t know what was in the box. So it wasn’t very preconceived. It just came together that way, and it evolved.
When it was all done, I didn’t want to incorporate the short into the movie. But I couldn’t decide how I wanted it to go. I wanted to play the short in front of the movie, but not always. Sometimes I preferred to watch the movie without the short. It became a puzzle to me. So in the end I decided that I would like to have the movie open in America without the short, but I would like people to have access to it if they want to see it first. So we put the short on iTunes. After a month, I’d like to feel it out and maybe add the short back to the feature. And it’ll definitely be on the DVD. Different people will see it in different ways, but I like that because they both stand on their own. At the same time, the feature kind of requires the short. Ideally, I wouldn’t mind if people watched the short and went to the movie the next day, or later that afternoon. I don’t know if they’re made to go right from one into the other.
It’s too bad the exhibitors can’t just put in an intermission.
Right. It’s tough to convince people to take a break after 10 minutes.
Why did you want to make the movie in India?
We set the movie in India because I had a longstanding fascination with this place. These characters have their laminated itineraries for their spiritual journey, and the place to go when you’re going to have a pre-programmed experience like that, India’s got to be on the top of that place. There’s more varied religions, more ritual going on in India than anyplace else in the world.
I wanted to work there even before we had our story because I’m so enamored of the place. I love it there. It’s a place where I feel very foreign but also very welcome, where I’m continually surprised. You’ll look around and something makes you laugh, or it strikes you in a way that’s very moving. It’s just very intense, that place. Which is why foreigners who visit, it often becomes a big part of their lives. I’ve been four times. The last time I went was when they were shooting.
How do you think Indian viewers will respond?
My movies get mixed reviews everywhere, and I can’t imagine that they won’t get mixed reviews in India, too.
How’s Owen Wilson doing these days?
I talk to him all the time. He’s doing very well.
He suffers similar vehicle smash-ups in Darjeeling and in the Royal Tenenbaums. Is there something about him that leads you to create these self-destructive characters for him?
The character that he’s playing in this movie — I was like Francis. There’s a degree to which we wrote the character for me. We just knew that the guy who was actually going to bring it to life was Owen. But that was never really part of the equation.