Interview med Ralph Fiennes omkring The Grand Budapest Hotel

Interviewet på engelsk er herunder.

Q and A follows:

Q: This role must have felt tailor made for you?
A: It felt like it was a near fit, but it needed a few adjustments – taking in, letting out. There were
definitely things in the part that I felt would work, that I felt close to. But then precisely the level
of how to play it, and everything, that had to be figured out. It’s a part that might lend itself to
overt theatricality and slightly sort of bored, possibly camp quality, which I wasn’t sure was right,
and when you read it, you didn’t know, ‘where can this go? Is it meant to be quite big and
broad? Or what is it?’ So a lot of the early discussions with Wes were to find out where it should
be, and he always wanted it to be quite simple, quite natural, but then he would know – he had
a great sense of his own comic timing and sense of rhythm, so it was an on-going dialogue, really.

Q: Did you watch previous Wes Anderson films as a guide for tone?
A: A little bit, yes. But you want to be present on the day, in the part. I don’t want to be trying to
act the sense of another film. I want to be in the part, in the present, and feel that I am Gustave,
whatever my sense of it is. The notes that he would give me, I would sometimes think, ‘Oh,
that’s a bit like those films.’ But I wanted to be present in the moment.

Q: Did he show you the animatic he had done as a pre-vis guide for the film? Was it helpful?
A: Yes, up to a point. Then I didn’t really want to see… it wasn’t that helpful. I mean I was
impressed by the preparation of it. I thought, ‘Oh that’s great. We’re in safe hands. He knows
this back to front. He knows inside out.’ And for all the crew, it was very useful. I know the first
AD, Josh Robertson, very well and he would say, ‘This is great. We’ve got a template.’ But I
didn’t really want to study them. They’re funny. They’re good! When they do the Wes Anderson
retrospective exhibition, or whatever, they will have them on display (laughs).

Q: Do you think you were selected because of your theatre background? It’s a very theatrical
A: Yes, a little bit, but I think Wes wrote this role with me in mind, apparently. But I don’t know
if it was because of theatre I think there’s an element of presentation, because Gustave is a bit
like an actor. I worked in a hotel many years ago, and there’s definitely a sense of backstage,
where the hotel staff work and eat and change their clothes and then they go through into the
hotel lobby or lounge, or whatever, and they’re on show.

Q: What did you do?
A: I worked at Brown’s Hotel in London, just before I started my course at drama school. I
started off as a house porter, which meant that I wore a white coat, I was under the authority of
the head housekeeper, and I had to change shower curtains, bedspreads, light bulbs, clean brass,
hoover endless corridors, and then occasionally, if they were short of staff, in the hall porters
department, which is the uniform thing, I was occasionally promoted to wear the Brown’s
uniform, and be a hall porter, and get tipped by Jack Palance (laughs).

Q: Did you ever go back and stay there?
A: I have stayed at Browns, yes. It’s been given a whole makeover now, it’s sort of been
modernised. Actually to be honest it was, I thought, very dreary. I think people liked it because they thought it was old English, it was all brown and green and dark purple, and it was
depressing. I think people paid to feel they were in an old English atmosphere, but it was just a
bit like an old pub. Now it’s been given a sort of chic and much more modernistic makeover. I
know that the actual lobby, tearoom, that’s intact, that’s the same. I should stress I’m talking
about the actual rooms. The actual lobby area seemed fine to me.

Q: Was the comedic element of your role part of the appeal for this?
A: Yeah, it was. I hoped it would be funny, and I needed Wes’s guidance if it was going to land.
They say comedy is the hardest thing and I think it is, especially without an audience, you feel
something might be funny but often you don’t know and it might just miss. Wes has finely
honed his sense of humour, his sense of comedy situation, and I think he really knows. You feel
him concentrating very hard on what he believes will be funny, what he invests in comically.
Often it’s a sort of thrown away thing. It’s often the opposite of the ‘Ha ha!’ It’s not that, it’s a
throw away, the things, the half thoughts that are thrown away and then it cuts. And like all
good comedy I suppose it’s rooted in some kind of reality, and truth. All the characters, they’re
all comic characters, I suppose you might say, but they’re all – especially in the hands of the
actors on this film, they’re so much more. I think Adrian Brody is brilliant as that guy – it’s
comedic but it’s sort of real. It’s the same with Edward Norton and everyone’s great. Comic
studies are sort of rooted in something that you recognise, I think.

Q: Wes’s company seems to be increasing. Can you see yourself returning?
A: I think it is a bit like theatre company, where the director forms a working relationship with
actors. You know, you love your actors. You love what they do and you want to have them back,
and it’s two way. The actors come back because there’s a mutual trust where people get the
opportunity to do something out of what they normally do, so I can see for someone like Tilda
(Swinton) it’s very satisfying. First she has a relationship with Wes and they just have a bond, but
on top of that, Tilda, who is exceptionally beautiful, gets to age up to 80 and play a character
part. That sort of proposition is very attractive if you have the bond with a director. It is like how
I imagine old theatre companies worked for many years. It’s always quite moving when you look
back and you see that they worked with that director for many, many years. I think Wes has
succeeded in creating the film equivalent of that. I hope I don’t get neglected in the next one

Q: How does working with Wes differ from working with other directors?
A: He’s the most precise, I think, maybe of anyone and he is looking for a very specific thing.
Someone like Fernando Meirelles, who is brilliant, is quite loose, he just wants you to be really,
really natural, and he just wants to explore how to shoot, and I think in Fernando’s head, it’s like,
‘In the editing, I will figure out what works.’ He just wants to shoot the **** out of a scene and
isn’t looking for anything stylised at all, so it feels very immediate, almost as documentaries in
that, ‘just behave, just be, we will shoot you.’ Whereas Wes shoots on wide lenses – so wide
that if I have to do a scene with you, and the camera’s next to you, and I need you for my
eyeline, if I look at your eyes, because of the wide lens, I’m looking way over there on film. So a
lot of the time we’re looking into the lens, talking to each other. And sometimes I’d say to Wes,
‘I need something, a bit of tape.’ And then I think one day I drew, for Tony, I drew a portrait of
Gustave, so when Tony had his close up I put it on the lens, so then that started a culture of
these tiny mini portraits on tape stuck just inside the lens, not on the lens obviously (laughs).

Q: Is that kind of precision ever restraining?
A: No. Once or twice, I gave voice to feeling like, ‘Not much room to move here, Wes.’ But often
I could see that the way he was constructing something and if one kicked against it, that was
going to be the negative thing, because he is building something very finely conceived. There
was one day when he wanted me to move to certain stipulated, pre-arranged place in a scene
and I tried to make it work, but actually all my instincts kicked so strongly on that one day that I
said, ‘I can’t find it. I feel like I’m making it happen to satisfy a preordained set of moves.’ And I
don’t think the scene required the moves, essentially. But having tried it, I did say, and he said,
‘Fine.’ He saw that there was a disconnect, and so we just kept it very simple.

Q: As a director yourself, were there any things you found inspiring about the way Wes
A: Well I like the considered-ness of what he does and I think the thing is his imagination is very
free and highly inventive, so that’s the spirit. And then that sort of counterpointed by this very
precise, quite ordered, possibly constrained world, but allied to what’s going on, that’s the sort
of magic I think. The invention is so fun and unusual.

Q: Did Wes request that everyone stay at the same hotel while you were making the film?
A: The best experiences that I’ve had as an actor have always been having the sense of a
company, a sense of ensemble. I think the worst experiences, or the least satisfying, I should say,
is when actors have been in their trailers and no one talks to each other, no-one has a meal
together. Everyone turns up in the morning on a film set and they all go to their trailers, they
might meet each other in make up, but that’s when you look at each other in the mirror, and
you go, ‘Hi. Morning!’ And someone is doing your make up. And then at the end of the day it’s a
wrap and everyone goes to their different cars and their different rooms or flats. So in a theatre
company you work together very closely, in dressing rooms you’re all very close, and just the
nature of rehearsal every week, means you’re close. You don’t have long rehearsals in films,
generally, so to be all in the same hotel, have an evening meal together, felt wonderful. I think
ahead of it I was worried and I didn’t know what this was going to be like, but actually I loved it,
and I could see why actors came back, because Wes creates this family atmosphere.

Q: How did it feel stepping out from behind the camera for this one?
A: Well I like being behind the camera, but it was also good just after shooting The Invisible
Woman, not to have to worry. ‘I’ll just be an actor. It’s all your problem.’ (Laughs). I like having
the problems, but it’s swings and roundabouts. Having just been through shooting and editing a
film, it was great to go on the set of someone who is so in control of their world and someone
who has a very strong sense of what they want to do. I loved it.
Q: Did you get the chance to explore Gorlitz while you were shooting there?
A: The odd day off at weekends, we’d walk around Gorlitz. Gorlitz is a sort of river that divides,
runs through Gorlitz actually is the border that divides Germany and Poland, so you can walk
and have lunch in Poland. You can walk across a bridge and have bigos (a traditional meat and
cabbage stew), then come back.

Q: So Polish food is better than German food?
A: Ah you see! You can’t trust anyone! I give you a good quote and you twist it (laughs).

Q: Can you talk about working with Tony?
A: Tony was amazingly prepared. He knew his part inside out, back to front, on the day that I
arrived. He is the sweetest guy and great to work with. It was wonderful to see him – he started
off reasonably confident, but I could see him getting it, as Gustave says, ‘He gets it.’ In terms of
the comic nuances, the little things with timing that he was picking up from Wes. He’s
beautifully cast, I think, in it. He has a lovely openness as a young man. We bonded, I feel: we’re
brothers now (laughs).

Q: Did you feel like a mentor?
A: Yes, sometimes, I felt I could offer up something, but you don’t want to be patronising. It’s
quite an interesting thing to work out. There has to be mutual respect, and then perhaps I can
say something that is helpful. I have huge respect for Tony. We’d sit and do our lines together.
We kept running the lines, even three or four weeks before we’d shoot the scene, we would riff
the lines. He would suddenly start them out of the blue, to see. So we constantly had it ready.
I’m full of admiration for his performance.

Q: what was the most fun thing to do?
A: There were so many great scenes I looked forward to playing. Doing the escape stuff was
really fun to do. And with Harvey [Keitel] there, too, in the mix, doing all this, that was really
great – going down that chute into the laundry basket and tap tapping under the table. And we
all bonded. It’s funny, the situation in the film, we all bonded, the five of us, as escapees. We
had our little sort of brotherhood going. It was fun and if you’ve seen it, Harvey is Harvey in it.
Actually as Gustave, I wasn’t required to be part of this method experiment, which was that
Harvey insisted – strongly felt – that he and the other guys should spend a night together in the
cell on the set, with no heating, and tell stories and everything. That was kind of their method,
which Harvey organised, but Gustave wasn’t included (laughs).

Q: What did Wes think of that? He doesn’t seem very method.
A: No, no, Wes loves all that. I mean, Wes wants his actors to be as method as they can be, as
long as they fit into the Wes plan. And that’s what everyone is there for, so I think it’s that thing
of the highly organised world and filmmaking process he has, he wants the spirits and
imaginative life of all the actors to really be there. He doesn’t want to constrain that at all.

Q: What do you think about the darker aspects lurking in the background of the story?
A: I realised that, and I hoped it would kick the film into… it’s funny, and I think it’s very brilliant,
and probably owes a lot to (Ernst) Lubitsch and something like To Be or Not to Be, the
heightened physical comedy at the climax of this film when all the officers are shooting at each
other across the lobby, and you’ve established this sort of pastiche SS idea – black banners, Nazi
idea – and so I think that’s very, to me, dramatically and comedically potent, in that it’s doing
one thing and doing another thing at the same time. And I think that’s very effective at getting
people to think. So at the end of the film when Zero is nearly arrested by this sort of SS style
death squad and Gustave stands up, it has a really strong effect. And because the film isn’t busy
being meaningful about that, it’s very light, so then I think it has a stronger punch, and also the audience discover it. Nothing in the style of that film makes you think it’s going to go to that place, so when it does go to that place, it’s a surprise.

Q: Was the relevance in light of modern concerns about refugees ever discussed, or was it just
A: No. Wes is interesting, he acknowledges that it’s there but I don’t think he wants to engage.
It’s enough for him that it’s there. To sort of open it up and deconstruct it, or talk about it at
length, is not his way. Wes would rather you just figure it out, and not overanalyse it. He’d
written this from his imagination, and he’s let it go through him, and I think that’s the beauty of
what he’s doing – he’s not sort of intellectually trying to write an essay, to make a point. I think it
comes through him in a very pure, imagined way, and the references, The World Of Yesterday,
the Stefan Zweig book. He said to me, ‘You should read Stefan Zweig, these two books, Beware
of Yesterday and The World of Yesterday.’ And with Thee World of Yesterday, I could see where
Stefan Zweig’s description of the beginning of the first world war and the stopping of the trains
and how hard it was to get across frontiers, that I think is the background to the train sequences
(in The Grand Budapest Hotel). But also Stefan Zweig’s descriptions of not really taking Hitler
seriously, and the rise of fascism, until suddenly it’s on his doorstep, is not overtly in the film but
I think that last moment in black and white where the train stops and there are the black
uniforms – and Wes might contradict me – I feel that’s rooted in Zweig describing how ‘suddenly
one day there were these people here in different uniforms telling us what to do. Suddenly I
wasn’t the free person I used to be..’ Or, ‘I’ve been slow to see how the man in the street who
always nodded to me, suddenly cut me dead.’ It’s a fantastic book.

Q: Did anything else inform your performance?
A: Well there’s a mutual friend of Wes’s and mine, who is a little bit Gustave like, so we would
refer to this gentleman, who came to visit the set in fact, so he was part of the mix.
Q: Did he know that he was the inspiration?
A: Oh yeah, he loves it! (laughs). If you met him, you would see after a few minutes of
conversation. But I’m not doing an impression of him – it’s sort of bits. Also Wes gave me The
Red Shoes, to look at because there’s a sort of old world precision in Anton Walbrook’s
performance in that film and I’ve always loved his acting, so that was sort of there as a vibe or
energy. It’s hard to explain what you bring, and often it’s just an interior sense of something and
it becomes the character. It mattered to me that the clothes were as neat and precise as
possible. I kept on obsessively straightening my bow-tie (laughs).

Q: Can you identify any characteristics of Wes in your character?
A: I can’t off the top of my head. There’s nothing about Wes, the man that I know, in terms of
physical, vocal, or attitude, except, funnily enough, Wes’s very beautiful obsession with
everything being correct. I think there’s a bit of that in Gustave. In his monologues to Zero about
‘you can be seen but not in sight’ all these paradoxical things, ‘you must never breathe a word
about what they’re like.’ This little speech at the beginning saying what defines a lobby boy,
saying, ‘You must anticipate the guests’ needs before they even know that they want
something,’ and so there’s a sort of highly defined, almost Japanese precision about that, and I
think Wes’s very, very fine sensibility and his precision is in Gustave.

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