Review for Two: Wes and Anjelica

Wes Anderson and Anjelica Huston Discuss Magical Film Moments and the Late Bob Graham

Anjelica Huston has been muse to some of the great artists of the 20th century. David Bailey recently produced a monograph of pictures of her; Helmut Newton was enthralled by her; she and Jack Nicholson were a couple for 17 years; her father John Huston directed her to an Oscar in Prizzi’s Honor; and her husband Robert Graham created stunning portraits of her in paper and in clay. In the last decade whiz-kid auteur Wes Anderson has taken up that mantle, casting Huston as the recurring mother figure in The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited. NOWNESS invited Anderson to interview Huston, and true to offbeat form, he adapted old Paris Review interview questions for the occasion.
Wes Anderson: This is from the interview of Robert Lowell: Did it help you that you had intellectual and literary figures in your family?

Anjelica Huston: Yes, I think it gave me a context in which to talk about my life. I don’t know that my grandfather was a very literary figure but he certainly chased the literate, and I think I did too. I love well-read people. My father was very well-read.

WA: Yes, practically every movie that he directed was based on a book.

AH: Yes. My mother, too, was incredibly well-read—she gave me Colette at the age of 13, which I always thought was good training for a mother.

WA: This one is from an interview with Ray Bradbury: “You are self-educated, aren’t you?”

AH: I am pretty much. Although other people attempted to educate me, [they] just weren’t successful.

WA: Who tried the most to educate you in their way?

AH: Mother Mary Borgia at the Sisters of Mercy Convent School for Girls.

WA: Ah, in your Irish youth.

AH: My Irish youth—another life.

WA: To paraphrase from the interview with Elizabeth Hardwick: “If you could say what was particularly interesting about your life with Bob, what would it be—the spirit of it, or technical literary matters?” 

AH: I would say definitely the spirit of it. Although I think Bob was a technician as well as having a great spirit and having—dare I say it—a gift from God. I think, definitely, the thing about him was the spark of originality, and his unique personality, which wasn’t like anyone else I’ve ever met in my entire life.

WA: No, me neither. I’ve never known anyone who was doing something so delicate and personal with substances that were so frightening. You know, these molten things, coated with poisonous patinas…

AH: Which may have killed him in the long run. I have a strong suspicion that all those patinas sooner or later got into his lungs and changed his body chemistry. And also, I used to wonder just what Bob did in his studio. Is he really the guy who sculpts those women? Because at breakfast he was another guy. Then he’d go over to that studio on his morning assignation, which was generally quite early, in his very starched shirt. And he’d go off and get lost for the day. It was quite mysterious to me, the whole technical aspect of the thing. But then, once I worked for him, the impact was so immense we were both shaking. We had to go open the window and take long breaths.  

WA: From an interview with Susan Sontag: “Yeats said famously that one must choose between the life and the work. Do you think that is true?”

AH: Mm. I think men feel this more than women. Because women’s lives are often their work, particularly women who raise children, the work is incorporated into the life. For men there is that separation of thinking and feeling. For men the work has a lot to do with thinking it out. 

WA: From the interview with Christopher Isherwood: “Which of your books gave you the greatest trouble to write?” So, which film, either directing or acting, was the most difficult?

AH: The first one I ever did with my dad, A Walk With Love and Death, was really difficult. Then… another one that was really hard… I don’t want to say your movies! [They laugh.] Each one has its own little pocket of hardness, you know? One sort of has to expect that, which is hard to do—it’s like knowing you’re going have your teeth cleaned.

WA: Right. I find the same thing. Life Aquatic was difficult. Looking back now I think that was just the hardest one to do by far—we were over schedule and all sorts of things like that—but we had such great days.

AH: I know. There was a dreamlike quality to making that movie. I have this tremendous affection for moments of that movie, like the beach in Sabaudia. All of us living in that little hotel. I could have lived there forever. It was so atmospheric, that movie. Darjeeling was hard for me, even though it looked like the easiest.

WA: Well, for one thing you arrived at the end of this vast experience and were dropped right into the middle of it.

AH: True. That can be a great thing, though. That happened to me on Lonesome Dove—I joined in for the last three weeks after these guys had gone through all the hardships in west Texas and I got the little accent at the end of it.

WA: Another question from the Isherwood interview: "Have you any superstitions about…" let’s just say acting?

AH: I don’t leave a hat on the bed. You don’t say the name “Macbeth” without turning around three times and spitting, which I now have to do.

WA: Well, we’ll say the Scottish play. But, you’d better turn around now in fact.

AH: Hold on a minute. [Pause.] OK, I sort of reserved the spit.

WA: Here’s one from the Hemingway interview: “Are the hours of the actual writing process pleasurable?” I remember Gene Hackman saying to me during Royal Tenenbaums that he doesn’t enjoy being on a movie set. He doesn’t enjoy any part of it except the moments between “action” and “cut,” which he loves.

AH: I’d have to agree with Gene Hackman. It is the time spent between “action” and “cut.” That’s the great moment. Although it can be a moment of great horror and disappointment, but rarely if you are prepared. Working with a good actor, it’s magic, it can be so fantastic. Working with Gene Hackman, by the way, was fantastic.

WA: From Tom Stoppard: “What happens on the first night? Do you sit among the audience or in a concealed spot in the back, and what do you do afterwards?” I guess that is, how do you feel at the premiere of one of your own films, or, how do you handle it?

AH: Well, the premiere, for me, is the last night. The first night for me is the night before I work, and I never sleep the night before I work. It’s just impossible and there is no way to counteract that except by taking a sleeping pill, and if you take a sleeping pill you are done for the next day. I fret. I worry. On opening night it’s like, that’s it? It’s gone? And usually I look at it with a kind of bemusement and I hope to get lost in it, but that’s the moment I let it go.

WA: The last question I have I thought we could relate to Bob. This is from the interview with Octavio Paz, so there is some kind of Mexican connection [Graham was born in Mexico City in 1938 to a Mexican mother and an American father]: “Will the poet always be the permanent dissident?”

AH: Yeah, I think he will. He won’t only be the dissident but you can rely on him to be original, or to have original thought. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that he has to be contrary, although he often is, but I think it’s because he sees things in his own way.

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