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Wes Anderson on Aliens and 'Apocalyptic' Vibes in Asteroid City
The iconic filmmaker is back with a sci-fi tinged new tale that just premiered at Cannes.
The new film from Anderson — a director best-known for visually beautiful, often quirky films like The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom, and The French Dispatch — premiered at Cannes earlier this week, building anticipation for Focus Features' release next month. Like most of Anderson's films, Asteroid City includes an ensemble cast, this time led by the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Jason Schwartzman, Bryan Cranston, Tom Hanks, and Jeff Goldblum, who is credited right up front as "the alien." It's a character note that other directors might have kept a secret, but for Anderson, noting it right up front, in the film's opening credits, just felt right.
"We naturally were debating whether this is necessary in the opening credits," Anderson told The Associated Press in an interview after the film's world premiere. "I said, 'You know, it’s a good thing.' It’s a little foreshadowing. In our story, it’s not a expansive role. But part of what the movie is to me and to [co-writer Roman Coppola], it has something to do with actors and this strange thing that they do. What does it mean when you give a performance? If somebody has probably written something and then you study it and learn and you have an interpretation. But essentially you take yourself and put it in the movie. And then you take a bunch of people taking themselves and putting themselves in the movie. They have their faces and their voices, and they’re more complex than anything than even the AI is going to come up with. The AI has to know them to invent them. They do all these emotional things that are usually a mystery to me. I usually stand back and watch and it’s always quite moving."
Set in the 1950s, Asteroid City unfolds in the tiny desert town of the same name, and follows a number of locals and visitors who've been pushed together by a variety of happenings, from car trouble to a local stargazing convention with the backing of a nearby military installation. It's within this dynamic that the ensemble comes together, and that strange alien happenings loom on the horizon just as they did in towns like Roswell in post-World War II America. The choice of setting, and timing, was not lost on Anderson, who made sure the film's sense of postwar fears was always present somehow.
"The apocalyptic stuff was all there," he said. "There probably were no aliens, but there certainly was a strong interest in them. There certainly were atom bombs going off. And there had just been I think we can say the worst war in the history of mankind. There’s a certain point where I remember saying to Roman: 'I think not only is one of these men suffering some kind of post-traumatic stress that he’s totally unaware of, but he’s sharing it with his family in a way that’s going to end up with Woodstock.' But also: They should all be armed. So everybody’s got a pistol."
It sounds like a recipe for the kind of beautiful chaos that often comes from Anderson's films, and we'll get to see how it all unfolds very soon. Asteroid City arrives in theaters June 16. Get tickets now!
If you're suddenly in the mood for some more quirky fun with Jason Schwartzman, check him out in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, now streaming on Peacock!