Ralph Fiennes has been in the industry of making movies since he first appearance in the 1992 version of Wuthering Heights (a year later he would give an Oscar nominated performance in the searing Schindler’s List). The Grand Budapest Hotel is Tony Revolori’s first theatrical film. Yet, what they both share in common is that it’s their first Wes Anderson collaboration, which is a milestone for both actors.
Together, they play the unlikely pair of bumbling heroes in the Anderson caper about 1930s high jinks in the fictional Alpine nation of Zubrowka. On the eve of world war, their characters, M. Gustave and Zero Moustafa, learn the value of friendship and loyalty when the former is wrongfully accused of murder. And it is a breakthrough for both actors, as it introduces Revolori to the larger international moviegoing audience, and provides Fiennes, one of the best actors of his generation bar none, an uproarious career highlight.
I sat down with both of them last week to discuss the film, their relationship, and working with Wes Anderson.
So you just made your directorial debut with Coriolanus [and since then The Invisible Woman], has that changed the way you look at other directors, especially with the way you work with Wes?
RF: Yeah, I just think I look at films completely differently, and if I’m working with someone like Wes, I’m just hyper-alert to the choices they make. Not necessarily critically; I’m just fascinated with having been through the process of having to make a choice about a camera, an actor, a performance, a design element, and then to be in a film, as an actor, there’s more stuff that I’m absorbing and taking onboard than before.
[Tony] what was your preparation for this as your first feature, with Wes Anderson no less?
Tony Revolori: I’d only seen two films [that Wes recommended], which he really wanted me to see, and a couple of other newer day films. He and I had worked for about four months before by just talking to each other, and sending each other videos of us reading the script, and him sending me notes and things like that. So, there was that preparation. He made these storyboard animations, we call them animatics, and they showed us what everything was going to look like in a storyboard way, and it was great. I think once we were on set and everything, that’s when everything just clicked, and everything was ready to be done.
Can you name some of the movies you were shown?
RF: Wes asked me to see a movie called Trouble in Paradise, which is a very early Ernst Lubitsch film, and I also watched The Grand Hotel, and a weird film with a young Maurice Chevalier in it, which I couldn’t get on with. It’s a musical; he wakes up in Paris as the street comes alive in this musical thing [Laughs]. What else? A Shop Around the Corner, another Lubitsch, I also had to view To Be or Not to Be, so I had to look at that again. Also, Wes asked me to look at an Austrian actor that I love called Anton Walbrook, who is famously in The Red Shoes. I think a bit of that—his middle-European fastidiousness or something that—Wes wanted me to think about for Gustave.
If you could travel back in time to the golden age of cinema, who are some great actors you would have loved to work with, and who are some great actors who would have fun in Wes Anderson’s films from the golden age?
RF: You would want to see Cary Grant in a Wes Anderson film, I think. You would want to see that. Actually, you’d want to see Charlie Chaplin in a Wes Anderson film. That’d be amazing…I [would love to work with] Gary Cooper. If we’re talking about ladies? Hedy Lamarr.
RF: That’s an interesting response! There’s a sort of “Hmmm” in there [Laughs].
This is an incredible tour de force for you. Can you talk a little about M. Gustave and how you see him developing? He just has this ferocity you don’t expect. [Some reviews] describe him as a Noel Coward type. But you don’t imagine Noel Coward sitting there, saying, “Shit! Fuck!” And having this furious temper that [Gustave] has.
RF: Yeah, I think he did say that, Noel Coward, just never onscreen [Laughs]! And I’ve heard stories that Laurence Olivier’s favorite word was the “C word” off and offstage. The thing is it was a great part on the page. There’s someone that Wes and I know, who’s a part model for this character. Also, I started thinking of people I know. The agent who first represented me, who has sadly now passed on, he was sort of Gustave-like. Larry was known as one of the gentlemen agents in London. Everyone thought he was incredibly charming, honorable, always did business very honorably. He loved opera, particularly, but he also could absolutely go into profanities very quickly if someone was frustrating him. Larry was someone who definitely came to mind playing Gustave, but also if a part is really well written, immediately your imagination is firing on all cylinders, and stuff emerges that just comes from inside one’s self, I think.
At one point in the film, Zero says about M. Gustave that he’s from an era that could not exist with fascism. He’s from a past era. Did you take any of that as a basis on your character? Did you talk with Wes about if there was a time when Gustave would not stand out so much or was he always just a character of his own eccentricities?
RF: Oh, that’s a good question. I think Gustave, in his head, he doesn’t feel out of time. But he sees things changing, doesn’t he? He realizes that he’s probably fighting a sort of rearguard action against the brutalizing forces of a modern world, particularly and obviously, fascism. But I think those forces have always been there.
There’s a whole culture in service, what it is to be a servant? And that extends into the world of hotels and concierges. So, there’s a whole culture of how households create refinement. Private households do it with their upstairs, downstairs thing, hotels do it, and Gustave—we all know if we go to a great hotel, there’s the service, a sense of luxury, a sort of fantasy—I think he’s fully committed to a world of serving and delivering for guests. What is hospitality? It is making everyone feel at home. Nothing is too much. Nothing’s a problem for your guests in the private home and even in a paying establishment. That’s taken to a point of almost philosophy, the philosophy of service. And I think it still exists. Wes wants to take the man and his partner who exemplified this sort of philosophy and set it up against a totally other energy, which is the brutalizing and reductive forces of totalitarianism, militarism, crude nationalism, fascism. I think it’s there in the film, in the scenes on the train.
Speaking of the service mentality, a lot of people might watch this film and wonder what Gustave is doing being concierge. It seems as if he may want to be more ambitious. It seems that both of your characters are drawn to each other, because you’re in a lot of ways misunderstood and underestimated. What do you think each of your characters learned from each other in terms of the most important thing over the course of this story?
TR: Well, we see Zero at a point where he’s already working at the hotel and everything like that. I think he’s already modeled himself much like M. Gustave, even drawing on the moustache is his attempt to be M. Gustave. So, we see Zero as he tries to become this man with all his faults and all his virtues, and everything. And it’s kind of great, because he’s learned everything he knows at that point from M. Gustave. He definitely tries to emulate him as much as he possibly can, but later on in the film, we see him come into his own and bring his own qualities to this character.
And [to Ralph] what do you think your character learned?
RF: I think Gustave goes through a major learning curve, which I think often happens to us in life. Suddenly, we’re ambushed through a wrong-footing of our own narrow view and our own ego. I think Gustave has many great qualities, and I think he wants to train Zero in the great tradition of being a lobby boy and maybe even an eventual promotion to concierge. But I think the turning point for Gustave is he’s basically made assumptions about Zero, crude assumptions about where he’s from, and I think it’s a sort of lesson in humility for Gustave. It’s when he berates him for not delivering on the safe house, or the disguises, or the perfume, and then says he’s better going back to where he came from. “Where do you come from again?”
TR: “Ahksi Juliabar.”
RF: “What do you live under a tent-flap and feed on scarabs and wild goats?” [Laughs]
TR: “Why do I train you?”
RF: When Zero tells Gustave about the fact that he’s a refugee and his family has suffered and been violated, and died, and been murdered, and forced into evacuation, I think suddenly the scales drop, and Gustave learns one of the things one goes on learning all the time in life, which is you make assumptions about people, and then suddenly you have to reengage. Because we all leap to sort of judgments about people, and what’s great about that scene is that he sees that despite their differences of age and experience that they’re sort of equals. I think it’s in Gustave anyway, but he needed that jolt to reengage with some basic human recognition of transparency of equality between them.
Wes seems to have this whole movie set-up in his head before he arrives on the set. Does it change at all? Do you actors change his vision as you go through it? When you see the final film is it kind of what you expected when you first read that script?
RF: No, not from the script. I don’t know what [Tony] thought, but I was pleasantly satisfied about what we had sort of tried to make, work–
RF: —And helped along by good editing. I think on the day, we all saw what he was trying to achieve. So, there was a sort of pleasure in seeing, “Oh yes, and that’s how it all fit together.”
How challenging is it to find a part that is both original and can’t be turned into a video game?
RF: Oh, someone is going to do it, aren’t they? A video game of The Grand Budapest Hotel? [Laughs]
That chase scene at the end is pretty amazing.
RF: I think what’s great is Wes’ highly original imagination on every page, and when you read it, you’re surprised at every turn. I think he undercuts—he takes a genre, the hotel movie, the hotel caper, and undercuts it. And also fun shock stuff…I mean I loved these sort of macabre elements coming in. It’s always a surprise; no one knows where it’s really going to go.
Thank you and congratulations.
RF: Thank you.
TR: Thank you very much.