Movie Picture

The cast and filmmakers reflect on the ocean in The Life Aquatic!

Wes Anderson movies are known for their ensemble casts and quirky comedy, but not for their action/adventure thrills. With The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Anderson combined his brand of ensemble comedy with an oceanbound adventure film complete with pirate attacks and a shark hunt. As such, the shoot was more taxing than the usual comedy.

Star Bill Murray, who plays the title character, admitted he had some difficulties but his fellow cast mates helped him keep it together. "It was like a family on the set," Murray said. "We were stuck with each other. You really do bond with each other and have to look out for each other. The job is really dangerous. Making movies is far more dangerous than people appreciate. Being at sea on a ship is even more dangerous. So you had to look out for each other. We were using weapons. Things go wrong. And the weather was miserable. You don't think of Italy as anything but sunny, picking a grape and lying on a hillside, but it was cold. It got like bone-cold out on the water, on the Mediterranean, shooting at night. You got cold like nobody's business. Colder than I've ever been in Chicago. Cold, really densely, brutally cold. I don't know if I'm over it yet."

Anderson never gave his action duties a second thought. "I never felt daunted by it," Anderson said. "I always felt like it gave me some sense of purpose. I had a lot of things to figure out, and any time I feel like there's stuff to figure out, that's like a chance to come up with some new ideas. But if I had known what it going to be really going to be like, I would have been very daunted."

Steve Zissou is a Jacques Cousteau-like documentary filmmaker who lost his best friend to an exotic shark on his last mission. Pretty much falling to pieces inside, he mounts a mission to kill the shark, but on the way loses his wife (Angelica Huston), meets his possible son (Owen Wilson) and faces off against an interviewer (Cate Blanchett), all of whom force him to face that his mission may not be as noble as he thinks.

Anderson set this story of character in crisis on the sea because of his own fondness for Cousteau's work, and also photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue. "I think it's because for me that fact that this guy was an adventurer and a scientist, an inventor, and he was in the French Resistance and he was a filmmaker, and at the end of the day that's my real experience with him, the films that he made, this whole world that he invented for himself, because there's really nobody like that before or since," Anderson continued. "He really created this whole kind of style and mission and even if you watch his films, his earliest films through the later ones, there's a great evolution in what his work is. In the earliest ones, there's really no element of environmentalism. It didn't seem to exist at the time. There's this person who's interested in nature and wildlife and animals, but he literally, it's like blowing up a lagoon to see what's in it, and the later Cousteau would never ever have done that. He's an amazing character."

Not all of the cast members were as troubled by the water as Murray. Willem Dafoe, who plays a member of Zissou's crew, got to enjoy the water a lot more because he was not filming every single scene. "You've got to remember, this was quite unconventional," Dafoe said. "We'd get on a boat, we'd go and shoot. Sometimes you may not even work that day, but you're on the boat, so you find a way of being on the boat. It may be going down below and sleeping, you know? But you find a way of being on the boat. It's sort of like you're living the life, that's all. And you start to create associations with the boat and the things that you like to do and who's lazy? Who's seasick? Who, when they're not working, likes to help out? Who like to watch? All these things. Who likes to start to drink in the afternoon? You learn all these things. And that, obviously, feeds into the movie."

Owen Wilson spent a lot of his down time on the land in Italy. "In Rome it was just I had some bicycles, I was staying in a great apartment next to the French Embassy and just riding my bike around exploring. I had a lot of friends that visited," Wilson said. "This girl I was going out with, she came over a couple times. She came over for my birthday, Carolina, who was really nice. And yeah, that's about it."

Angelica Huston, however, appreciated Murray's concerns, though even she did not have to be at sea as long as he did. "It was the challenge of working at sea and the challenge of working at sea in November and December," Huston said. "It grew quite rough. Mercifully, I sort of left the action at that point and was installed at Alistair Hennessey's villa, so I was in the villa when the boys were out at sea for the most part. I didn't have as much stuff out there as they did, but it grew very, very cold. And our boat, the Belafonte, I think it was an old Korean mine sweeper and took on a certain amount of water and bilge below. The bathroom facilities lacked a certain glamour."

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is now playing in New York and Los Angeles. It opens wide on Christmas Day.

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