• Festivals

Cannes 2023: Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City”

Wes Anderson’s latest offering is set in the 50s in a fictional desert town named Asteroid City, the site of a US government observatory. It’s also the venue for the annual Junior Stargazer convention, where teen inventors are celebrated, although, in this particular year, an unexpected otherworldly event disrupts the proceedings.

Director Wes Anderson rounded up his usual suspects, a stable of actors – Jason Schwartzman, Jeffrey Wright, Rupert Friend, Adrien Brody, and Tilda Swinton – he had worked with in previous films. In Asteroid City they are joined by Scarlett Johansson and Bryan Cranston – they had collaborated with Anderson as voice actors in the 2018 stop-motion feature Isle of Dogs. Newcomers to the idiosyncratic Anderson universe include Tom Hanks, Matt Dillon, and Steve Carell (who replaced Bill Murray).

Many actors have joined Anderson in promoting the film at the Cannes Film Festival, including Johansson, who plays an actress.  She says of the experience during the press conference, “It was intense. It’s funny because, of course, the world is there, and you’re in it. This was my only experience working as a live actor with Wes and not [voicing] a dog. In a way, it was like doing theater because you have the whole tangible space, but it’s not this familiar process of being on a sound stage, going back to your trailer, and all this downtime. That stuff just eats up the momentum, which is part of the process. Somehow, Wes has avoided that. It feels vibrant and very much like you’re working in theater. It’s fulfilling and exciting.”

Cranston, whose role is that of a host of an anthology TV show, offers, “To me, it feels like Wes Anderson is a conductor of an orchestra, and all of us are players of our particular instrument. We hyper-focus on our instrument and just present it without really knowing exactly how it’s all going to piece together. And he conducts it. We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen,” he explains. “We just have to keep telling the story, just keep moving forward and be a storyteller.”


Schwartzman, who made his cinematic debut in Anderson’s Rushmore in 1998, says, “I’m always grateful and always surprised and honored to be there. I was 17 when we met. He was the first person who wasn’t in my family, who was over the age of 20, who actually asked me a question and cared what I said. He was curious about what I was interested in, and that was unusual,” he says. “That feeling is why we’re all here because he does want to know about all of us. He’s curious. He sees things in us, sometimes, that we don’t see.”

Anderson responds, “Jason was so young when we first met and when we first worked together. He played the role in one of my first films where he was the guy in every single scene. Many years later, longer than I would like to think, we’ve worked just as closely together. This person, who was a teenager, now has command of his craft and the medium in a way that I wasn’t even aware of, in a sense. I could only see the results.”

As the film has a strong sci-fi element, it wasn’t unexpected that Anderson would be asked about his opinion on extraterrestrial life. He says, “I think I wouldn’t really rely on my opinions about that in any significant way. The research that went into extraterrestrial [life], as extensive as it was, doesn’t compare with anything you would find in academia. I have read that Stephen Hawking insists it’s numerically improbable that there would not be extraterrestrial life, and he certainly knows more than I do about these things.”

One thing Anderson is undoubtedly well-versed in is working with actors, which he clearly loves. “I didn’t realize, until we were making the movie, how much the movie comes out of just me liking to be around actors.”

Then, he added: “I’ve always felt from the first set that I was on, which was my own set, that actors are different from everybody else, different from all the crew, and different from me,” he says. “They’re connected to each other in a way that has always been a bit mysterious to me, but was especially mysterious to me at the beginning.” He glances at Jeffrey Wright and continues. “First of all, you’re going to be the movie. It’s going to be you up on the screen, and everyone is just watching to see the tiniest things you do. Somehow, that fact … I feel it connects all the actors together. You have an experience that most people just don’t have. They don’t know what it’s like and they all watch it. It’s kind of mesmerizing to me,” he explains. “And I love it.”