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INTERVIEW: Wes Anderson escapes to Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson on the set of Moonrise Kingdom (Courtesy of eOne)

About a third of the way through Wes Anderson's '60s-set, lemon-hued look at young love and endless summers, Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) takes an inventory of the items she brought when she ran away from home with paramour and fellow escapee Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman).

Among the varied personal effects in her survival kit are a selection of fantasy books, her record player, a Françoise Hardy album or two, rubber bands, left-handed scissors and her kitten.

Though Anderson, on the phone from Paris, never went to summer camp and admits the idea for Moonrise Kingdom came from the vivid emotions associated with "being a fifth-grader who thinks that he's fallen in love," he has plenty of experience planning an escape from the adult world.

"I remember making various attempts to run away. But for me, my older brother and I, we would set off on these things and we usually were very focused on any kind of real survival gear we could get," he shared. "A lot of knives, anything that involved fire, weapons. Any military-style things. I liked that the girl in this story...she doesn't bring dried fruit and nuts, she brings the things that she really sort of lives for at this point, which is her music and her books and her culture."

Though Anderson says he doesn't have all that much in common with these characters, a 12-year-old with permanently blue eyeshadowed lids who's angry and complicated and seeks refuge from the stifling house she shares with her family, escapes into books and loves French pop is exactly the kind of central character one would expect to find in Anderson's cinematic world. Suzy, like Margot Tenenbaum before her, is whip-smart, moody and terribly alone.

The circumstances are ideal then, for her meet-cute with sweetly confident Khaki Scout and orphan Sam, who accidentally stumbles into her life, and from there it's all handwritten notes and secret runaway plans until they meet in an unnamed field and send Suzy's parents (Frances McDormand and an excellent Bill Murray), sadsack Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and daft Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton in a role that Owen Wilson would normally fill) into a full-on reconnaissance mission into the car-less wilds of the fictional town of New Penzance. Anderson reveals that though a real island was part of his aesthetic inspiration, he needed some help fleshing out the fantastical story he had swirling in his head.

moonrise kingdom, kara hayward, jared gilman Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman in a scene from Moonrise Kingdom (Courtesy of eOne)

"Over the last 15 years or so, I've visited some friends on an island that's like this. It's a New England island that doesn't have any cars and when you go to this place it's like stepping back in time and that was connected to it," he shared. "In the end, this is a movie that I've been thinking about for many years and spending a solid year trying to write and all I really did over that whole year was sort of dream in circles about it," he laughed. "And I wasn't able to write and I sought help from my friend Roman [Coppola], who really, he and I together, made it into a story and a script. I couldn't quite crack it."

But any doubts Anderson had about penning this adventurous slice of wish fulfillment aren't evident on-screen as audiences are treated to star-making performances from Hayward and Gilman, who both make their feature film debuts here, and delightful departures from Bruce Willis and Edward Norton, who add to Moonrise Kingdom's enchanting and slyly funny tone.

"Edward was someone who I'd corresponded with a little bit over the years and had wanted to work with for a long time so once I had it finished, he was the first in my mind," Anderson offered, when asked how Norton came to be part of the film. "And I always felt like Edward seemed like he could have been in a Norman Rockwell portrait. And Bruce I think I thought of because he seemed like he could…this character is insecure and lonely and sad but he also needs to have the presence and authority of a policeman. And I thought however Bruce would play it, he'd always have that. And then when I spoke to him…he did have a very clear sense of what it ought to be."

Like all Anderson movies, this one is meticulously designed, with every twig, Khaki Scout badge, book spine and spinning record a deliberate choice meant to make this rich world even more tangible and lived-in. And though Suzy and Sam embark on adventures that are wildly imaginative, they still feel like something close to real life, hence the film's familiar yet fantastical title.

"Somewhere along the way, I thought they should name their own hideaway, the secret cove where they end up and it ought to be like one of [Suzy's] books," Anderson shared. "And I started thinking more and more that the movie…it could be in her suitcase and it could be one of those books, even though the events of our story are meant to be more realistic. They're not supposed to be magic[al] but at the same time, the movie, I think, it became a movie that has the atmosphere of a fantasy story. And the title was sort of their version of a magical realm where it all happens."

And Moonrise Kingdom is already proving to be a place that audiences are eager to visit. After opening to solid reviews at this year's Cannes Film Festival in mid-May, the movie, Anderson's seventh, broke a box office record for independent film after screening in only four theatres this past weekend and the writer-director was characteristically humble about the success, though he wasn't able to explain it.

"It's nice to see people seeming to like it but beyond that I don't really want to speculate."

After spending time in his warm and retro world, where kids are brave and silly, the adults are world-weary and foolish and the soundtrack is romantic, speculation isn't even needed. Just enjoy the journey and don't forget your left-handed scissors.

Moonrise Kingdom opens in select Cineplex theatres June 1.

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Bill Murray in a scene from Moonrise Kingdom (Courtesy of eOne)

And now a word about Bill Murray

We asked Anderson if frequent collaborator Bill Murray (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums,The Life Aquatic, Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox ) is as cool as we think he is.

"Yes, I'm sure he is. Obviously, he's one of the funniest guys you'll ever meet and for me, he's not only been somebody I've been lucky enough to have playing these roles in my movies, he's also helped me get these movies done in all kinds of ways. He's one of the best people in the world to have on your side in any circumstance."


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