Wes Anderson has gathered such a huge celebrity cast for his latest movie that it’s perhaps apt that Asteroid City is set around a stargazer convention – while the characters stare at the skies, the viewers are kept entranced by a different kind of star.
Among the vast cast are A-listers Tom Hanks, Margot Robbie, Scarlett Johansson, Bryan Cranston… Known for his highly stylised movies, Anderson seems to have no issue attracting talent to work with him.
Set in the American southwest in 1955, this film saw a small functioning town built in Spain to serve as the titular Asteroid City, with the cast and crew living and working there throughout the production.
Shot while COVID protocols were in place, it also served as a bubble.
Speaking to Sky News’ Backstage Podcast, cast-members talked about their experiences working with Anderson on Asteroid City, which itself is a play within a TV special.
Bryan Cranston on playing the narrator of the TV special about the play Asteroid City:
“I started really looking and doing some research on the more famous newscasters of the fifties – Edward R Murrow and Walter Cronkite and things like that, and I settled in on someone who kept coming back to me and I was influenced by Ted Koppel, and I sort of love the way he delivered the news.
“And I also feel that those men fall in love with their own voices… So that sort of came to me that we would do it in this sort of registry and without any emotion and without any opinion on what I was saying, so that the actors in the group can supply that – I was just there to monitor and feed in exposition.
“So, I just figured out this is my role, this is what my job is and then, you know, Wes takes a look at it and shapes it and basically says: ‘Faster, faster, faster, faster’. And you do it faster, faster, faster!”
Jeffrey Wright on Anderson’s fast-paced script:
“He’s the conductor and he’s setting the rhythm and the tempo and that’s what he wants.
“I think he has a thing for early cinema, 40s, 50s style of stylised dialogue that no one really spoke in the world – it was just this dialect that existed in storytelling, and I kind of love that stuff, too, I love, melodrama and the old forms.
“It’s just a different take on telling the story, it doesn’t mean because it’s antique that it’s not effective – we’ve changed but I think there’s still something that can be moving about those styles, and it’s also a way of accepting that this is a performance – we understand it’s not real, it’s not a documentary and I think Wes likes to celebrate performance in that way.”
Scarlett Johansson on the preparation needed to play an actor who herself is playing a character who is preparing for a part:
“There were so many layers of the performance – I’m playing an actor who’s playing an actor who’s preparing something.
“I had a lot of questions for Wes, and we talked a lot about all these different – like, What’s this play? What’s this movie that [Johansson’s character] Midge Campbell is preparing? Who is Midge Campbell? I think it was good to figure that stuff out.
“The prep was maybe more involved with this film because it had so many different layers – if I go into doing something, I try to come in with something to hang my hat on, so I have something to offer in the beginning and then it hopefully will evolve from there, but this needed a bit of thinking on it and discussion with Wes and a lot of questions and stuff like that.”
Jason Schwartzman on working on the film and with Scarlett Johansson:
“It was so fun. It was so interesting. I loved it.
“It wasn’t hard, I’ll tell you, because I felt like I was acting with – the movie was like, done, [Johansson]’s so amazing.”
Maya Hawke on the ‘impossible task’ she found herself trying:
“Getting to try something impossible is kind of freeing, you know? Versus having to sort of try to master – being asked to do something simple where you’re like, ‘Oh, no, I’m going to mess this up’.
“I felt that the impossible task that was asked of me was, you know, these people are all so intimidating and so talented, and to enter that environment as a new person, as a young person, as a person without that much experience, and to come in with confidence and to not worry that I was going to ruin the film, which very quickly I realised was actually impossible once I got there, because Wes is so masterful in the orchestra conduction of everything that you couldn’t ruin it if you tried your hardest.”
Rupert Friend on living and working together while making Asteroid City:
“One of the things that Wes not only encourages but really engenders is this spirit of community and what it means is that whether you are the main focus of a scene or not is completely immaterial.
“You want to be there to support your colleagues, whether you’re in the deep, deep background out of focus, as many of us were, or you’re front and centre – that becomes immaterial, so you’re speaking about the egalitarian nature of it.
“I don’t know of a more genuine ensemble than what I saw on set and on the screen for this movie, I mean, any of these people could be the star and everyone gave it to everyone else.”
Asteroid City is out in cinemas now, hear more about it on the latest episode of Backstage – the film and TV podcast from Sky News.