George Prochnik: I thought your film [The Grand Budapest Hotel] did a beautiful job of transposing Stefan Zweig’s actual life into the dream life of his stories, and the stories into the fabric of his actual life. You showed how his own experiences had a fairy-tale dimension, confectionary and black by turns. I wondered if you could say anything about these qualities and how Zweig became an inspiration for you.
Wes Anderson: I had never heard of Zweig — or, if I had, only in the vaguest ways — until maybe six or seven years ago, something like that, when I just more or less by chance bought a copy of Beware of Pity. I loved this first book, and immediately there were dozens more in front of me that hadn’t been there before. They were all suddenly back in print. I also read the The Post Office Girl, which had been only published for the first time recently. The Grand Budapest Hotel has elements that were sort of stolen from both these books. Two characters in our story are vaguely meant to represent Zweig himself — our “Author” character, played by Tom Wilkinson, and the theoretically fictionalised version of himself, played by Jude Law. But, in fact, M. Gustave, the main character who is played by Ralph Fiennes, is modelled significantly on Zweig as well.
One thing that struck me, after I had read a few of Zweig’s books, is that what I began to learn about him personally was quite different from what I felt I understood about him from his voice as a writer. So much of his work is written from the point of view of someone who’s quite innocent and is entering into kind of darker territories, and I always felt that Zweig himself was a more reserved person who was exploring things in his work that he was drawn to but that weren’t his own experiences. In fact, the truth seems to be completely the opposite. He seems to be somebody who more or less tried everything along the way.
Prochnik: Zweig’s stories are always nesting stories within stories and confessional revelations of deep secrets within secrets. The way that your film seems to work on that grid of multiple overlapping and proliferating story lines was very striking.
Anderson: We see this over and over again in Zweig’s short stories. It’s a device that maybe is a bit old-fashioned — I feel it’s the kind of thing we might expect to find in something by Conrad or Melville — where somebody meets an interesting, mysterious person and there’s a bit of a scene that unfolds with them before they eventually settle down to tell their whole tale, which then becomes the larger book or story we’re reading. I love that in Zweig — you describe it as confessional, and they do have that feeling, and they’re usually secret. One of his novellas is even called “Burning Secret”. Anyway, that sort of technique is such an effective way to set the stage, to set a mood. It creates this kind of a “gather around” feeling. [Read More]