“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a thrilling caper in constant motion, kinetic and comic; a timeless tale of friendship, honor and promises fulfilled. Director Wes Anderson says his eighth feature film comes from a mix of inspirations including the pre-code comedies of the 1930’sand the stories and memoirs of Viennese writer Stefan Zweig.
At the beginning of “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Jude Law portrays the role of “the Young Writer” who finds himself in conversation with the enigmatic Mr. Moustafa, who from his earlier years is known as Zero, the hotel’s owner, who sets about relating the story of how he rose from the ranks of junior lobby boy to become the proprietor of the Grand Budapest.
Playing Zero Moustafa in his youth, during the period when he first arrives at the hotel, is newcomer Tony Revolori. Since Zero was intended to hail from a fictional Middle-Eastern country, director Anderson originally started seeking out actors in Lebanon and Israel, as well as North Africa, and various European immigrant communities – but eventually he found Revolori, who has a Guatemalan background, during auditions in Los Angeles. As soon as he met him, Anderson recognized the same open earnestness that characterizes Zero. And when he introduced Revolori to Fiennes, the comedic chemistry was immediately clear.
Fiennes was impressed not only by Revolori’s preparation, but also by his strong natural instincts. “Tony as Zero brings this wonderful quality of intelligent innocence. He’s innocent but he’s also very smart,” says Fiennes.
For Revolori, working with Anderson was “an experience unto itself, unlike any other.”He continues: “I felt like a part of his family, and immediately everyone – actors, crew – helped bring me in and started teaching me and giving me advice, which was a fantastic thing.”
This was especially true of Fiennes. “He really helped guide me. He’s become an older brother in a way,” Revolori muses.
Their rapport was obvious to everyone on the set. Observes Willem Dafoe: “Ralph has his British reserve, his dry humor and his beautiful sense of language, and Tony is just so fresh and easy. The minute I saw them together, I thought it was a fantastic combination.”
Playing Zero as an older man is F. Murray Abraham, who, as he details the history of his character’s rise to his current stature, comes to serve as the story’s main narrator. Abraham was thrilled to take on the role of raconteur. “One of the things that I do well is tell stories,” he notes. “I have a granddaughter, I’m very close to her, and telling her stories and listening to her tell me stories is one of the joys of my life. I also believe that’s a tradition upon which films are based – storytelling – although those great tales that really say something seem to have been lost somewhere. Wes insists on saying something, and in this film, which I believe to be his best, he tells a story that will have you smiling the whole way through.”
Especially interesting to Abraham was the notion that the adult Zero Moustafa has weathered both war and personal tragedy, and yet manages to maintain a lightness of spirit. “Zero has led a very full life and lost everyone who was dear to him, but he’s not cynical. To me that’s a very important facet of Zero, and it happens that I share that facet. I believe in the future of humanity and I believe that people are basically really good at heart. I do.”
Zero found the love of his life in Mendl’s, the best and most famous bakery in Zubrowka. Amidst the rolling-pins and puff-pastry, that Zero meets Agatha, a striking young apprentice with a birthmark on her face, who makes the town’s favorite pastry of all, the “Courtesanau chocolat.” To play Agatha, Anderson cast Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, who received an Academy Award® nomination at age 13 for her supporting role in Joe Wright’s adaptation of “Atonement.”
Ronan jumped in without reservation. The actress recalls her first day on the set, her first time working with Anderson: “I came in, and the whole place was just kind of buzzing,” she remembers. “There were loads of people running around; and you could see everyone was at the top of their game because Wes is so specific about what he wants when it comes to the look and the style. You could see that everyone was really tuned into his way of working.”
Agatha, in spite of her better judgment, eventually winds up at the center of Zero and Gustave’s criminal exploits. Ronan explains: “She brings emotion to the story because Zero is so motivated by his love for her in everything he and Gustave are doing. I think Agatha doesn’t at first realize what she’s gotten herself into but she follows them all the way through because she loves them and believes in them.”