April 13 (UPI) — Writer-director Wes Anderson said he loves working with the same collaborators over and over again — even if it is only for a few hours on a stop-motion animation project like his latest film, Isle of Dogs.
“Now, I have everybody’s direct email addresses and I can go straight to them — no middlemen — and make my pitch and take a chance,” the 48-year-old Texas native said at a recent cast and crew press conference in New York.
In theaters now, Isle of Dogs is set in Japan and features the voices of F. Murray Abraham, Bob Balaban, Bryan Cranston, Greta Gerwig, Jeff Goldblum, Akira Ito, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Yoko Ono, Koyu Rankin, Liev Schreiber, Fisher Stevens, Tilda Swinton, Akira Takayama and Courtney B. Vance.
Touching on the themes of loyalty, deportation, technology, biological warfare, government overreach and student activism, the story is about how Atari, the 12-year-old ward to Megasaki City’s corrupt, cat-loving Mayor Kobayashi tries to get his dog Spots back after Kobayashi banishes all members of the species to the unsavory Trash Island, supposedly to stop the spread of a disease. Along the way, Atari enlists the help of a rag-tag group of forsaken dogs determined to rescue his pet.
‘Which dog is Jeff?’
“Casting roles like this, I go totally on instinct. Part of it is, I would like to have [these actors] in the movie, so I am saying: ‘Which dog is Jeff? Which dog is Bill?’ And, ‘Will they say yes?’ I’m just happy to have their personalities in this,” Anderson said.
Asked if the actors were allowed to pick the dogs they wanted to play, Anderson deadpanned, “We don’t do it that way.”
“It’s not a democracy,” emphasized 67-year-old Murray, who voices Boss.He has worked with Anderson on seven other films.
Anderson said he felt fortunate that everyone he approached agreed to participate.
“Part of that is because you can’t say, ‘I’m not available.’ I said, ‘Well, it’s an hour [of recording] some time in the next two years. The only way to pass is to say: ‘I don’t wish to be in your film. I don’t like you and I don’t like dogs.’ But everybody did say yes.”
Having watched the movie three times, Goldblum, 65, who plays Duke, said he was struck by the mangy crew’s tenacity and heart, noting they are all heroic.
“Their deep, deep, mysterious love, being as devoted as they are, to their task in reuniting the boy and his dog. Come hell or high water, to fight for the right thing,” he said. “It’s about love.”
Swinton, 57, said she thinks Anderson hired her to play the TV-watching pug Oracle — whom all the other dogs believe is psychic — because she campaigned for her elderly socialite character to have a grumble of pugs in their previous movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
“Wes said, ‘Tilda, pug.’ That’s it. Done,” Swinton said.
Jason Schwartzman, 37, who co-wrote this film with his cousin Roman Coppola, Kunichi Nomura and Anderson, said he is a proud dog owner in real life who felt responsible for the movie’s authenticity. He had no trouble telling the voice actors: “Stop, stop, stop! You would never do that” if you were really a dog.
This is the first time Schreiber, who plays Spots, has worked with Anderson.
“I was immediately aware when I read this script that it was extremely political. A geopolitical piece about oppressive cat regimes that dominated so much of Western society for the past 50 years and I always knew Spots was an essential part of standing up to that,” he joked.
Getting more serious, the 50-year-old actor acknowledged he felt guilty taking any credit for the film’s success because he only spent about two hours recording his lines in a studio.
“I’m like a world-class, dog-voice guy,” he said. “I have to say that because it’s not apparent in this movie. I knew immediately when Wes cast me in it that I wouldn’t get to do a dog voice…. What he does so beautifully is kind of juxtapose the very human characteristics of the actors he is working with with the creatures they’re playing.”
Anderson and Schwartzman said they found visual and narrative inspiration for the film in Japanese cinema, particularly the works of Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki.
Anderson told UPI he avoids talking about how he thinks people should interpret his movies.
“I don’t really like to say what I want somebody to take away from a film,” he said. “I feel more like I’m interested in hearing what people get from it.”
Anderson’s other works include The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Darjeeling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore and Bottle Rocket.