Wes Anderson explores space obsession in the star-studded film Asteroid City


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Director Wes Anderson is returning to the big screen with the film “Asteroid City”, which opens in Portugal on June 22, starring some of Hollywood’s biggest stars in a story about science and obsession with space.

“I’ve never seen a Wes Anderson film that I don’t wish I had been in,” declared actor Tom Hanks, who fulfilled his dream of working with the director on this science fiction film, where he plays Stanley Zak. “It was incredible to be a part of this.”

Hanks was speaking at a press conference for the film’s release in Los Angeles, attended by some of the fine cast assembled by Wes Anderson for “Asteroid City”: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Bryan Cranston, Jeffrey Wright, Rupert Friend, Adrien Brody, Maya Hawke, Stephen Park, and Hope Davis.

The film also features Margot Robbie, Steve Carell, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, and Brazilian musician Seu Jorge.

“One of the things that strikes me about this film is how the performances support each other in a very remarkable way,” Scarlett Johansson said. “They make up a kind of beautiful orchestra.”

The action of “Asteroid City” takes place somewhere in the North American desert in 1955, during a convention of Cosmic Observers and Space Cadets.

It has the characteristic eccentricity of Wes Anderson’s films with a polished aesthetic divided between color and black and white, because everything you see in the desert is just the projected backdrop of a play.

“We were interested in New York theater during the 1950s,” Wes Anderson said at the conference, explaining that he wrote the film with Roman Coppola based on the idea of centering it on actor Jason Schwartzman, with whom he has a long history of collaboration.

“The story became an interplay between a black and white stage in New York and a ‘western’ in color,” he described. “Everyone plays an actor and the role they play, and the two blend together.”

The strange premise is explained by Bryan Cranston, who narrates the events in a very dispassionate, almost journalistic way. The actor spoke of this complexity at the press conference.

“What does it mean?” he questioned, laughing. “It’s so specific and dense with details that sometimes I had to read it twice to figure out what we were doing,” he revealed. “This is a film about a television show that is exposing a play. That in itself is a kind of Russian doll.”

In addition to science, asteroids and extraterrestrial life, with a little examination of what was the obsession with space exploration in the 1950s in the United States, there is also a theme of suffering and grief in this film, something Wes Anderson picks up on often.

“We have these milestones in our lives, and particularly as we get older, we start to see more deaths,” the director said.

It is death that Jason Schwartzman’s character (Augie Steenbeck), a central element in the plot, deals with.

“With grief, my experience is that there’s no wrong way to feel when you’re in pain,” the actor said. “It’s worse to feel bad because we don’t feel the same way everyone else is feeling. So we feel the way we feel, trust that.”

Scarlett Johansson, who was inspired by iconic actress Bettie Davis to shape her character, Midge Campbell, also spoke on the topic.

“What connects our characters is the enormity of the suffering,” said the actress, who mostly stars opposite Jason Schwartzman in the film. “My character says she doesn’t want this feeling, and as such she simply won’t feel it,” she continued. “That’s the world she lives in.”

The actress also stressed the “lively” and “exciting” atmosphere during the shoot, which took place in Spain, with moments when some of the actors went to the set just to watch other actors acting.

“Filming can be a very slow and boring process, but this was vivid and playful,” confirmed actress Hope Davis (Sandy Borden). “It reminded me why I got into this career.”

Tom Hanks also mentioned the “very cheerful atmosphere” of the filming, but stressed the experience of working pure and hard with the director.

“The work we did was incredibly focused and there’s no one who works harder at it than Wes,” the actor said. “Wes doesn’t walk out of there saying, ‘okay this is good enough,'” he recounted.

Some scenes had to be shot dozens of times, something that actor Jeffrey Wright illustrated with a comical example.

“There is a moment when my hand touches the holster, turns the flap up and grabs the gun. It took 60 ‘takes,'” he recounted. “It took four hours,” he said, just to capture the perfect movement.

Initially premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, with a good reception from the critics, “Asteroid City” will be in Portuguese cinemas next Thursday, June 22, one day before the United States, June 23. It is a Focus Features, Indian Paintbrush and American Empirical Pictures production.

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