"Life Aquatic" Director on Cousteau, Sea Life

December 22, 2004

Like many young men born in the 1960s, Wes Anderson has a mild Jacques Cousteau fixation. So it's no surprise that Anderson's latest film, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, centers around a Cousteau-inspired character. Played by Bill Murray, the neoprene-clad hero is an underwater filmmaker whose renowned love of sea life is tempered somewhat by his team's latest and "most ambitious adventure to date": to find, and kill, the shark that ate his former partner.

We caught up with Anderson to talk about his new film, which opens in theaters across the United States on December 25.

Characters in your films have excavated ancient sites and traveled the world aboard tramp steamers. Steve Zissou and his crew roam the world in search of marine life. Do you always get your ideas from the world of exploration?

The inspiration for this one is Jacques Cousteau and his films. I've always been curious about and fascinated by Cousteau. He had the kind of mind that allowed him to invent all kinds of things that, before he came along, people had never dreamed of. He helped invent scuba and developed some of the first submersibles.

I remember watching an old National Geographic [TV] special on Cousteau narrated by Orson Welles. I was fascinated. To me Cousteau, his crew, and their adventures seemed an idea for a movie as much as they seemed like an actual group of explorers.

Are you one of those people who brag about the massive collection of National Geographic issues in his garage?

No, but my mom had a pretty good collection.

You're famous for obsessing over details in your films. How did you go about getting the dive locations and craft in The Life Aquatic just right?

I wrote the movie for locations I had seen while on a trip to Italy. I envisioned the cast and crew eating good food in beautiful places. But the filming turned out to be extremely difficult. First we had to get a boat that looked similar to Cousteau's Calypso. We finally found a good pair of ships in South Africa that we sailed up. We broke one apart and used it as a set. The other, we outfitted like a research vessel.

How did you know what to put in it?

Well there's stuff I already knew from being interested in Cousteau. But our goal was to invent an entire world, even the undersea life. Often we'd make up a sea creature then later find out that it—or at least something very similar—already existed.

Was life at sea just like a Cousteau documentary?

Continued on Next Page >>


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