The Greatest Wes Anderson Characters

We profile the eccentric population of the most stylish films around


by Phil de Semlyen |
Published on

Wes Anderson's films are peopled with oddballs, eccentrics and weirdos galore - and that's even before you get to the badgers and foxes. As his latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, hits cinemas, we have profiled our favourites, from bit-part players to major leading characters. Read on, and leave your own nominations for the ones we passed over in the comments below...

  1. J. CAVALCANTI Film: Castello Cavalcanti (2014)

Played by: Jason Schwartzman

This is a brief but lovely turn from Schwartzman in Anderson’s Prada-produced short set in 1955 Italy. Cavalcanti is a racing car driver who crashes in the titular town (because, he claims, his steering wheel is screwed on backwards. Now we're not mechanics but we're not sure that makes sense) and soon twigs that he has pitched up in the village of his forefathers (“You’re my ancestors!” he proclaims). That’s about the entire plot, beyond a quick drink with the guys, but there are lovely Anderson-y touches here as Schwartzman conducts a fevered conversation with both partner and mechanic by phone, and repeatedly blames his accident on anyone but himself ("Plus there's a slow leak in the rear left tire."). We love him for his mastery of Italian, describing his car as, "completamenti finito; totale calamite disastro catastrophica" and his natty yellow racing suit.

Bob Mattlethorpe - Bottle Rocket

**Film: Bottle Rocket (1996)

Played by**: Robert Musgrave (pictured centre)

Dorkishly beholden to his criminal cohorts and regularly tormented by his bullying sibling Future Man, Bob Mapplethorpe is Bottle Rocket’s answer to later Wes Anderson sidekicks Kylie Opossum and Klaus Daimler, only with slicker hair and a fatter cheque book. He supplies Anthony (Luke Wilson) and Dignan (Owen Wilson) with a car, cash and a roof under which to hatch their poorly-thought-through heists, unwittingly volunteering himself as a “potential getaway driver” in the process. He’s a memorable Andersonian creation, one of the first in the canon to reaching for the stars only to fall flat on his face.

Tilda Swinton, Moonrise Kingdom

Film: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Played by: Tilda Swinton

Alan Rickman couldn’t do it. Jeremy Irons couldn’t do it. But Tilda Swinton succeeds in reducing Bruce Willis to a quiver when she, identifying herself simply as Social Services and speaking in the third person far more than is acceptable in normal society, pitches up to deal with the crisis posed by the two missing children as a storm approaches. Impeccably dressed in a pillbox hat and rather natty cape, Swinton’s the formidable face of authority as panic sets in among parents and adults in loco parentis.

Rat, Fantastic Mr. Fox

Film: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Voiced by: Willem Dafoe

Three Wes Anderson collaborations in and Willem Dafoe is moving steadily down the spectrum of nefariousness. He’s gone from cuddly (Klaus in The Life Aquatic) to terrifying (The Grand Budapest Hotel’s Jopling), with a brief sojourn at “mildly sinister” in Fantastic Mr. Fox. As Rat, he’s a slick operator with better-than-average moves for a long-tailed rodent best known for sniffing rubbish and cooking in Parisian restaurants. His job as Farmer Bean’s trusted off-cider brings him head-to-head with Mr. Fox and sets him on the path to death by electrocution. On the surface, there’s not a lot to admire about this Southern shivster, but the poignancy of his death wins us over at the last. All the poor guy wants is an apple beer to call his own.

Adrien Brody - The Grand Budapest Hotel

Film: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Played by: Adrien Brody

He looks like the villain of a melodrama – moustache-twirling, cane-sporting – who got *really *into a biography of Dali. He acts like a particularly spoilt 8 year-old. And he’s so foppish that even an 18th century dandy would advise him to butch up a bit, dude, seriously. There’s much to love in Brody’s baddie, in other words, as he skirts the edge of tantrum in his quest to keep his grubby hands on the entirety of his late mother’s fortune. That he is backed up by three black-clad, utterly silent sisters straight out of The Addams Family only adds to his sense of weirdness.

Ben Stiller - The Royal Tenenbaums

Film: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Played by: Ben Stiller

Even by the standards of the Tenenbaum family, Chas is neurotic. To call him highly strung would be unfair to violins, in fact, since he’s hiding a lifetime of anger, abandonment and grief beneath his red tracksuit and referee’s whistle. “I wasn’t worried about trying to make it funny,” said Stiller of the role. “I was more concerned that in every scene he’s so angry and I wanted, somehow, for people to be able to connect with him on some level. It’s about trying to understand where his anger is coming from.” By the end, of course, you do, with Chas joining the ranks of Anderson blowhards to admit their emotional weaknesses.

Noah Taylor - The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

Film: The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)

Played by: Noah Taylor

Some might pick Latin crooner and maritime safety bod Pelé dos Santos (Seu Jorge) – and he does do a fine Portuguese ‘Queen Bitch’ – while others could single out perma-peckish frogman Bobby Ogata, but our first Life Aquatic MVP is the Belafonte’s “physicist and original score composer”, Vladimir Wolodarsky. Named after Simpsons’ writer (and Fantastic Mr. Fox cast member) Wallace Wolodarsky, he’s a former substitute teacher – true to his itinerant spirit, he never quite locked down one school to call his own – who enlisted for Team Zissou as its Casio-equipped composer and the most hapless sonar man this side of the Titanic. We love him for his shy charm and the fact that, on his upper lip at least, it’s Movember all year round.

Angelica Huston, The Darjeeling Limited

Film: The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Actor: Anjelica Huston

When Anjelica Huston appears in a Wes Anderson movie it’s generally to provide the voice of sweet reason amid the utter chaos caused by her families, the eye of a swirling storm of neurosis and self-destruction, and Sister Patricia is no exception. The three Brothers Whitman finally visit their mother after their reunion aboard the Darjeeling Limited goes thoroughly wrong (deadly snakes, disastrous love affairs, drug use – you name it) and she somehow provides succour for what ails them, from Francis’ suicidal depression to Peter’s ambivalence towards his impending fatherhood. This comes despite her attempts to delay their visit that include a transparently false tale of a man-eating tiger that turns out to be absolutely true. Patricia, in the end, isn’t quite so unfeeling as her air of serenity might suggest.

James Caan - Bottle Rocket

Film: Bottle Rocket (1996)

Played by: James Caan

Wes Anderson’s heist caper Bottle Rocket may have been one of the worst test screenings in the history of Columbia Pictures, critically divisive and a box-office calamity, but it still had many things going for it. For one thing, Martin Scorsese loved it; for another, it had James “CAAAAAAAAAAAN!” Caan in it. The acting titan returned to his Godfather/Thief roots to play a foul-mouthed landscaper with a sideline in criminal scheming and a side-sideline in father-figuring Dignan (Owen Wilson). He wins extra marks for putting the beat down on the odious Future Man. “I didn’t mean to offend you, Bob,” he tells Bob Mapplethorpe, “but your brother’s a cocksucker. Does that offend you?” Feel the wrath of Caan.

  1. M. GUSTAVE Ralph Fiennes - The Grand Budapest Hotel

Film: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Played by: Ralph Fiennes

The latest leading man in Anderson's company is someone not known for comedy but, on the strength of this effort, someone who should quit the drama stuff and devote himself to laughs forthwith. Ralph Fiennes throws himself into the role of an endlessly competent, casually seductive and unashamedly camp hotel concierge just at the moment that his species came under threat from a changing world and, more particularly, the jealous attention of a rival heir to an old lady's property. His quasi-paternal relationship with Tony Revolori's Zero is oddly touching, and his ability to fit in to any surroundings, whether he's seducing elderly clients or befriending hardened criminals, is marvellous. He even manages to make prison duds look dashing, which is something that A Prophet singularly failed to accomplish.

Willem Dafoe - The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

Film: The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)

Played by: Willem Dafoe

Loveable and mulishly loyal to his boss, German sidekick Klaus Daimler somehow takes most of Zissou’s seaborne caprices in his stride. The son. The pirates. The monomanic quest for the Leopard shark that chewed up his friend and left him adrift in bloodied water. In fact, the only time a note of panic enters his voice is when he finds himself relegated to ‘B’ squad by Zissou. “You might be on ‘B’ squad,” the utterly deranged mariner tells him, “but you're the ‘B’ squad leader.” Cheery to the last, Klaus seems happy with that.

Dudley, The Royal Tenenbaums

Film: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Played by: Stephen Lea Sheppard

Dudley suffers from a rare condition, previously unknown to science, that “combines symptoms of amnesia, dyslexia, and color-blindness, with a highly acute sense of hearing.” While this is unfortunate for the poor boy, it makes him a fascinating contrast to the highly self-involved Tenenbaums and means that there is always someone nearby to offer commentary on the things that really matter (“That cab has a dent in it.”). As a bonus, he makes a terrific double act with Bill Murray’s Raleigh St. Clair. Someone give these two a sitcom.

Jeff Goldblum - The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

Film: The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)

Played by: Jeff Goldblum

Every great hero needs a nemesis and it so, it turns out, does Steve Zissou. His comes in the suave, half-gay shape of Jeff Goldblum’s nautical magnate Alistair Hennessey. He’s less a salty seadog than some kind of sea-dandy, purring across the oceans in a cloud of refined self-satisfaction, like a cross between Leif Ericson and Louis XIV. In fact, if he cared to swap researching turtles for, say, contriving nuclear war, he’d make an excellent Bond villain. To make things worse for his rival, he was also married to Zissou’s wife (Anjelica Huston) who still refers to him by the affectionate epithet “Skinny”. Zissou opts for plain old “Al”.

Owen Wilson - The Darjeeling Limited

Film: The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Played by: Owen Wilson

Owen Wilson gets his best roles in Wes Anderson films, which seems fair given how long the two have known one another. Like Bottle Rocket’s Dignan or Tenenbaum’s Eli Cash, Darjeeling’s Francis is an endlessly enthusiastic blowhard who hides deep wells of pain beneath the bouncy energy. In Darjeeling, it’s clear that his brothers find his mania for organisation and habit of ordering on their behalf infuriating (it’s notable that he’s always right on their preferences), but his quest to bond with them and the late revelation of the origin of his horrific injuries shows a vulnerable side that belies that obsession with control. While other filmmakers tend to focus on the happy-go-lucky Owen Wilson, Anderson always leavens his characters with a little tragedy.

Felicity Fox - Fantastic Mr. Fox

Film: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Voiced by: Meryl Streep

This may be one of about three movies Meryl Streep hasn’t been Oscar-nominated for, but don’t disregard how much emotional ballast her Mrs. Fox offers as the crazed caperings go on around her. Softly-spoken, slow to anger but fiery when provoked, she’s the ultimate mother figure in Andersonworld. She’s gifted, encouraging of her troubled son and passionately protective of her family, but never a blousy Norman Rockwell-like matriarch. When we meet her, she’s helping her husband with his ill-conceived squab-raiding, but she soon makes it clear that his cussed cuss won’t be worth a cussing cuss if he doesn’t leave the crime behind. She’s also a dab hand at painting stormy landscapes.

Margot Tenenbaum - The Royal Tenenbaum

Film: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Played by: Gwyneth Paltrow

Margot Helen Tenenbaum, adoptive daughter of the genius clan and playwright of some note, is the single most secretive character even in Anderson’s weird world. It emerges in the end that she had a secret marriage, secret affairs and – most damning of all – a secret smoking habit that she has kept hidden from everyone for most of her life. That seems to be the straw that breaks her marriage to Raleigh St. Clair, the psychologist who can’t figure her out, and even her devoted (adoptive) brother Richie is shaken to his core. All in all, this is the most interesting, non-predictable, layered role that Paltrow has ever had.

Badger, Fantastic Mr. Fox

Film: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Voiced by: Bill Murray

A rare combination of nocturnal mammal, lawyer and explosives expert, Clive Badger Esq. (Bill Murray) is the quiet voice of reason Mr. Fox never quite hears in Wes Anderson’s stop-motion tale. He tells Fox not to buy a new property within reach of Boggis, Bunce and Bean’s farms, but does he listen? The cuss he does. “You're borrowing at nine and a half,” Badger patiently explains, “plus moving into the most dangerous neighborhood in the world for your type of species”. For his intimate knowledge of local real estate and general usefulness in a crisis – what law school even *has *a TNT module? – Badger makes the cut.

Ben Stiller - The Royal Tenenbaums

Film: Rushmore (1998)

Played by: Jason Schwartzman

Leaving Bottle Rocket aside – and it’s fairly easily done – Max Fischer is where it all got going for Wes Anderson. The distinctive tone, soufflé-light erudition, quirk quotient and general silliness: they all started with a 16 year-old who dared to dream big and had only his wits and a wealthy industrialist to fall back on. It’s also the first of five Jason Schwartzman collaborations (seven, if you include Hotel Chevalier and Castello Cavalcanti), and J-Schwartz is at his very best as the odd but somehow loveable loner with the huge sense of entitlement and the unquenchable thirst for the finer things in life.

Bill Murray, Bottle Rocket

Film: Rushmore (1998)

Played by: Bill Murray

Stricken with Olympian levels of ennui, industrialist Herman Blume gives the distinct impression that it’s only his protégé Max Fischer’s (Jason Schwartzman) grandiose antics and Rushmore teacher Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams) keeping him from slipping into a coma and possibly dying. Bill Murray imbues the soon-to-be-divorced Vietnam veteran millionaire with more than enough of his deadpan charm for us to overlook the fact that Bloom is just another jaded patrician with more money than sense. Working to scale – Anderson estimates was paid $9000 for the part – Murray reversed that equation and set in train an eight (so far)-strong Wes Anderson collaboration.

Gene Hackman, The Royal Tenenbaums

Film: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Played by: Gene Hackman

Our favourite Anderson character comes not from one of his regular collaborators but a man who almost didn’t take the job. “He was the only guy I wanted for it and it was particularly written for him,” said Anderson of Hackman recently, but the star was reluctant, saying yes only at the last minute. Still, despite those teething troubles, Tenenbaum is an indelible character; a proud patriarch who is estranged from his family; a selfish con-man and chancer who helps his children recover their mojo almost despite himself. Grandiose, nattily dressed and more than a little ridiculous, he is the quintessential Anderson figure.

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