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"There’s never a world, there’s never a real world that they’re involved with," Anderson explains. "They’re doing their own thing. It looks kind of like this." He waves at a flat, brown field outside the window of the Ford Explorer.
In much the same way, Rushmore focuses on the emotional lives of the kids orbiting around Rushmore Academy, particularly Max’s schoolmates. Adults, for the most part, aren’t allowed in the game unless they play by Max’s rules. When they don’t, there’s trouble.
"The thing I always think about with these movies, I always think a lot about Charlie Brown," he says. "You know how in Charlie Brown, in Peanuts, they are in their own little world? There’s only a group of kids. It has a mood all its own."
By focusing on this alternate reality, Anderson turns his camera into a microscope and his movies into lab studies. What’s under the glass, to a large degree, is the sustainability of friendship and the things people do when friendships are tested. Max in Rushmore and Dignan (played by Owen Wilson) in Bottle Rocket are the Charlie Browns of these little worlds, where things go awry when a storm blows into the emotional harbor of friendship.
"Both these movies are about friendships that get put through weird tests and that are renewed, kind of, you know? That are broken up and renewed, especially if you go through some big things together," he says, "like me and my friends who all did Bottle Rocket together. Our lives are so different from what they were when we started being friends."
When Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson started being friends, they were a couple of kids lollygagging through the tail end of college at the University of Texas. They met in a playwriting class and eventually became roommates. A mutual love of movies and writing proved to be a creatively combustible combination. In time, an idea for a quirky 14-minute short became the first installment of their eventual first script, Bottle Rocket. When the film was made, Owen and his brother Luke’s offbeat, charismatic performances landed them on the Hollywood hot list, winning them high-profile movie gigs and Sheryl Crow and Drew Barrymore, respectively. Things changed, all right.
Even though Wes, Owen and Luke presently live together in a ramshackle Tudor in an unfashionable part of L.A., Anderson seems to understand it’s never going to be the same among the three amigos. The ride from Texas to Hollywood is over, and now that theymade it, they’re certain to go in different directions. They already are. Each is looking for his own home. It’s hard not to wonder if the themes in Bottle Rocket and Rushmore are Anderson’s way of addressing the fear that the real world will impinge on his friendships.
"Yeah," he says, "I mean it happens. That’s the way it happens. But I don’t feel like we’re, right now I feel like our . . ." He searches for the right words, hands staying tight at 10 and 2. "The friendship that gets the most strain is the one between me and Owen. And I feel like that’s as strong a friendship now as it’s ever been, and we still have several movies we want to do together. And I just sort of feel like, it’s not something that I feel worried about right now."
When Wes Anderson idealizes himself, it is as an artist. He sees himself in a loft in New York, perhaps, with space and light and crazy hair and a breeze through the south-facing windows and the burnished reflection of creativity, emotion and connection bouncing back off the page through his round glasses and into his shy eyes. Something, he says, like Nick Nolte’s character in "Life Lessons," Martin Scorsese’s contribution to New York Stories.
"That would be something to aspire to," he says almost wonderingly.
Anderson’s next steps along the larger journey were little forays into the life he began envisioning for himself. In high school and into college it was time to try on the identity of an artist for size.
At St. John’s, the prep school Anderson attended in his hometown of Houston, where much of Rushmore was shot, he withdrew from the center stage he had provided for himself with the plays and began focusing more on writing.
"Short, like J.D. Salinger short stories," he recalls. "At that point, I sort of felt like I was going to be a writer. Just a story writer. A novelist or something. But I was also doing little movies at the same time. Then the movie stuff just started to take over more and more."
During college, Anderson made creative use of the University of Texas’ curriculum policies, engineering his course load so that almost all his credits were earned in independent or conference classes. The loose schedule gave him and Owen Wilson time to mine Austin’s cultural resources.
"We never had any money, so it was kind of limited. There was just a lot of hanging around and reading and going to movies. I was always doing some research. You know, they have this incredible humanities research center called the Harry Ransom Center."
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