We set out in the early morning in a Ford Explorer, which Touchstone Pictures had rented and which he was driving back and forth across the country racking up speeding tickets at an alarming rate. Outside the bubble of the vehicle, the air was heavy with expectation and anxiety.
Mutually reassured by our love for Double-Doubles and with 14 hours still to go, we settled in and played the game: Anthropologist observes subject in subject’s natural state. But there’s something about being on a road trip that has its own logic, and in a way, though we were still playing the game, the rules were soon thrown out the window. We were still subject and anthropologist, but we were also comrades in a mild adventure that would take us through the greater part of the Southwest, spanning dusty deserts to snowy mountain passes, lapsing from dawn to dark. Because of that, I believe, I got a glimpse at the private worries Anderson was having about the future.
In Los Angeles, we often regard fame in light of how it makes us normal people feel — usually less beautiful, less rich, less powerful, less famous. The famous appear to have magically figured out the password into the Promised Land that is visible all around us here, but which remains just out of reach for most. What we don’t often think about is how fame is going to affect those just about to become famous.
Anderson seemed aware that his larger adventure — the journey from backwoods film geek to acclaimed writer-director — would exact the heaviest toll on the relationships he had with the friends with whom he had come of age back in Texas. Friendships are still the world when you’re 29, especially when you come from a broken home, and you didn’t need to drive 16 hours with Anderson to comprehend their importance to him. Both Bottle Rocket and Rushmore practically bleed from dissecting the nature of friendship. But 29 is also that age when you start to shed the friends of your youth and make the friends of your adulthood, perhaps, for example, that woman in New York that Anderson was on his way to see.
In my experience, driving long stretches on the verge of profound change makes for a good time to indulge in a peculiar kind of nostalgia — one that accounts both for things that have been and also for things you sadly realize will never be. I had a sense Anderson was taking that long drive just before Christmas to indulge in that sort of nostalgia and to prepare for the changes fame was certain to bring him and his friends. His world would never be as simple as it was when he and his buddies, Owen and Luke Wilson, were knocking around Austin and Dallas making short films about their landlord and the quirky people they knew — cementing the bonds of their friendship.
Inevitably with any team’s great success or great failure comes the question: Where do we go from here? On the eve of Rushmore’s opening, it was clear that fractures were already forming in the foundation of Anderson’s team. As we drove, the phone rang through the night with reports from the openings in New York and Los Angeles — news of sold-out venues and spontaneous applause erupting during credits, good reviews pouring in. That was all big stuff, and signs of things to come. But the biggest thing that would happen during the course of his journey was still lurking out there in the dark. The stream of phone calls back and forth between Anderson and Owen Wilson as they tried to repair a crack in their relationship — even as they worked on the script that would become The Royal Tenenbaums— may have been a glimpse of the future. For a short while longer, though, perhaps the rest of his trip, Anderson would still be who he was ever since he could remember — the kid who wanted to move people through moving pictures. I had the impression he would have been happy to drive for another year or two.