Watch Jeffrey Wright Give a Rousing Speech in ‘Asteroid City’

Hi. This is Wes Anderson. I’m the director of ‘Asteroid City.’ So this scene is near the beginning of our movie. We meet a general who has come to this town as one of the hosts of a gathering of young junior astronomers and scientists, kind of like a science fair in a meteor crater. And these are his opening remarks. The role was written for Jeffrey Wright, who I’ve worked with before and who I love. And what I thought is this character is going to come out and not just set the stage for this convention they’re doing, but more to set the stage for the decade. One of the sort of subtexts of our movie has something to do with how this placid period of the ‘50s is filled with anxiety and sort of these men with post-traumatic stress disorder that’s undiagnosed, that is being dealt with through their families. And by the time we get 10 years later, the effect that it will have had on the next generation will be so significant that there’ll be a complete shift. Anyway, that’s kind of a broad description of what’s in this little speech. “Chapter 1, I walk to school 18 miles each morning. Milked the goats, plucked the chickens, played hooky, caught fireflies, went skinny dipping in the watering holes, said my prayers every night, and got whipped with a maple switch twice a week. That was life.” We staged it in a way where it would happen in one shot, and it would be a performance like one that someone would give on a stage. And it was a dazzling thing to watch Jeffrey Wright take this scene and just expand it, and play it with a kind of momentum and also sort of a grandeur that was arresting to watch. Because on the day that we’re shooting it, I’m just the audience. “That was life. In the meantime, somebody else’s story. A man thinks up a number, divides it by a trillion, plus it into the square root of the circumference of the Earth, multiplied by the speed of a splitting atom, and voila. Progress. I’m not a scientist, you are. End of chapter 3.” The way we stage the scene, it’s sort of a complicated rig because we’ve got to start in one position, then we pull back. Then, Jeffrey comes to us, and then Jeffrey goes over here, and we go over there. And Jeffrey goes over here, and we go here. And Jeffrey goes over here, we move around side to side. And then, we push back in again. Well to do that, you’re either going to work with a techno crane or something that sort of telescopes and is a programmed remote head thing. Or you use what we use, which is a crazy set of sideways dolly tracks with a section of track that glides on the top of the three tracks. So you can slide forward and back and side to side, but it’s an extremely complex rig invented by our key grip Sanjay Sami. “To Dinah Campbell.” “It’s fueled by cosmic radiation instead of sunlight.” “For her work in the area of botanical acceleration.” “Unfortunately, it makes all vegetables toxic.” “The Red Giant Sash of Honor.” Then, we shift into him introducing us to the young people and what they’ve done, and they each get a prize. And so there’s a series of astronomical, celestially themed medals and badges and other kinds of things they get. But then, we see what each of these people has done. And I think they’re quite impressive, you know? I mean, from the perspective of real life, they’ve done some very good work, these teenagers, as we show in these scenes. [APPLAUSE]

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