Entertainment Magazine

THE LIFE AQUATIC with Steve Zissou


Eleanor Zissou

The role of Steve Zissou’s aristocratic wife, Eleanor, belongs to Academy Award ®winner Anjelica Huston.

“I wrote this part for her because there’s nobody better to have on a set than Anjelica,” comments Wes Anderson.

“She brings the perfect attitude in that she’s very excited about everything yet she also can’t be perturbed. She’s totally cool. She’s also a very smart woman and a truly beautiful person, and there’s something that just emanates from her that is entirely unique and right for Eleanor Zissou. In a sense, she holds the movie together.”

Having starred as a very different matriarchal figure in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” Huston had a chance here to switch gears. “It was wonderful to see Anjelica play such a different kind of woman with Eleanor, who is such an independent spirit, not really tied to anyone or any thing,” says producer Mendel. “She captures Eleanor’s freedom, and I love the way she looks in the movie, and her heroics at the end.”

Huston was thrilled to be part of a true adventure film. “I love adventures and I love the sea,” she says—and especially one that emerged from the mind of Wes Anderson. “The film really is an action-adventure movie, which might not be something you would have thought Wes could make, but I think he really disproved that from the first day on the set,” she says. “Part of what made it so fun is that it was a really liberating film for Wes.”

Huston also perceives THE LIFE AQUATIC with Steve Zissou as an offbeat love story about people who don’t connect in obvious ways.

“To me, what attracts Eleanor to Steve is that he’s such a loose cannon, which, ironically, is also one of the things that has led to problems in their relationship,” she explains. “Whether or not they are suited for one another, the reality is that Eleanor’s heart belongs to Steve.” Huston also enjoyed working with Bill .

Murray in the unexpected role of an adventure hero. “Obviously, Bill has an amazing sense of humor, but I also discovered that he can be very intrepid in his own way,” she says.

Helping Huston to create her inimitable character was two-time Oscar ®winner and multiple Academy Award ®nominee costume designer Milena Canonero, who came up with Eleanor’s offbeat elegant outfits and the blue streaks that run through her long, black hair.

“The look Milena created really ties into this idea that Eleanor is a bit of a self-made mermaid,” observes Huston. “Eleanor reveals part of what I love about Wes’s characters: they always kind of bridge fantasy and reality, which makes them very unpredictable.”

Klaus Daimler

In the role of Steve Zissou’s loyal-to-a-fault engineer, Willem Dafoe takes a rare comic turn, creating a character driven by a ceaseless desire to please and a Freudian jealousy streak. Dafoe was drawn to the unexpected part on the basis of the film’s script, which he found defied categorization. “I found it very funny, but there’s also a darkness to it, a poignancy,” he says. “It’s not just a comic adventure, because Wes always brings with him a dark shadow and a certain weight that comes out of his own life experience. He creates a very specific world out of fantasies, desires, frustrations and all the things that interest him, and that world is so complete that it can have its own rules. His form of comedy isn’t glib or safe. It’s very sophisticated—and he also brought together a cast that has the capacity to understand this vision.”

Dafoe was also intrigued by his character and, especially, the relationship between Klaus, who has been serving with Steve Zissou for decades, and Ned, who comes along out of the blue and wins Zissou’s affection. “It’s about sibling rivalry, but what puts a unique spin on it is that you’ve got these two very unlikely siblings,” he notes. “They’re siblings by circumstance, and sometimes it seems that it’s circumstance that makes us who we are.”

As for Klaus himself, Dafoe thinks the character’s appeal may lie not so much in his outrageousness as in the part of him we all recognize. “For me, the fun part about Klaus is that he’s a guy who pretends to be capable, yet he doesn’t have a clue, and I think there’s something rather charming about that kind of personality—’cause we all have a little of him in us,” he summarizes. Ironically, Wes Anderson originally thought he would cast a bona fide European in the role, prior to meeting Willem Dafoe and deciding he was right for the part. “Willem came into this supporting role and, basically, stole the show,” says Anderson.

Barry Mendel adds, “To have this great dramatic actor who has starred in films like ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’and ‘Platoon’give such a wonderful comedic performance was really thrilling for us. I certainly don’t think anyone has seen Willem give a performance this funny before, and I’m excited that people will have a chance to enjoy him doing a completely different kind of thing.”

Alistair Hennessey

Outside of the jaguar shark that took the life of his beloved partner Esteban, Steve Zissou has only one true nemesis in life: Alistair Hennessey, an oceanographer who is better-funded, has a bigger boat and is quickly eclipsing Zissou’s star. To make matters worse, Hennessey was formerly married to Eleanor Zissou, creating a complicated triangle of jealousies. For Wes Anderson, Jeff Goldblum had the perfect combination of “eccentricity and brilliance” to play the semi-villainous Hennessey. “He’s an actor who is very devoted and always has a lot of ideas,” notes Anderson. “I think he brings a wonderful amount of punch to the film.”

“I see Hennessey as someone who is very passionate about the ocean, loves the science of it, and has made himself into a huge success,” says Goldblum.

“He enjoys the adventure, but he’s not such a rough and tough guy, and he’d rather have fancy living quarters and the very finest of equipment. I think you could probably say he unhealthily identifies himself with all of his material stuff, so when everything he has is stolen from him, it’s a huge loss.”

While Steve Zissou might feel threatened by Alistair Hennessey, Goldblum believes Hennessey doesn’t really mind having Zissou around.

“You know when everything is said and done, Zissou is a lovable guy, and I don’t think Hennessey feels competitive with him. I think Hennessey’s doing so well, that’s not really an issue for him. He’s rooting for Zissou, really, rooting for his relationship with Eleanor as well,” says Goldblum. “It might sound strange, but these are sophisticated and complex relationships.”

For Goldblum, the relationships form the heart of the film. “There’s a lot of loss in this movie, really,” Goldblum observes.

“It starts with Steve’s friend Esteban dying, and along the way, people lose their careers, their stuff, their sense of self. But in the end, we all find ourselves huddled together in this little bubble deep in the ocean, in these uncharted seas, and in the depths of ourselves, perhaps. That’s a magical moment.”

Meet the Cast

Return to: THE LIFE AQUATIC with Steve Zissou Home

Film Home

Entertainment Magazine

2004 EMOL.org