Entertainment Magazine

THE LIFE AQUATIC with Steve Zissou


Ned Plimpton (AKA Kingsley Zissou)

Owen Wilson, a regular collaborator with Wes Anderson, makes a distinct departure in THE LIFE AQUATIC with Steve Zissou with the role of Ned, an earnest Southern gentleman and member of The Zissou Society who has reason to believe he might—or might not—be Steve Zissou’s son. As he embarks on the adventure of a lifetime with Zissou, he also finds that he and his would-be father are falling for the same beautiful, yet pregnant, reporter.

Unlike most of the characters Owen Wilson has played, Ned lacks all manner of hipness or worldliness and exists in a kind of genteel, naive world of his making.

To prepare for the role, Wilson rehearsed his scenes, without any of the other actors, alone with his long-lived friend Anderson. “Owen came to visit me in Rome a couple of months before filming started, and we would rehearse the scenes on the roof of the Hotel Eden,” recalls Anderson.

“During that period, we also developed his accent and a strong idea of who this character Ned is and where he’s coming from.” The extracurricular work paid off for Anderson.

“Ultimately, I feel Owen ended up doing something quite different from anything I’ve seen him do before,” says the director. “He has developed such a strong persona in his movies, but this role is quite a departure from that person and I was very, very happy with his work.”

Like Ned, Owen Wilson can remember being fascinated by documentaries about exploration as a kid, which helped inspire his characterization of Ned. “I think every kid wants to be an explorer off on an expedition at some point,” he comments.

“There’s kind of a romantic notion to that. And since Ned has been watching Steve Zissou ever since he was a kid, and dreaming about his wild life, when he finally meets him, he’s very much in awe of him. It’s not something that is going to be taken away from him easily.”

Another key to the character for Owen Wilson was to immerse himself in a kind of oldfashioned, nearly mythical gentility. “I wanted to be the kind of Southerner who comes out of that courtly tradition, who is more than polite and is really a genuinely good person,” he says.

“The accent we developed is sort of like I imagine people in the Civil War talking, you know, almost ‘Gone With the Wind.’It’s not meant to be Meryl Streep doing a pitch-perfect accent, but it’s meant to be right for the character in a different way. It all fits into the world of the film, which is slightly artificial, almost surreal, while the emotions and feelings are very real.”

Jane Winslett Richardson

Entering the scene like a Madonna on an island beach is Cate Blanchett playing the pregnant journalist, Jane. In one of those rare life-following-fiction moments, Wes Anderson had decided to cast Cate Blanchett well before the actress herself became pregnant. The production had gone so far as to develop a prosthetic belly for Blanchett when kismet struck.

“When we found out Cate was really pregnant, at first we worried that she wouldn’t be able to do the film anymore, because of all the traveling and difficult work involving boats and cold weather and other hardships,” recalls Barry Mendel.

“But she remained totally gung ho and became even more excited, saying it would only help her play the part.” “It was a complete coincidence,” explains Blanchett, “and yet it was so lovely, it sort of seemed fated.”

Blanchett was initially drawn to THE LIFE AQUATIC with Steve Zissou because of Wes Anderson’s original perspective on adventure comedy. “I loved Wes’s view of an action film, which is sort of a mixture of being very tongue-in-cheek while taking it all very seriously. He brings a very sophisticated humor to the story, and yet there’s a melancholy at the core of all these funny situations,” she notes.

“Wes has such enormous compassion towards all his characters, and he excavates them in a way that they all kind of have a moment where you see inside them. I think he manages to make them really live and breathe by creating this very unusual and particular universe around them, which, even though it’s very odd and funny, is somehow also very real.”

Later, Blanchett became more entranced by her character and the predicament she finds herself in: trapped at sea while trying to figure out her future.

“The thing I like most about Jane is that she is a very blunt and direct person, but right now, she is going through these hormonal lows and highs that make her far more sensitive than she normally would be,” says the actress. “I also like that she enters this trip not even knowing whether or not she wants to be pregnant but then some very magical and wonderful things happen on board that change everything for her.”

Also enjoyable for Blanchett was being fought over by Owen Wilson and Bill Murray in their roles as Ned and Steve Zissou. “Ned is unlike anyone Jane has ever known. She’s coming out of this sort of corrupt relationship, and here’s this man who seems almost impossibly innocent,” she observes. “Meanwhile, she finds Steve’s arrogance, insensitivity and his desperation quite repugnant. He was her childhood hero—The Great Zissou—but now she sort of wishes she hadn’t met him because something, some ideal picture, has been robbed from her.”

She continues, “Owen really captured the heartwarming innocence in Ned, which I think is very hard for a modern man to embrace but he’s done it. Bill, of course, is hilarious— everyone expects that—but he’s also a heartbreaker, and you really see that quality as well in this role.” For Wes Anderson, Blanchett and Murray made for an intriguing pair. “Cate is someone who made Bill even better because she challenged him to be more prepared, and Bill brought something to Cate by challenging her to be even more in the moment. There is something very kinetic that happened between the two of them in these roles,” he says.


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