Q: The aesthetic of your film “Darjeeling Limited” is quite vibrant. Where do you get these ideas?
A: Well, I think with this movie, all the visuals come from India. So, most of the movie is just shot on location, usually with the people who live in those spots playing the different characters. A third of the movie takes place on a train [and] the way the train looks is based on trains in India but it’s combined with a few other things. The way, for instance, the compartments look on the train is not really quite like the current trains there. … We took the usual government trains and mixed them with the tourist trains. And then the way it’s decorated — those are just traditional Rajastani decorations. I was in a building where I saw some of those things on the walls. I asked about them, and it turned out that there were hundreds of guys who do this, and they just set to work.
Q: Would you say the train is quite similar to the boat in the “Life Aquatic” and the house in “The Royal Tenenbaums”?
A: Well, some people have said that, but I like a movie in a contained space like that. All those movies have a setting where a lot of the action takes place and it’s something that’s sort of invented for the movie. In “Life Aquatic” and “Darjeeling Limited,” they both have this feature of being set on a moving set. There’s something appealing about that to me, something where the story is going forward but the physical location is actually moving with the story.
Q: Would you say it’s a real India or a more imagined India that it’s set in?
A: I think it’s more or less a real India. I think there’s something fable-like about the brothers themselves, the way they’re dressed and the way they carry these suitcases around. There’s something a little old-fashioned about certain parts of them and something that’s a sort of heightened reality, but in fact India is presented more or less realistically. It’s just a little sliver of India; India’s a place that’s so varied — there’s so many people, there’s so many different cultures, but there’s very little in the movie that we made up, there’s very little there that isn’t just something we’ve found. We could have had all sorts of problems in India, but we didn’t, really — it went well. It was more difficult working in Italy than it was in India, for me.
Q: The dodgy medicines in the movie — were they a part of the India experience for you?
A: It was more a way of expressing these characters’ states of mind. They’re, I think the expression is, “self-medicating” — all three of them are really on the same page. They’ve all gone to the same pharmacy next to the train station immediately after arriving and each bought something different. I don’t know if it really comes across in the movie: one has something called NarcoCough, one has Hypnoaid and one has Opiosedate which I feel all are about calming yourself.
Q: Would you say your films express a certain zeitgeist, a certain feeling of the times?
A: I think they don’t capture any zeitgeist. I wish they did because then more people would come and see them. I think they are capturing a zeitgeist that has already passed, or possibly, to be most optimistic about it, maybe it’s a future zeitgeist. Every movie I have ever made has had some people who ended up really connecting to it and then lots of people who really hate them. I don’t know why. I would say that it’s a safe bet that the movies that I’m doing aren’t really quite in lock-step with the culture of this moment. Certainly these movies have their supporters. We wrote this script with the intention of making this movie as intensely personal as we possibly could. We were really consciously pursuing that. I don’t really know to what end, but we made it for ourselves because we wanted to make something personal, and I think that if you do something very personal, then other people will connect with some of those things and it will be personal to them too. I don’t think that this will be a blockbuster.
Q: Why do you always have characters smoking in your films?
A: I don’t know why, because I don’t smoke, but I do always have people chain-smoking. I probably react to the suggestion that we shouldn’t do something, but it’s a classic movie-thing. It looks good on film, but of course it’s not good for people.
Q: That first zoom in “Darjeeling Limited,” it’s like one of Andy Warhol’s shots that jog the camera so you know you’re in a film; where does your inspiration come from?
A: Somebody was asking me if that’s a reference to some Italian caper movies or ’70s stuff, but for me, it’s not really. On the first movie, I never had a zoom; on the second movie, I had three or four; now I use them all the time. I was interested in Stanley Kubrick, who did lots of different zooms — very fast ones and very slow ones.
Q: What are your projects for the future?
A: As you know, we have “Fantastic Mr. Fox” which we’re just starting to do the animation for. It’s an adaptation of a Roald Dahl story. George Clooney plays Mr. Fox. And then I have a couple of scripts in mind, one that’s partially written, but it’s top secret.