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Why filmmakers like Wes Anderson like to cast the same actors in their films

MILES PARKS, HOST:

Wes Anderson movies all have a certain feel - the vibrant colors, goofy writing, but maybe most important, the cast, specifically, the same cast over and over. Anderson's new movie, "Asteroid City," does it again. One of the film's stars, Jason Schwartzman, has worked with Anderson more than half a dozen times, which made us want to reach out to NPR's resident movie expert Bob Mondello.

Hi, Bob.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Hi. It's good to be here.

PARKS: It's great to have you. So I studied theater in school, where this idea of using the same cast over and over again is not uncommon. Do you trace someone like Wes Anderson's style back to the idea of repertory theater?

MONDELLO: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. This goes back to probably the Greeks, but for most of us, we think of it with Shakespeare's - Shakespeare had a company of actors he was writing for. If you see his plays, you can - and you see them in close succession - you can imagine the same actor playing Falstaff, the comic character in some of the histories, and playing Hamlet's uncle in "Hamlet." So you get the same kind of actor doing the same kind of part. Back when I was doing a series about regional theaters, I talked to Robert Brustein, who is a critic who also founded the Yale Rep in New Haven and the American Repertory Theater. And he explained to me what it is that a repertory company is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ROBERT BRUSTEIN: A company, a group of actors that work together like a ball team works together knows each other's plays and, therefore, can feed each other in a way that strange pick-up companies can't.

PARKS: Bob, is there a movie in your mind that really makes the case for the repertory cast?

MONDELLO: Arguably the greatest movie ever made - "Citizen Kane."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ORSON WELLES: This is Orson Welles. I'm speaking for the Mercury Theatre, and what follows is supposed to advertise our first motion picture. "Citizen Kane" is the title, and we hope it can correctly be called a coming attraction. It's certainly coming, coming to this theater, and I think our Mercury actors make it an attraction. I'd like you to meet them.

PARKS: In the present day, is this a Wes Anderson-specific thing or are there other directors who you think of who use the repertory style?

MONDELLO: No, there are a lot of people who do it, although Wes Anderson is the one who does it regularly now. But if you think about the beginnings of a lot of our careers, Martin Scorsese, when he first started out, used Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro and a few other actors in a lot of different movies. And you got used to those people working together - Woody Allen, Spike Lee, when he first started out. So a lot of people have done this before. Wes Anderson has done it for an entire career.

PARKS: Right.

MONDELLO: And that's different. Jason Schwartzman, I mean, the man owes Wes Anderson his career.

PARKS: Well, and you can almost see a lot of these actors grow up, it feels like, throughout - over the course of his career, right?

MONDELLO: Absolutely. As a director, you know what you want and that the actors can give you a certain thing. I mean, when Orson Welles came over from the theater and he brought actors with him, like Joseph Cotten and Agnes Moorehead and those people, he knew what they could do. He was writing parts in "Citizen Kane" for them. And he wrote parts in "The Magnificent Ambersons" for them. And so bringing those actors along, he knew he'd get a certain quality of performance from them. Well, he made them into film stars. So it was working together that made them significant.

PARKS: I wonder about franchises, because I think it has the same effect, like, this idea of an audience becoming comfortable with the cast after seeing them in a number of movies. Would you consider, you know...

MONDELLO: The repertory of...

PARKS: Yeah, right, that...

MONDELLO: ...Of "Harry Potter."

(LAUGHTER)

PARKS: Or "Marvel" or something like that. Does that fit into the same category?

MONDELLO: Well, the difference there is that they're making different stories using the same characters. You know, in "Harry Potter," Daniel Radcliffe is playing Harry Potter in all those movies.

PARKS: Yeah.

MONDELLO: Maggie Smith is playing Professor McGonagall in all of those movies. So it's not that they're playing different characters. They're playing variations of the same story. That's like television. So, yeah, it's a different animal.

PARKS: Can you talk big picture, Bob, about why - specifically with Wes Anderson, why does this work so well?

MONDELLO: When you have a lot of people come into a Wes Anderson movie, as you do in this one, the deadpan style that he likes, you have a new actor like Tom Hanks or Scarlett Johansson or Margot Robbie coming into this atmosphere, and you watch them adapt what you know they can do everywhere else to this, that's fascinating. And if you follow the style, if you've been looking at Wes Anderson movies all along, it's so cool to see what people that you don't associate with him become when they're under his auspices.

PARKS: Bob Mondello, movie critic for NPR. Thank you so much for being with us.

MONDELLO: Always a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.