Fresh off the press tour that accompanied “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” his least well-received and most expensive project to date, Wes Anderson needed inspiration. The 38-year-old director found it in Paris, as a guest in the apartment of Jason Schwartzman, star of 1998’s “Rushmore.” It was there, through a series of late-night brainstorming sessions with his onetime leading man, that Anderson began to envision the story that would become his latest film, “The Darjeeling Limited.”
“Early on, Wes told me he wanted to make a film about three brothers on a train in India,” says Schwartzman. “Being roommates, we would go on these walks at night and exchange stories about our lives, or things we wish had happened in our lives. Wes would write them down in his notebook. One day, he decided we should bring Roman [Coppola, assistant director of ‘The Life Aquatic’] in on this, but I didn’t know what ‘this’ was. It turned out it was a screenplay that we’d begun.”
Coppola signed on without hesitation, helping to flesh out the skeleton of a story that would serve as the foundation for Anderson’s fifth feature film, and eventually serving as one of its producers.
But before any of that could happen, there was one tiny thing that needed to be done.
“Part of the pitch was that Wes wanted us to go on an adventure, to live it, to make it a very personal experience,” explains Schwartzman. “He wanted the story to be honest, and he wanted us to become very close, like the characters in the movie. So we went on a research trip to India, and that became essential to the writing process. It was the key to his invitation.”
And so it was that Anderson, Schwartzman and Coppola began their exploratory train ride through India, acclimating to the culture and experiencing some of the same offbeat misadventures that the movie’s stars — Schwartzman, Adrien Brody and Owen Wilson — would ultimately depict.
Anderson, whose desire to film in India was inspired partly by his appreciation for acclaimed Indian director Satyajit Ray, acknowledges that experiencing one of his story ideas firsthand reflected a new approach. In the end, the Houston native, who grew up with two brothers of his own, was pleased with the results.
“To some extent, the whole thing comes from some sort of autobiographical place, though there are scenes that were written before we arrived in India,” he says. “There’s a scene in the film involving a Sikh temple that serves no dramatic purpose that I can think of, but it’s a reflection of something very real in our lives. There was a Sikh temple in Delhi that made a huge impression on us.
“There’s something about participating in someone else’s rituals that is very moving, even if you don’t fully understand them. You feel as though you’ve learned something, but at the same time you get a sense of how very little you know about a culture. It’s a unique experience, but it can be very rewarding.”