Interview: Checking in to THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL with Tony Revolori
By Dan Casey on March 9, 2014
Wes Anderson’s latest work, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is yet another carefully manicured piece of impossibly twee, rigorously aestheticized, and thoughtfully written cinema filled with all manner of colorful characters that feel like relics of a bygone era. Also, it’s really, really good — just ask our resident film critic Witney Seibold. At the core of the film, set primarily in the 1930s in the fictional European republic of Zubrowka, is the relationship between the vainglorious, effete concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), and the hotel’s lobby boy-cum-Gustave’s protege, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori). Revolori may be a relative newcomer to the world of feature films, but the seventeen year-old actor more than held his own with a star-studded cast of heavy hitters including Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban, and countless others. Possessed of an easygoing charm, a palpable enthusiasm for the craft, and a boundless energy, Revolori took what could have easily been a caricature and made Zero Moustafa a truly memorable young ward, a quiet but passionate student who has suffered through tragedy and displacement yet never succumbed to cynicism and despair.
Recently, I had the chance to speak with Revolori at The Grand Budapest Hotel press day in Los Angeles where we discussed everything from getting repeatedly slapped in the face by Harvey Keitel to Bill Murray threatening to throw his father in the pool to going toe-to-toe with some seriously talented actors, and much more.
Nerdist: So I’ve got to say, I really enjoyed the film, and I really enjoyed you, in particular. A very impressive performance.
Tony Revolori: Thanks!
N: I know you’ve been acting for a while, but this feels like a definite break-out role of sorts.
TR: Yeah, literally.
N: What was that experience like, sort of stepping into this role of Zero Moustafa. How did you approach the character? What intrigued you about the character?
TR: I mean, his sense of loyalty and brotherhood — that’s why I was very much intrigued, and I mean, I wasn’t in a position to kind of say, “Well, yes or no.”
TR: As soon as Wes comes knocking — I wouldn’t have said no, never to this script, and then to this character. And so as soon as I heard “Wes Anderson” and then this film, I just came and I begged and I did my auditions, and he said, “Yes” — I didn’t beg, but I went to the auditions, and he chose me! And so that was great — I was able to do something quite amazing, working in what I think is his best one yet. I might be biased, because I haven’t worked on his other ones, but if Bill Murray says it, then you’ve got to believe it.
N: Exactly. It seems like a rule to live by. He seems like a real font of wisdom.
TR: Yeah, yeah! No, no, no — I mean, Bill is smart, but he’s funny. He’s just so funny, but he’s really wise, and he’s very poetic, and everything like that. I had so much fun working with him, and everyone on this cast. But if Bill Murray says “This is Wes Anderson’s best movie,” you’ve got to believe him.
N: Yeah. Well, I heard that he threatened to throw you into the pool, so what was going on there?
TR: Not me, my father! He was a stage parent. Bill was like, “Ah, I’ve worked with stage parents before, and they can be annoying.” He said to my dad, “Don’t make me throw you in a pool!” And by the end of the week, his shooting — right after he finished — he comes up to me and says, “You’ve got a cool dad. I won’t throw him in the pool.” And I said, “Well, can you?”
N: [chuckles] Exactly.
TR: So Bill Murray didn’t throw my dad in the pool.
N: Either way, Bill Murray gives your dad the pass, like “You know what? I’m not going to throw him in the pool,” and you have to wonder about all those other dads just lying in that pool somewhere.
TR: That’s true, yeah. If they were in the pool, that would be kind of a bad thing. But my dad survived the test of Bill Murray’s judgment.
N: And that is a true testament to character.
TR: Absolutely. If you can do that, you can do anything.
N: Exactly. So you were stepping into this cast of real heavy hitters…
TR: Yeah, yeah.
N: A lot of really impressive people. I know I would certainly be a little daunted. What was that experience like, and was there any–did you have any particularly memorable experiences that you had with them?
TR: Yeah, absolutely. I had so many memorable experiences. So many stories; so many memories — too many to count. Working with these guys was great, because I subconsciously picked up a lot of things that they do and to their process and everything like that, and I’m able to add it to my own. I was just very fortunate to work with this great group of actors, who are also nice, genuine, and really helped me feel comfortable, so I could gain my confidence. Working alongside Ralph [Fiennes], who I mainly worked with, was amazing, because he’s just a fantastic actor and director, as well. You learn so much, really, and memorable — I remember Harvey Keitel slapping me 42 times.
N: Oh, my God! Why did you have to film that so many times?
TR: Because Wes likes doing a lot of takes.
N: Was Wes mad at you or something?
TR: [laughing] Maybe he was.
N: Maybe he was trying to tell you something.
TR: No, no, no. He’s definitely — because the thing is, this scene, it was, “Good luck, kid” — if you’ve seen the movie…
TR: He slapped me, and I have to come exactly in a position where I’m not too forward to cover Ralph, I’m not too back to be out of frame, so every slap, I’d come back — “Oh, he didn’t do it as good, let’s do it again.” “Oh, he didn’t come, he went too far out.” “Oh, he went went too far back.” So it took a while, and we got a good couple of takes in between, but finally, after 42, when he cut, I was like, “Oh, thank god!”
N: Yeah. [chuckles] So you’ve since regained feeling in your face?
TR: No. Not yet. Harvey Keitel is a man’s man.
N: Yeah. I would not want to get slapped by him once, let alone 42 times.
TR: If you can get slapped by him and not cry, then you get a medal.
N: Exactly! [laughs]
TR: You get a medal; you get a badge. I have 42 all over my face, so I just want to say, I think I’m tougher than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
N: [laughs] There’s our pull quote right there! So one of the things I really enjoyed about your character in particular is this sort of indefatigable optimism, in the threat of the growing fascism, and he’s experienced so much tragedy. How did you find the balance within the character and sort of — you know, there’s all these terrible things going on around you, but still remaining upbeat.
TR: It was simple. I didn’t think much of anything really. I let myself really feel it. Because as a person at this age — even back in the past too, as well — people didn’t really pay attention at that age. They didn’t think. And so, that’s what I did with this character — I didn’t think, I didn’t worry, I didn’t think, “Oh, well he thinks this, so I couldn’t do this or this or this.” I just let myself flow free and keep going with this character as best I could. And I think that’s what made it feel so real, that this character — it’s there — these emotions, these hardships are there, but then he moves past them and he tries to do what he needs to do to help the people around him.
N: Another thing with Wes Anderson films, that they always have this very self-assured balance of — there’s a real sense of springiness and lightness to it, despite the sometimes heavy subject matter, and there’s a real self-assured visual aesthetic. What was that experience like, working with Wes to sort of create this film that — it feels like it was ripped out from another time? It feels like a classic caper, but in the modern day.
TR: Yeah, it’s amazing the way he did this. It was amazing. He’s very prepared. He has these storyboard animations, which basically was the whole film and was basically edited, and he voices this thing, so you know how the things are going to look and storyboard–you know how fast he wants you to talk, he knows what your movements are going to be, how you’re going to hold your hands, and things like this. Of course, there are things we have to change, because these were cartoon animations, and of course, you can’t break your arm like they do and do the illogical…
TR: So we had to find the logical way of doing things. But it was great! He comes in very prepared, he knows what he wants, and it’s great working with someone like that. You just trust him, and he’s able to bring this amazing project to live.
N: Who was the most intimidating person, when you were just like, “Oh crap, I’m going to be going head to head…”?
TR: Ralph Fiennes. Yeah, it’s got to be Ralph Fiennes, man. Everyone else, you’ve got Willem Dafoe or Tilda Swinton, who have played those meaner characters, but everyone was nice! Really! But then you see the Red Dragon.
TR: You see Amon Goeth from Schindler’s List. You’re like [makes a face].
N: It’ll be print, you don’t have to worry about it.
TR: Thank you! And so, it’s daunting working with someone like that. But he’s such a nice guy! He’s so — you just have fun with him. You learn so much. And he’s so, so wonderful as an actor, and so wonderful as a person, I really — we became friends by the end of it, and still to this day, I’m glad to be able to call him my friend.
N: That’s awesome, man. That’s awesome. Something I’m always curious about–was there a moment on set where you were like, “Holy shit, I can’t believe this is happening right now”?
TR: There were moments, because at dinner — we’d have dinner after every shoot, and everything like that — most every shoot — we’re at these long tables, and to your right you’d have Jeff Goldblum, and to your left you have Edward Norton, across from me you’d have Willem Dafoe, there’s Saoirse Ronan, there’s Ralph Fiennes. At the head of the table you have Wes, at the other head of the table you have Bill Murray, and you’re like, “Oh, my God. This is amazing!” They were just talking about, like, Avatar and music and you’re like, “This is just unbelievable. How lucky am I?” And then all the hipsters in the world are crying.
N: Of course.
TR: [whining] “You’re very lucky.”
N: [laughs] Their hot, bearded tears.
TR: [with a laugh] Their hot, bearded tears, falling out of their Ray-Bans.
N: So after this, what do you have on the horizon? What’s coming up for you after you’ve checked out of the Grand Budapest Hotel?
TR: I want to check back in, that’s for dang sure. I want to be in another Wes Anderson film! I don’t know. Anything he’s making, I’ll do it.
TR: I did a movie in India, which was a great project — Umrika. It was from a first-time director, Prashant Nair. I got to work with Suraj Sharma from Life of Pi, it was amazing. All done in Hindi, which was an experience — I don’t speak a lick of it. And it was great — I just shot that. Hopefully sometime this year it will come out.
N: Nice. What was that — did you just have to sort of learn it phonetically?
N: How big of a challenge was that for you?
TR: It was a very big challenge. I mean, come on. Learning a whole new language that you’ve never even heard people speak? It’s really difficult — it really is. But I was up for the challenge, I worked eight hours a day to do this myself. I think I did a good enough job. And now, let’s hope — I just want to keep working, in anything, really — just find the right project for me and move forward. But you know–Game of Thrones, that’s something I want to do.
N: Yeah! [chuckles] You and me both, pal! Oh my goodness.
TR: I don’t care if they kill me off in the first…
N: I feel like that’s an honor, almost — a badge of honor.
TR: If you get killed off in Game of Thrones, then you know you’ve done something wrong.
N: Or you’ve done something right. At least you know you’re beloved.
TR: You know you’re beloved–yeah. You know a character is a good one, people are going to — unless you’re Joffrey.
TR: Unless you’re Joffrey, then people are going to be like, “Oh, wow.”
N: That’s why he’s still kicking around!
TR: But then, Ned Stark!
N: I know.
TR: Robb Stark! My heart yearns for you both.
N: They’re in a better place…on different projects!
TR: [laughs] Exactly!
N: So I’ve also read that you wrote a screenplay and that you want to direct.
TR: Yeah, yeah! Absolutely.
N: Tell me a little bit about that, and is there anything that you picked up working with Wes that you would incorporate into your own directing process?
TR: Yes. His preparedness. I love how prepared he was. I want to be as prepared as he is for this project, because I saw how helpful it was for him. He was a lot less stressed out and everything than other directors that I’ve seen, and I would want to do that. But then, nothing else. I want to open myself up to be free, to find my own way, my own process — whatever it is you want to call it. My own self, and my directing style. So–definitely, just that preparedness; that I really would like to take.
And then, this screenplay is something I wrote recently, and I’m just trying to pitch it out. It’s a great film — I think it’s nice. I’m kind of biased when I say that! I really enjoy it. I hope I can have the opportunity to shoot it and direct it.
N: Fantastic, man! I’m hoping that happens. I’d love to see it. Last but not least, the most important question of all: what would be inside your ideal burrito?
TR: Is this a question you ask everyone?
N: It is.
TR: OK, what’s inside my ideal burrito? Anything?
TR: You’ve got to have a bit of eggs there. I mean, because it’s a burrito. You’ve got to have eggs. Maple syrup. Bacon — crispy bacon, applewood smoked crispy bacon. Avocado. A bit of American cheese. And maybe some potatoes in there — nice little salted potatoes, with a hint of something, that I don’t know what it could be, but something nice. Possibly — maybe a little bit of hamburger meat, I know that’s strange, but hamburger meat — I know that’s still with the maple syrup put on it–what else? What else could we add?
N: That’s a pretty solid breakfast burrito. That’s one of the better ones that I’ve heard.
N: Yeah. You’ve got the details in there that really sell it.
TR: You know that one day I’m going to go back and read the article, and go “I need to make this thing!” No, I just ate my breakfast. But instead of a tortilla, it would be wrapped in pancakes!
N: Okay… that’s a game changer right there.
TR: Yeah! That’s the thing. Oh — now I’m hungry again.
N: I’m glad I could instill that into you.
TR: Thank you. You know this is going to be done, and I’m going to take a picture and send it to you, right?
N: Please do. If you do that, please, by all means, send me a picture of that.