Tony Revolori, the young star of Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, knows how to draw a mustache. It's a talent he acquired drawing a thin black line on his upper lip each day to play Zero, the lobby boy whose bond with Ralph Fiennes' effete concierge makes up the heart of the caper.
Revolori, who talks a mile-a-minute in real life, isn't exactly a newcomer to the business, having appeared in TV shows such as Entourage and Shameless. But here, he has the weighty task of playing the straight man to Fiennes' Gustave H in Anderson's meticulously crafted (would you expect any less?) homage to pre-War Europe. The mustache, of course, and the fact that Revolori, not the makeup team, had to apply it fits in with everything an audience knows of Anderson.
And while Revolori now refers to the members of Anderson's legendary cast of players as "uncles," that doesn't mean the filming wasn't without some indignities: he fell down his first day on the job. "First day of filming, I’m wearing these shoes that have no traction, running in the snow," he said during an interview with The Wire last week. "I’m running, I’m tired, I can’t really run, it takes me so much effort, I fall face first in the snow and I kind of bounce in the snow, fall down, and I’m dead in the snow. I'm like, I don’t want to do this anymore. First day. So it was kind of like, a jab at the new guy. It was just funny."
Read on as Revolori discusses his time in Wes's world, getting slapped by Harvey Keitel, and, yes, that mustache.
You have such a great interview scene in the movie. I feel like I want to ask you: why do you want to be a lobby boy?
Well, who wouldn’t at the Grand Budapest, sir — ma’am, ma’am! Sorry, that was my mind still going to the script.
No it's fine! Had you been a fan of Wes's work?
Absolutely. Before this whole entire process started, I had seen The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Royal Tenenbaums, and I’d been huge fans of them, but I never really took, culturally, into my mind Wes Anderson. But after finishing the film—I didn’t want to concern myself too much with his past work until after I finished working—then I truly delved into his life’s work, and I thought “Wow, this is just fantastic, how have I not done this before? What’s wrong with me?”
His work is so specific, did he coach you at all?
It’s not like he’s a tyrant, which people have been saying, he’s not. He’s a great, calm, relaxed guy. But he knows what he wants and he’ll do what he has to do to get there. Very calmly and in a very nice way he’ll you get there, subconsciously. He and I worked for about four months before this whole entire film process started, and we rehearsed a bunch. I read the script, sent it to him, he was scouting, he would see the thing, give me notes, send it back to me, I would do it again.
Sending videos back and forth?
Yeah, and if he couldn’t do the video, he’d send me an email with notes.
So he would send you videos back too?
Yeah. Sometimes. So I still have those videos and things like that. I’m pretty sure he has all of them because he likes to hold all those things, those memories. I’m pretty sure they will put that on the behind the scenes thing, which I’m kind of nervous about now. But, oh well! It’s great though. So I came in very prepared.
The movie feels like a jewel box when you’re watching it. Is that something you felt when you were on set?
He built these amazing sets. He designed them with Adam Stockhausen, which were amazing, and these costumes, as well. Everything was just made and real so you can feel tangible and really fall in his world, which was amazing as an actor. You don’t have to think green screen here, green screen there.
Do you have any specific memories of interacting with the sets and the world?
Speaking of how precise, how many takes Wes does, I had to put my face in exact position of the camera. If I was too forward, I would cover Ralph, if I was took back I was out of frame. Harvey Keitel slaps me in this scene, and so he slaps me hard. He’s an ex-Marine, he doesn’t play around, he’s doing five push ups before every take, he’s pumping himself up. I’m like, why? He gives me a good slap. Take one, take two, take three, take four. And Wes likes to take many takes. After take 42, I couldn’t feel my face. It was great, though, because I got to get the story of being slapped by Harvey Keitel.
After finishing filming, after the wrap party, the editor Barney Pilling, who’s amazing, he made this little slap reel, which he showed me, which is all the slaps next to each other. So it’s slap slap slap slap slap, and some of them really sounded like hurt and they did.
Can you tell me about putting the mustache on? Was that something that was drawn on you every day? Did you do that yourself?
No, it was all myself. The makeup people wanted to do it and were going to do it for me, but then Wes comes in, “No, he’s gotta do it himself.” So every morning I’d grab a pen and just draw it on every day.
Did you practice?
I had to practice it a lot. I actually did it recently just to see if I could still do it, and muscle memory is still there. I did it spot on perfect. Little, little wibble-wobble there, but it was there. I’m still able to do it which is really nice.
Did you do it any times and get that it wasn't good enough?
Yeah, oh yeah. There were a couple of times when we’re like uh no, let’s go again.
Was it just like an eyeliner pencil?
Yeah. I want to say which one it was, but I don’t even remember. I used to grab it, file it, put it on. Many times it would be like, alright again, wipe it off, try again straight from start.
Did Wes talk to you about the motivation behind the mustache?
Definitely. The story was Zero draws this thing on to be more like Mr. Gustave. Because that’s his inspiration and that’s who he wants to aspire to be. That’s his kind of trying to emulate his persona. Even from the beginning he knew of Mr. Gustave and he knew that’s the man I got to be.
You’re a newcomer to the Wes Anderson world and in a way so was Ralph, did that bond you two? And what was it like interacting with the people who have been in so many of his movies?
I like to say that Wes creates these family environments. He does, he says it himself. So when you come in you see Uncle Jason and Uncle Bill and Uncle Owen and you come in as the Nephew Tony or the Cousin Ralph or something like that. You come in as an extra family member being introduced. Twenty minutes later you’re all just a family. You’re just having normal conversations with these guys, you’re having so much fun, they help you feel comfortable. Really I never felt these are the new guys, these are the old guys, we just all collaborated.
Your timelines didn’t overlap, but did you meet F. Murray Abraham, who plays the older version of your character?
I was there from day one to day end so I was able to meet everyone. I did meet F. Murray Abraham, he’s amazing. My dad was very nervous because his favorite film is Amadeus. So I was able to be like, yeah, introduce my dad to his hero. I felt very very good and nice, and he’s absolutely wonderful. He’s an amazing actor, he did something fabulous with his age of Zero.
Did you have a Zero powwow?
No. Wes wanted us to do whatever we wanted, and F. Murray and I sort of unspokenly decided these characters are so different in their different lives. Zero at the happiest point and at his saddest point, and we see him going into that saddest point. There is that sorrow in him that he created and I kind of made the lighter version of him.
Wes has talked a lot about the writings of Stefan Zweig. Did you do any research of that sort?
I watched two films and a couple of other they had on set and stuff like that, but two films I remember watching that were specifically given to me were Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be and The Shop Around the Corner. Those two Wes wanted me to watch, and they were great but he didn’t want me to completely immerse in anything or take myself too seriously because he had developed this characters where they need to be so there’s no need for me to try to do anything more. And he didn’t even tell me about Stefan Zweig.
So that’s how you pronounce it!
I wanted to just give you that. I had many opportunities. When I first heard it, I thought it was Stefan Zee-wig. But I’ve been hearing it so often it’s Zveig, zveig, zveig. He never introduced me because this is his world in many ways, it’s inspired by but it’s his world so we just needed to listen to him more than anything else.
And in a way Zero is an outsider too—
To this world. So he didn’t really need too much knowledge of it in many senses.
Now that you’ve gone through all of Wes’ films, is there one you wish you could have been in? Is there a favorite?
I would have loved to have been in Bottle Rocket to take over Owen Wilson’s character Dignan, becuase he’s just awesome and amazing. I would have loved to have been in The Darjeeling Limited maybe. I think that would have been a good one to be in.
I don’t know, I just feel like I’d fit in easily. I’d be able to fit in, and I have two brothers myself so I felt very akin to that film because of the brotherhood in that movie is very similar to mine.
I watched an interview with you in which you explained you were competing with your brother for Zero.
Yeah. Oh yeah. He’s still with his broken arm and broken leg. No, I’m just kidding.