wes anderson’s most memorable characters

To celebrate the beloved director’s 47th birthday, here are the most iconic, ironic and utterly brilliant characters from Anderson films gone by!

by Nick Levine
01 May 2016, 3:10pm

Wes Anderson's films are so visually distinctive, it's impossible to mistake them for the work of any other filmmaker. But he wouldn't be able to create the immersive worlds of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou if he didn't populate them with such unique characters. As the director celebrates his 47th birthday this coming Sunday, here's a reminder, in no particular order, of some of his memorable creations.

Eleanor Zissou, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Anjelica Huston is a luminous presence as the estranged wife of Bill Murray's title character in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Exuding cool intelligence and a quiet strength, Eleanor is the true driving force behind the Team Zissou ocean documentary crew, presiding over their latest expedition in a series of elegant offbeat outfits set off by the blue streaks in her hair.

Royal Tenenbaum, The Royal Tenenbaums
Although he initially turned the role down, Gene Hackman is perfectly cast as the Tenenbaums' crass and crusty patriarch. Royal Tenenbaum is so morally dubious and manipulative he pretends he has stomach cancer to win back his kids, but by the end, Hackman somehow makes him close to sympathetic. He really rocks that flat cap, too.

Monsieur Gustave, The Grand Budapest Hotel
He's mainly known as a dramatic actor, but Ralph Fiennes shows off his comedy chops as the eccentric concierge patrolling The Grand Budapest Hotel's opulent lobby. Gustave is as prissy and particular as his neat mustache and proudly-worn purple uniform suggest, but he's also witty and strangely attractive - Fiennes himself described the character as "sexily ambivalent in a way that's not specified."

Mr. Fox, Fantastic Mr. Fox
Anderson's adaptation of Roald Dahl's much-loved children's book cleverly re-imagines Mr. Fox as a cosmopolitan newspaper columnist who's drawn back to his former life as a chicken thief by a mid-life crisis. The film's deliberately jerky stop-motion animation has lots of nostalgic charm and George Clooney voices the title character with his usual warmth and wit.

Margo Tenenbaum, The Royal Tenenbaums
Gwyneth Paltrow gives her coolest ever performance as the Tenenbaums' adopted daughter, a jaded playwright drifting apathetically through life with a secret smoking habit. Margot is the Wes Anderson character you're most likely to see on Instagram, partly because her nicotine-fueled ennui makes for a great meme, but also because her signature look (a fur coat worn over a Lacoste tennis dress, accessorized with heavy eyeliner) has made her a style icon.

Suzy Bishop, Moonrise Kingdom
At its core, Moonrise Kingdom is a sweet story about adolescent love, and Suzy Bishop is its determined and resourceful heroine. Charmingly played by newcomer Kara Hayward, she's also become a hipster Halloween costume thanks to her retro 1960s dresses and fondness for looking at everything through binoculars. Suzy probably wouldn't want to be separated from her beau, renegade scout Sam Shakusky, so let's give him an honorable mention too.

Dignan, Bottle Rocket
Owen Wilson has appeared in seven Wes Anderson films, but his character from the director's 1996 debut edges the rest. Dignan is a useless would-be criminal who's childish, hyperactive and delusional. "They'll never catch me... because I'm fucking innocent," he insists, wrongly, in the film's most famous line. But thanks to the Anderson-Wilson alchemy (the pair wrote the film's script together), Dignan is also kind of adorable.

Madame D., The Grand Budapest Hotel
It's become a cliché to call Tilda Swinton a chameleon, but her transformation into The Grand Budapest Hotel's 84-year-old grande dame is genuinely incredible. Swinton, who only took on the role after a scheduling clash forced Angela Lansbury to drop out, spent five hours in makeup every day to age up as Madame D., a somewhat crumpled widow who's still keeping up appearances in a succession of sumptuous outfits.

Steve Zissou, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Anderson based Steve Zissou on one of his childhood heroes, legendary French underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau, and wrote him specifically for one of his favorite actors, Bill Murray. Zissou (whose trademark red beanie is also borrowed from Cousteau) is arrogant, reckless and self-centered, but becomes less obnoxious as he slowly bonds with a stranger who joins his crew claiming to be his son. The result is classic Anderson: a flawed and awkward man who achieves an unexpected semi-redemption.

Max Fischer, Rushmore
This high school anti-hero is an irresistible mixture of drive and delusion. Max Fischer has ambitions of studying at Oxford or the Sorbonne, but spends so much time on marginal extra-curricular activities like Calligraphy Club and Kite Flying Society that his grades are terrible. Jason Schwartzman shines in the first of his five Wes Anderson roles, making the misguided student likeable even when he's being horribly precocious.

Wes Anderson
Life Aquatic
Steve Zissou