"I've had a rough year, Dad," Chas Tenenbaum (Ben Stiller) tells his long-absent father, Royal (Gene Hackman), toward the end of Wes Anderson's 2001 film The Royal Tenenbaums. Anyone who has spent the past several months living in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic can probably relate. But with more and more people getting vaccinated, this year's Tribeca Festival is presenting a mix of in-person screenings in addition to its remote offerings.
Case in point: Its special 20th-anniversary outdoor screening of The Royal Tenenbaums on Monday, which was followed by a prerecorded panel discussion featuring Anderson, moderator Alec Baldwin, and cast members Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Anjelica Huston. While Hackman and Stiller, among others, were not able to attend, EW was there. Below, the five most intriguing takeaways from the much-anticipated reunion.
James Hamilton/Disney The cast of 'The Royal Tenenbaums'
1. Baldwin's narration almost didn't make the cut
The Royal Tenenbaums is bursting with vivid character details, colorful backdrops, and impressive world-building. One of the main components that ties it all together? Baldwin's smooth narration, the voice of seen-it-all New York cool. But Baldwin says he wasn't sure his talents would end up in the film at all.
"'I don't know why the producers are insisting that I have a voice-over,'" Baldwin recalled Anderson saying. "'I'm never going to use it. Don't worry, just throw it off.'"
The actor continued, "And the next thing you know, I find that I'm in a company with all of you amazing, amazing actors, and I watched this movie, and my mouth is on the floor."
Later in the panel, Anderson denied having said this, but what's important is that Baldwin's narration did make it into the final product, and the director now considers it integral to the film.
"Alec, I think your voice is as big a character as anybody else's," Anderson said. "I mean, you're in the whole movie, and your voice is such a strong thing."
2. Hackman was "intimidating" (and underpaid)
Hackman retired from acting a few years after The Royal Tenenbaums, and hasn't been in the public eye since. In his absence, his costars remembered how formidable he could be on set.
"He had a great thing that he did where he was on set all day," Luke Wilson recalled. "He just sat in his chair between shots. So even if another scene was going on, or if he wasn't in it, he was always right there - which was also intimidating."
Because of the limited budget and the plethora of movie stars in The Royal Tenenbaums, the filmmakers weren't able to pay Hackman the rate he was accustomed to, but the legendary actor still managed to turn in one of the best performances of his career.
"It was not what he had been used to getting paid," Anderson said. "So I think maybe when he finally settled on the fact that he was really going to have to do the movie, he had to make it worth his while somehow. He gave us a lot. For that small amount of money, I feel like he gave us everything he had."
3. A third Wilson brother also appeared in the film
The Wilson brothers were instrumental in The Royal Tenenbaums. Owen wrote the screenplay with Anderson and costarred as Eli Cash, a Tenenbaum family friend-turned-successful novelist-turned-drug addict, while his brother Luke portrayed one of the film's central characters, disgraced tennis pro Richie Tenenbaum. But many fans may not know that the third Wilson brother, Andrew, also had small roles in the movie, so his siblings made sure to shout him out at the panel.
Andrew Wilson plays the farmer who accidentally chops off the hand of Margot Tenenbaum (Paltrow) when she goes seeking her birth family. His hand is also featured in the close-up showing the BB gun pellet still stuck in Chas' hand years after Royal shoots him during a game. The reason? Because something similar happened to Andrew as a kid.
"That's Andrew's hand because in real life he has a BB in his hand from where he got shot by me or Luke," Owen said. "I don't remember, but I think it was me. It's still there!"
"Even today that copper is melting into his bloodstream," Luke added with a laugh.
4. Anderson got pissed - but just once
Coming off Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums was by far Anderson's biggest film to date. The cast was packed with stars and egos, and the director had to wrangle multiple production elements. But even under all that pressure, cast members could remember Anderson losing his temper only once.
"It's making me think about when I was getting fitted for my suit, at whatever tailor that Wes was using in New York, and they have me up on one of those boxes," Luke Wilson recalled. "It's this beautiful camel-hair suit, and Wes kept raising the level of the cuffs, until they were getting too high for my taste. So when Wes would turn his head, I'd motion to the tailor like, 'Hey, can we get those down a little bit?' So this went back and forth, and I think it might've been the only time that Wes has ever yelled at me. He pulled me to the side and went, 'This is going to be the level of the cuffs!'"
"I remember that, and I do feel bad about raising my voice," Anderson replied. "I don't think there was any need for it. I think there's something to be said for, 'Is the actor comfortable with what you're putting them in?' And then 90 percent of the time we framed you above the waist anyway."
5. Paltrow likes watching only one scene
Paltrow doesn't have fond memories of all her movies - Marvel fans may recall that she couldn't even remember being in Spider-Man: Homecoming. But The Royal Tenenbaums is an exception, particularly one of its most famous scenes: When Margot steps off the bus and reunites with Richie as Nico's "These Days" plays. Apparently her late father, producer Bruce Paltrow, was visiting the set that day, which added to the positive vibes.
"My dad was there, and it was this very special day," Paltrow said. "I really hate, hate seeing myself in a movie ever. That's kind of like the only scene that I can watch of myself, like of my whole career."
The 2021 Tribeca Festival runs through Sunday, June 20.