Newcomer Tony Revolori plays Zero Moustafa, the resourceful lobby boy and the trusted confident of Monsieur Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), the fastidious concierge at the heart of Wes Anderson’s new film, “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Moustafa brings a wonderful quality of intelligent innocence to his character and his on-screen chemistry with Fiennes is clear. Opening March 7th, the film features an impressive cast that also includes F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson and Owen Wilson.
At a recent roundtable interview, Revolori talked about the atmosphere on set, working opposite Fiennes, his kissing scene with Saoirse Ronan, adapting to act in the Wes Anderson universe and the research he did beforehand, the physicality and pacing required on set, having fun being a part of the film’s exciting adventure set pieces, being slapped repeatedly by Harvey Keitel in sub-zero weather, bowling with F. Murray Abrahams, his chocolate allergy, and his upcoming Bollywood film, “Umrika” which he just finished shooting in India with Suraj Sharma from “Life of Pi.”
QUESTION: Can you talk about what a communal atmosphere Wes [Anderson] created for you guys? It’s not like any other set where you guys dine together and you were able to talk. Can you elaborate a bit on that?
Tony Revolori: Absolutely. We would have dinners together every night, where you would have an extended, long table of stars, if you will. You would have Edward Norton to your right, Jeff Goldblum to your left, across from you Ralph [Fiennes], and to his side you would have Saoirse [Ronan] and Bill Murray. To the head of the table you would have Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson. It’s great to be able to talk with these guys and just hang out. You’re not even doing anything. You’re usually talking about the scenes you did today and how we did them, how they looked, and then you would talk about movies, music and just regular things really, which is quite nice to see people talking about things that are just quite normal and natural. It kind of takes the whole oh my God there’s Bill Murray, that out of the equation, which is quite nice. It was fantastic being able to do so. Even on sets they would have one green room which is where all the stars would stay. If you’re not being called or anything, you would stay and wait there. You would talk, again more about past experiences or whatever the conversation was started. It’s amazing to be able to feel comfortable with these people, especially for me who was someone much less experienced than these veteran actors. They helped me feel comfortable and they helped me build my confidence, which was quite nice, especially for this character. It’s very similar to that experience. He was very shy and insecure then grows into his confidence.
Q: It reminds me of the table in the movie where all the servants eat.
Revolori: Yeah, it’s exactly like that, except Wes is not talking and we’re not ravaging our food.
Q: You share a lot of screen time with Ralph Fiennes. Was it very parental, a mentorship, between you two working on the film with him showing you the ropes?
Revolori: Yeah, a bit. Ralph, just to let you know. Luckily for me, a lot of people in this movie had a lot of weird names to pronounce, that’s fine. The thing that I did was that I let Wes introduce me, so it’s like here’s Ralph Fiennes. Ralph, that’s good to know. Here’s Saoirse. Saoirse? I would have never guessed that. You see her name and you think Say-or-rise.
Q: She probably would have punched you if you would have said something like that.
Revolori: Yeah, she probably would have karate-chopped me like in “Hannah.” Working with Ralph was amazing. The mentoring thing, that’s what it was. He kind of gave off the impression to say look very closely and you’ll pay attention and learn a lot. I’m not going to tell you anything, just look and pay attention, and that’s the feeling I got from him and that’s what I did. I picked up a lot from him. He’s absolutely a genius in what he does, and I did pick up a lot from a lot of the actors, and subconsciously probably in two years, in the next project I work on, I’ll be doing something and say oh, that’s what I took from “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” It was great. I remember I did ask him for one piece of advice, because I was nervous about doing the kissing scene with Saoirse. As you can imagine, I went up to him and I asked him, “So what do you think? What should I do? I’m kind of nervous.” He looks at me, stares at me for a bit, smiles and says “Well you tell her… I’m sorry if I get aroused, and I’m sorry if I don’t.” I didn’t tell her that but it made me laugh. The way he said it was amazing and that’s what I needed. I needed someone to make a joke of it and I felt comfortable from that point on. He knew exactly what I needed to have done.
Q: So how did that kissing scene work out?
Revolori: Really good. We broke all our costumes like four times. You can imagine we went wild. Wes was like, “Go for it.” So it was a lot of throwing the hat, and as you saw my uniform, maybe you can’t see, but it has a lot of buttons. She would grab it and rip it, and the buttons ripped, which Milena (Canonero), our head of costume was absolutely furious about. It was great, and I had a lot of fun. We were laughing after every take. It was beautiful.
Q: Did you have an idea of how you wanted to go into this film acting-wise? And how did you adapt, or change your style, to fit into a Wes Anderson world? Did you do your research beforehand with his films?
Revolori: I had seen his films before: “The Darjeeling Limited,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” so I know his work. I didn’t concern myself to watch any other of his films because I wanted to focus on this project. I didn’t need to see his other body of works. This is a movie I needed to pay attention to, and he has a very specific style of acting and everything, so he worked with me for months before. I would tape myself reading the script, I would send it to him, and he would say, “Well, why don’t we try saying the line this way?” So subconsciously, after these months of practice, I was there. When all was said, it just came naturally and I knew what I needed to do. Once I was with Ralph in costume and on set, everything just clicked even further. And so, I didn’t come in with a way to approach it, because he’s very particular. He knows what he wants and there’s nothing I needed to do. I just needed to follow his directions and go forward. Of course, it’s not limiting with him because he’s allowing these suggestions to be made, and allowing you to go forward. It’s beautiful to have someone who knows what he wants, so that way you can go forward and truly do what the director intends for this movie to look like.
Q: What about the physicality and the pace of everything that’s happening? Is that something that you get from the page? Did you talk about that, or did that evolve on set?
Revolori: Well, I mean, it’s a bit of everything really. Being on set, it’s a lot of running and a physicality thing for me. I was a character. I was a person who did most of the things. I hung off of a building for a bit, which was nice, even though I’m scared of heights. It’s great. You don’t pay attention to these things when you’re on set, you just do them. You just know you have to make this character feel as realistic as possible in his films, and there’s no thoughts of okay, I’m running at three times the speed that I normally would or anything. You just feel like okay, he wants it this way, how do I make this look real? Just forget everything else, this is my world and this is how they act, this is how they talk, this is how they move and that’s it.
Q: There are a lot of adventure set pieces on this film. Were there any that were a lot of fun to be a part of, like the ski-chasing scene?
Revolori: I’d like to say I was a part of that, but sadly they were miniatures which were beautifully made. I enjoyed that very much, but everything else was me. It was really nice. It’s quite amazing the way he does these things. He makes it feel like it’s just a small student film, yet you’re doing all these huge stunts and these huge sets that he built. So it’s quite amazing and I really enjoyed myself, as did many of the other cast, all of the other cast really. Everyone really enjoyed themselves very much. It was great to be running around and doing everything for 40 takes at a time and working with these actors. It was quite an experience.
Q: What does a Mendls cake taste like?
Revolori: Don’t know. I’m allergic to chocolate. I never tried it and I can’t try it ever.
Revolori: That’s the reaction I always get! I know, I know, allergic since I was 6 and never had a piece of chocolate ever since.
Q: At 5 you were raking in the chocolate.
Revolori: Oh yeah!— No. My brother was more of a chocolate monster, and I would eat the occasional Oreo and I liked Starburst. And then finally, I tried an Oreo one day after sometime around 6 years old, and my throat swelled up and I couldn’t breathe. We went to the doctor and he was like nope, no more. It’s funny for me now, because I can laugh at it, but back then I was like [gasp]. So no chocolate, no peanut butter, but that’s about it. Death by chocolate, that’s what my gravestone is going to be. Death by chocolate. Willem is going to be death by being pushed off a mountain and mine is going to be death by chocolate. What a way to go. But that’s the best way to go, right? Having a piece of chocolate, and then heaven.
Q: I was going to say you could at least go to peanut butter but you’re allergic to peanut butter.
Revolori: I’m allergic to peanut butter. I’m screwed, except for like—
Q: So Reese’s is just a nightmare.
Revolori: Oh yea! I’m just gone.
Q: Did you ever get to meet F. Murray Abraham, who plays the older Zero?
Revolori: I did! I got to meet everyone. I was there on the first day they shot, even though I wasn’t shooting, to the last day they shot. I got to go to the wrap party, yay! I met everyone, and I did get to meet F. Murray Abraham. He was nice.
Q: Did you interact in the making of the film, maybe inform each other how you’re approaching the roles?
Revolori: No. We had a vocation, much like Mr. Gustave to Zero in the film. We had a vocation to never speak of our characters. It was unspoken, this thing we had. We never had to talk about it because Zero, when I play him, is so different from Zero when he plays him. He has an understanding of the older Zero that I could never achieve, because he has that age, experience and that knowledge, and I have an innocence and inexperience that Zero at this young age had. So there was no need for him to say or give me any advice.
Q: I don’t know about you, but if I were ever to run into somebody who played the older counterpart of my character I would have tried to mimic all the movements that he was doing just to mess with him.
Revolori: Well I joked, I mean he’s an amazing bowler and we went bowling one time. I joked, well, this is quite amazing! I’m going to be a great bowler one day. The way he does it, he curves it beautifully when he does strikes. And he’s strong too.
Q: That’s the movie I want to see. I want to see F. Murray Abraham and his younger counterpart bowling, traveling through time.
Revolori: Well, I’m not as great of a bowler. I mean I get an occasional strike here and there, but I’m a decent bowler. Somewhere around the 100 area.
Q: We’ve heard about all the takes that you guys have had to do. Was there one day in particular that stands out? Because I heard you had to do 40 takes in one particular scene.
Revolori: I feel like you know what you’re fishing for.
Q: I’m not fishing! I’m not fishing!
Revolori: You’re not fishing, all right. Well there is one story, and you almost got the number right too, which is quite fantastic. I’ll go full details. It’s somewhere around mid-shoot. They’re shooting all the prison scenes, which I’m in only one. I go in the first day, shoot for half a day, then go back to Görlitz where we were shooting, which is the next town over, where we were all based from. They shot the prison in this other very cold place. And so Ralph, Harvey [Keitel] and Wes were all there shooting. They were talking about the scene when they’re escaping, and they come out of the manhole, and how they’re going to hug each other and leave. It can’t be too friendly, whatever. Harvey said, “Well, you know what? Why don’t I, when I say bye to the kid, I give him a nice little slap?” Right? I was not there. I did not know. The day arrives on set. Oh, by the way, just a little thing that probably nobody’s ever told you is that Harvey slept in that prison every day that he was there. That prison was cold. It was like -7 degrees, which was freezing. I don’t know how he did it. I guess they warmed it up for him.
Q: But why?
Revolori: I don’t know man. He’s Harvey, but he did. So then back to the other one… I arrive on set. It’s this beautiful little farm. They built this manhole, blah blah blah. Take one, we’re going and they pick him out, he’s there. He did a couple of push-ups before, which I thought he was just getting pumped for the scene, but I know what it is for now. So pushups, stands up, see you later Mister Gustave, gah! Good luck kid! And my face was so surprised. I saw the first reaction on tape, because I wanted to see it, and my face was so genuinely surprised. I didn’t know what to do. My mouth was gaping. I just looked forward like what the… and yea. Then about 42 takes later we stopped.
Q: Did your cheek get a little numb?
Revolori: Yea, but we were in… Okay, first off, he slaps really hard. He’s an ex-Marine. He doesn’t play around. There’s no kiddy slap for you. He’s an ex-Marine. If you can’t take it, you’re gone. And it was cold, it was really cold, so it was like having ice on my face after he slapped me. So it was horrible, but we did it. Now it’s at 44. I saw him in New York and he slapped me two more times.
Q: Oh wow, you guys have a slap counter now.
Revolori: Yea. So “How I Met Your Mother” can’t have anything with me now.
Q: So what take did they use?
Revolori: I have no clue. Somewhere around 32 or 33 I heard, but I endured those slaps for Wes. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.
Q: Would you have been a little pissed that they would use take 2?
Revolori: You know, they may have possibly used take 1. They didn’t tell me. They’re like no, we used 35. Probably, I don’t know, but it seemed like they used one of the later ones because the way it played out and everything.
Q: Do you ever still rock the pencil mustache?
Revolori: Yes I do.
Q: Did you get good at it?
Revolori: Yea, but my mom doesn’t buy anymore eyeliner pens so I can’t do it anymore. What can I do? I mean, I loved doing that. It was nice doing that. I didn’t know I was going to do it. I remember going to a fitting one day, or talking with Wes. I don’t remember what it was, and he said, “Oh, by the way, you’re going to have a mustache.” I’d seen all these guys go in with these great mustaches and things like that. I was like, “Oh, but I can’t grow one.” He was like, “Oh no, don’t worry, you’re going to draw it on.” I was like, “Oh… well that’s weird, but okay.” And so, they drew it on and I had to practice to do it myself, because he didn’t want anyone else to do it but myself. For the rest of the film, I did it. I did it recently and I still get it quite nicely in one stroke. But we were thinking of doing the whole burnt cork thing. You know, burn the cork, put it on here, but then it burned my skin and that didn’t work. Like it didn’t burn it, burn it, but it was kind of drying the skin and it didn’t work really well.
Q: I feel like we’re hearing the tales of your face abuse for this movie.
Revolori: Well… I mean, I don’t know. Zero’s such a character that a lot of things happen to him, but he just lets it slide because he does it for the people he loves. I love these people. If I was called back to “Grand Budapest 2,” a prequel or whatever, I’m there. I’m there in a heartbeat. You can abuse me more, I’m ready for it! No, he didn’t abuse me. That’s the wrong thing to say. He did not abuse me!
Q: So what are you working on next?
Revolori: I just finished filming a movie in India, a Bollywood film which was an experience. It was all done in Hindi and I don’t speak a lick of it.
Q: Are you dancing and the whole thing?
Revolori: No. It’s very “Slumdog Millionaire”-type so I don’t know, they might call me back to do another dance number. I mean, a dance number but I’m not very good at that. It’s called “Umrika” with Suraj Sharma, the kid from “Life of Pi.” It’s the first time director Prashant Nair and it’s an amazing film. I’ve had so much fun making it. I don’t know, I just hope to keep working now.
Q: What’s your character?
Revolori: My character is called Lalu, which means smart ass in Hindi. Talk about that!