So you've had the weekend to escape into another Wes Anderson-ian fantasy by watching The Grand Budapest Hotel. You've commissioned a Boy With Apple painting knockoff, and you're still searching for L'Air de Panache on Etsy. It's cool. We've been daydreaming about all those amazing props in the movie, too, so we grabbed the film's prop master, Robin L. Miller, on the phone to give us the lowdown behind the film's stand-out pieces. Many of the movie's props get their own close-up shots -- we know Wes Anderson's serious about his stuff -- and it turns out, he's as obsessive in his devotion to perfecting every object as you'd expect. "He is an absolute part of every step," Miller says of working with the auteur. "You have to come up with what he has in his imagination and believe me, it is quite a process. Everything has his touch."
Ranging from the beautiful (Lust-worthy pastries! Prada luggage! Perfume bottles!) to the bloody (the "throat slitter," brass knuckles with skulls, a dead cat), most of the props underwent an extensive development process with prototypes and several revisions. And, according to Miller, Anderson wanted local craftsmen from the historic town where they filmed (Gorlitz, Germany) to create pieces whenever possible. From getting a local chef to serve up a thousand of those pastel confections Agatha kept churning out to working with a world-renowned designer, Miller gives us the backstory behind the ten most scene-stealing props used in the film.
Miller hunted down Gorlitz artist Heidemarie Klinger, who creates little delft blue hand-painted porcelain pieces at her Gorlitz porcelain shop, to produce the Society of the Crossed Keys necklace Agatha (played by Saoirse Ronan) wore in the movie. "I said, 'I'm going to be back twenty times with changes from our director so please bear with me,' and she did until the bitter end," Miller says of working with Klinger, who trained in Meissen, the nearby town known for porcelain manufacturing. "Anytime I walked in, I thought she would throw me out and say, 'I've had it with these movie people!'"
But ultimately everyone was happy. "I had told her, 'What you make will be six feet up on the screen' and she ended up coming to the wrap party," Miller recalls.
For the elaborate luggage, there needed to be countless matching pieces, but what Anderson wanted didn't exist outside of museums. The director tapped Miuccia Prada -- with whom he has a close friendship -- to come up with the one-of-a-kind-cases lined with mauve satin. Anderson went back and forth with Prada, swapping metal for brass, keeping the color, but vetoing the texture, until they were just right. "We had a guard for them while they weren't shooting," Miller says.
L'air de Panache Cologne
In the movie, Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) sprayed himself with the musky scent so generously that people could smell him even after he left the room. It's also the first comfort Gustave demands once he's a free man. Anderson had Mark Buxton, who co-owns the French fragrance house, Nose, create the honey-colored perfume, and Miller explains how the cube-shaped bottle with its pump came to be:
Wes went back and forth for weeks on every aspect from the atomizer to the color of the liquid inside. Every aspect had to be tested and looked at before I went off and improved the drawings to take back to him again. None of this really exists. You don't find anything on the shelf.
Reason #1 to snatch the DVD and hit pause: Wes Anderson writes all the newspaper material, from the front cover to the interior pages. "It was months and months of coming up with typefaces. You can read all those composed stories even though it's just a quick flash," Miller says.
Courtesan au Chocolat Pastries
Local pastry chef Anemone Muller-Grossman created the movie's heavily
featured three-tiered mini-cakes topped with mint green and bright pink
frosting. "We would have them make 1,000. I had her on call because she
had to whip those things up," Miller remembers.
Boy with Apple Painting
Madame D, the dowager Monsieur Gustave H. beds (played by a barely-recognizable Tilda Swinton) is so taken by him that she bequeaths this Renaissance portrait to the concierge. Depicting a solemn young man in velvet and lace cupping a green apple, it was painted by the fictional Johannes Van Hoytl the Younger. "That was a jumping off point for Wes," Miller says. "I remember it was one of the first things he needed done, and he found an amazing artist and he basically commissioned this. It's exquisite in person, and Wes would keep it in his wonderful apartment. It was an inspiration to him I think."
In a movie full of memorable characters, Willem Dafoe's hitman, Jopling, stands out. And so do the brass knuckles he wears while going on a killing spree. "Wes said, 'Hey Robin, what about skulls on them?' OK, I never thought of that. You just never know the direction he's going to take," Miller says. Luckily Wes's friend, Waris Ahluwalia (who stars in the film as M. Dino), is also a jeweler, so he customized them to fit Dafoe's hand. "The minute he put them on, he had that funny demonic look in his eye," Miller recalls.
"Who's got the throat slitter?" Gustave asks of his new buddies at the medieval-era prison, and they use it to divvy up a pastry. "The throat slitter was a total process. He [Anderson] writes it in there and the first thing you think of is a straight razor so I sent him bits and pieces...and I'd make prototypes of each one of them," Miller says. "He would slowly modify and ask, 'What would be the most threatening? How do we make it the nastiest?'"
Agatha smuggles tools into the prison by tucking them into Mendel's pastries so Mr. Gustave can dig his way out of the cell. "I started at the flea market in Berlin and just found prototypes and then Wes approved them," Miller says. "He'd say, 'I like this, but make this smaller because they need to be things that would fold up.' It took me awhile to get his concept...but I had a wonderful fabricator who literally sculpted all those things and remade them to scale."
Miller created the cat that Adrien Brody chucks out the window with cut-outs, plywood and fake fur. "That was a big deal," he says. "[Anderson] would change it and make it bigger and smaller and apply all the blood. You can't make a mistake because he [puts] a last touch on everything."