Wes Anderson has developed a filmmaking style in the last couple of decades, arguably starting with The Royal Tenenbaums. We’ve got the story behind the film with some fun facts.

Written by , 3rd November 2022

Written and directed by Wes Anderson, The Royal Tenenbaums hit theaters in December of 2001. This followed a hit showing at the New York Film Festival in October of that same year. And since its release, it’s been regarded by fans and audiences alike as one of the greatest films of the 21st Century. It’s even featured on BBC’s list of the 100 Greatest Films therein.

But with all of its critical acclaim and fan intrigue touched upon, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Here are twenty interesting facts about The Royal Tenenbaums.

1. Wes’ Brother Had a Huge Hand in Production

The Tenenbaum siblings are all prodigies. This is established early on with shots of their many talents and accomplishments from their childhood. Chas is an entrepreneurial businessman, Margot is a playwright, and Richie is a tennis star. They all have deeper idiosyncrasies, though. For example: Richie was a wonderful artist with drawings seen in the flashback from their precocious childhoods.

Wes’s brother, Eric Chase Anderson, is the true artist behind the drawings and paintings. That wasn’t his only role in the movie, though. He also designed the cover art for the Criterion Collection release of The Royal Tenenbaums, and perhaps most interestingly, he designed the children’s rooms from the family house. This gave production a sort of blueprint to work with and provided the film with a particularly picturesque quality.

The ‘backstory’ scene

2. Raleigh Was Based on a Real-Life Neurologist

In their second collaboration, Bill Murray appears in this Anderson flick as Raleigh St. Clair. A neurologist, Raleigh lives with the Tenenbaum daughter Margot, but his love for her is rivaled by his work. He’s conducting research on a test subject named Dudley who, as Raleigh tells his tape recorder, “suffers from a rare disorder combining symptoms of amnesia, dyslexia, and color-blindness, with a highly acute sense of hearing.”

Despite these absurd notions, Murray’s character was actually based on a real-life neurologist. Oliver Sacks specialized in patients who struggled with a wide range of neurological conditions like Tourette’s, aphasia, and autism. Some claim Raleigh was a parody of Sacks, but I think Anderson simply used the neurologist as a model. I wonder if Dudley was based on a real guy, too.

Facts about The Royal Tenenbaums - Bill Murray

Bill Murray as Raleigh St. Clair

3. Eli’s Writing Style Was Inspired by Cormac McCarthy

In the film, Owen Wilson’s character Eli Cash wrote a book called Old Custer. However, Wes has stated that the inspiration of the book came from Cormac McCarthy’s style of storytelling. It’s sort of hard to discern whether Anderson meant to parody McCarthy, or praise him with the similarities.

That said, Cash is a very successful author within the fictional Tenenbaum world, so it can’t be too insulting if the desired route was one of spoofs.

Eli’s intro in the movie

4. Mordecai Was Found by a Random Citizen

During filming, Richie’s pet falcon Mordecai got lost in the city and claimed by a random citizen. The person offered a ransom, to return the bird upon payment, but the crew was forced to move on. There wasn’t enough time to handle the ransom and still meet filming schedules, so they tracked down another bird.

This is why Mordecai’s appearance shifts at the end of the movie. With more white feathers than before, Royal and Ritchie even acknowledge the change within dialogue. The fictional bird ended up being played by three different falcons, as well as a hawk. That’s a lot of feathers

Richie and Mordecai, his pet falcon

5. Angelica Huston’s Hair Caught on Fire

During Margot’s birthday scene (a flashback to when she was a child), Angelica Huston’s hair caught on fire. The job was done by a stray candle from the set’s birthday cake.

After the film’s release, Anderson stated that Kumar Pallana, the actor who played Pagoda, was the one to extinguish the flame. He managed to save the situation before Huston was actually injured. Who knows how different the final product would be had Huston been legitimately hurt.

Margot’s first play in The Royal Tenenbaums

6. The Story Takes Inspiration From Various Storytellers

Throughout the years, Anderson has cited various storytellers through multiple mediums as direct influences. The tone, style, and characters from The Royal Tenenbaums were all energized by guys like Orson Welles and J.D. Salinger.

The plot (and the title, to be honest) appears similar to The Magnificent Andersons, written and directed by Orson Welles. Meanwhile, the story’s tone and style took inspiration from J.D. Salinger’s short story/novella amalgam, Fanny and Zooey. The Glass children therein have precocious abilities, inspiring the child prodigy material with the Tenenbaums.

The Tenenbaum children

The Tenenbaum children

7. Anderson Had Specific Actors in Mind for Multiple Characters

Gene Hackman plays the titular Royal Tenenbaum and Angelica Huston as his wife, Etheline. These two roles were set firmly in the director’s head during the writing process, before production ever began. Initially, Hackman turned it down. So, Anderson turned toward an actor that, strangely enough, featured the same first name—Gene Wilder.

When the second Gene turned down the role, Anderson rewrote the script to an extent. He expanded upon Hackman’s and Huston’s characters, granting them more development. They then signed onto the project, and the rest is history.

Hackman and Huston as Royal Tenenbaum and Ethel

8. The Director Makes an Appearance

Like guys such as Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, Wes often appears as background/minor characters throughout his filmography. Following roles as a bus passenger and a student in Bottle Rocket (1996) and Rushmore (1998) respectively, this was his third on screen appearance. Alongside Andrew Wilson, he plays a commentator at Richie’s tennis match early on in the film.

Anderson would go on to make an appearance in Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), then he provided voice roles for both of the animated Sing movies in the 2010s. He’s only written and directed since.

9. This is the Third Writing Collaboration Between Him and Owen Wilson

It’s also his third film in general. Anderson’s directorial debut came in 1996 by way of Bottle Rocket, starring all three Wilson brothers: Owen, Luke and the lesser-known Andrew. The more popular brother, Owen, met Wes at the University of Austin at Texas, where they were both creative writing majors. They penned the script for the aforementioned Bottle Rocket, and it was off to superstardom from there.

Their second script together, Rushmore (1998) starred Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray. It rendered both Anderson and Schwartzman household names while revitalizing the career of Murray. By the time the screenwriting duo crafted Tenenbaums, they were like a well-oiled movie machine. This is regarded as their best work.

Wes would adopt a series of new writing partners after this endeavor, though. Guys like Shwartzman, Noah Baumbach and Roman Coppola all took turns helping Wes write his scripts after Tenenbaums.

The, “I worry about you, Richie” scene

10. The BB Gun Scene Was Based on Real Life

When the camera closes in on Chas’ hand to show the BB still lodged between his knuckles, that wasn’t actually Ben Stiller’s hand. As a kid, Owen accidentally shot his brother Andrew in the hand. The BB has been stuck between his knuckles since—it was his hand shown in the shot.

This scene acted as the first rift in Chas and Royal’s relationship. They would eventually mend things by the end of the film, but it’s easy to see why Chas was so bitter. I’d hate to have a BB lodged between my knuckles, too.

The Royal Tenenbaums - BB gun

The shot of Chas’ hand in the film

11. It Has Indirect Ties to Shows Like “30 Rock” and “Arrested Development”

Alec Baldwin’s voice appeared in The Royal Tenenbaums as the narrator. He subsequently praised the film, citing it as, “an original movie, in tone and style.” When the actor was cast in the hit TV show 30 Rock, he used Hackman’s speech and movements as the titular Royal as a basis for his own character in the show, Jack Donaghy.

The creator of Arrested Development all but threw his script out the window after watching The Royal Tenenbaums. He feared the narration and the movie’s habit of following its characters would appear too similar to his vision. To support his theory, Arrested Development star Jason Bateman called the show, “The Royal Tenenbaums shot like COPS.”

The Pagoda scene

12. It Garnered Anderson His First Oscar Nod

At the 75th Academy Awards, The Royal Tenenbaums garnered a single nomination—one for Best Original Screenplay. Anderson would lose to an English screenwriter named Julian Fellowes with his script for Gosford Park.

Since this nomination, Anderson has been recognized by the Academy on six occasions. His stop-motion films Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and Isle of Dogs (2018) were both nominated for best animated feature. Neither of them won. Moonrise Kingdom from 2012 and The Grand Budapest Hotel from 2014 were also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, while the latter got nods for Best Director and Best Film to boot. They all came up short.

That’s seven nominations to his name, with his most recent coming in 2018. I have a feeling, though, that 2001 holds a special place in Wes’s heart.

Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson, director of The Royal Tenenbaums

13. It Garnered Wilson His Only Oscar Nod

Remember: Owen helped Wes pen the script. While predominantly known as a comedic actor alongside guys like Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn, Wilson is an equally talented scriptwriter.

Since he cowrote The Royal Tenenbaums, Wilson was actually nominated alongside Anderson for Best Original Screenplay. If they would have won, it’d have been shared. They would’ve claimed it in tandem like Roger Avery and Quentin Tarantino with Pulp Fiction back in 1994.

Wes Anderson talks about the writing team

14. Several Actors Turned Down a Popular Film to Appear

One of the biggest draws of The Royal Tenenbaums is its star-studded cast. From Gene Hackman and Ben Stiller to Angelica Huston and Gwyneth Paltrow, these were some of the biggest names in Hollywood at the time of release. It’s a good thing the characters were played by these performers, though. I’m not sure the final product would be as everlasting if they weren’t.

That said, three of the movie’s biggest names nearly signed on to Ocean’s Eleven (2001). Owen, Luke, and Danny Glover nearly made appearances in Steven Soderbergh’s crime-comedy, but it’s a good thing they didn’t. Though Ocean’s was one of the biggest films of the 2000s, these actors were right where they belonged: alongside Wes.

15. It’s the First Anderson Movie Not Filmed in Texas

As already alluded to, Anderson and the Wilson brothers all grew up in the Lone Star State. Wes was born in Houston, while Owen, Luke and Andrew grew up in Dallas. Therefore, it was simple to film their first couple of movies in familiar territory.

Anderson’s directorial debut Bottle Rocket took place in three primary cities: Dallas, Fort Worth, and Hillsboro. And despite toying with ideas of England and Detroit as possible locations for principal photography, Wes’s sophomore film Rushmore was shot entirely in Houston—his backyard. St. John’s Academy, his high school alma mater, served as the titular Rushmore.

However, in 2001, Wes, Luke and Owen stepped out of their southern comfort zone and into the Big Apple, as filming for Tenenbaums was shot entirely in New York City.

The trailer for Rushmore

16. Though Filmed in NYC, Anderson Avoided Landmarks

He figured shooting a scene with a visible landmark would distract the audience from the dialogue therein. In the scene where Royal and Pagoda have a discussion in Battery Park, Anderson intentionally blocked the Statue of Liberty by placing Kumar Pallana directly between the landmark and the camera.

It was even shot symmetrically, maintaining the style that Anderson is known for while keeping hidden his unwanted surroundings. You’d never know it was there unless you’d seen it from that view yourself.

The Royal Tenenbaums - Statue of Liberty

Kumar Pallana covers the Statue of Liberty

17. It Was His Highest-Grossing Movie at the Time of Release

Bottle Rocket accrued just over $500,000 on a five-million-dollar budget. Rushmore made just under $20 million on a $10 million budget. That’s a huge step up from his prior release, and marks great numbers for an indie film.

Tenenbaums, though, garnered $71.4 million on a $21 million budget. Since, only one film has surpassed it as his best box office turnout: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Accruing $173 million, Grand Budapest will likely go down as the highest grossing project of Anderson’s career. We’ll see if anything can replace Tenenbaums as number two.

Trailer for The Grand Budapest Hotel

18. Margot’s Wooden Finger Was Almost Used in Rushmore

Many of the characters have trademark features regarding their appearance: Chas and his sons wear track suits. Richie wears sunglasses and a headband at all times. Even Owen Wilson’s character Eli can be seen in a cowboy hat and spurs.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s character Margot, however, has perhaps the most intriguing trademark of the bunch: a finger made of wood. In a flashback scene to her childhood, Margot attempts to meet her real family, whom she found in Indiana. The accident occurred when her birth father swung too early at a piece of wood, chopping Margot’s finger off with an axe.

This absurdist feature fits perfectly with the character at hand, but Anderson almost used the idiosyncratic trait for a character named Margaret Yang in his earlier movie, Rushmore. I’d say he made the right choice.

Gwyneth Paltrow in The Royal Tenenbaums

Gwyneth Paltrow in the film

19. Several Characters Were Named After Real People

Brian Tenenbaum—a college friend of Wes, Owen and Luke’s—made an appearance in the movie as a paramedic. Wes said he named a movie after Tenenbaum because he, quite simply, “just likes the name.” However, Brian Tenenbaum had a sister, whom Wes had once met. Her name was Margot. Of course, this is the name of the adopted Tenenbaum daughter, played by Gwyneth Paltrow.

Danny Glover’s character Henry Sherman was named after Anderson’s landlord at the time, too. Even the twins’ dog Buckley was named after someone: singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley.

The chase scene

20. A Few Were Based on Real People, Too

Angelica Huston’s character Etheline was based loosely after Anderson’s mother who, like the Tenenbaum matriarch, was an archaeologist. Anderson even loaned Huston a pair of his mother’s old glasses during filming to put her more into character.

Finally: a prominent artist featured on the movie’s soundtrack, singer/songwriter Nico, served as the basis for which Margot’s character appeared. Her clothes and hairstyle were modeled after the German performer.

Angelica Huston

Angelica Huston as Ethel, based on Anderson’s own mother

And we’re at the end of our list – 20 interesting facts about The Royal Tenenbaums – one of Wes Anderson’s most acclaimed films. Please share on your social media, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for lots of great video content.