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32 Facts About The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

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Let me tell you about my boat. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou premiered ten years ago this Christmas, so let's take another trip on the Belafonte, shall we?

1. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was inspired by a single image director and co-writer Wes Anderson had of seeing the inner workings of a boat cut in half. The vision ended up in the final movie and was created using a massive set that measured 150 feet long and 40 feet high.

2. Anderson was also inspired to make the movie because of one of his childhood heroes: Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the popular oceanographer and adventurer. Many of the details in the movie mirror Cousteau’s real life. The character of Zissou was originally supposed to be named “Steve Cousteau,” and besides being an ocean-documentarian like the fictitious Zissou, Cousteau also had a research vessel named the Calypso (Zizzou’s is the Belafonte), which, like Zissou’s ship, had a mini-sub, a gyrocopter, and a research balloon. Cousteau's crew wore red knit caps and uniforms, and his son Phillipe was tragically killed in a plane crash.

3. Cousteau can also be found in other Wes Anderson movies: Max Fischer, the lead character from Rushmore, finds an inscription in the book Diving for Sunken Treasure by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Philippe Diole, which leads him to Miss Cross. Also, a Richard Avedon portrait of Cousteau can be seen behind Owen Wilson and James Caan’s characters in Bottle Rocket when the two are at a party.

4. Besides the Cousteau influence, the now-famous blue polyester Team Zissou uniforms were also inspired by the uniforms worn by the characters on the U.S.S. Enterprise in the original Star Trek TV series.

The costumes were created by famed costume designer Milena Cononero, who is best known for working with director Stanley Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, and The Shining. She also worked with Anderson again on The Darjeeling Limited and The Grand Budapest Hotel,

5. Co-writers Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach wrote the film over a series of lunches they had at a restaurant in New York’s Greenwich Village called Bar Pitti (they recorded the audio commentary for the DVD there too).

In fact, many details that found their way into the movie were inspired by the restaurant. Zissou’s homebase, called Pescespada Island, was named after the swordfish entrée on the restaurant’s menu (Pesce spada is Italian for swordfish), the three-legged dog Cody was named after a regular the two would converse with at the restaurant, and Ned’s trademark stoplight graphic on his official red Zissou cap was inspired by a similar hat that Wes Anderson saw on a teenager in Bar Pitti.

6. The character of Steve Zissou was written specifically for Bill Murray. Anderson originally told Murray about the idea for The Life Aquatic on the set of Rushmore. Anderson allegedly wanted to make the character an amalgamation of Jacques Cousteau, the character of Guido Anselmi played by Marcello Mastroianni from the Federico Fellini film 8½, and Murray himself. Murray has appeared in every Wes Anderson feature film so far except for Bottle Rocket.

7. Other roles in the film written specifically for the actors were Owen Wilson as Ned, Anjelica Huston as Eleanor, and Bud Cort as Bill the Bond Company Stooge.

8. Ned Plimpton wasn’t always the genteel southern man he was in the film. Anderson added that character detail after he heard Wilson doing an impression of Wilson’s Armageddon co-star—and South Carolinian—Will Patton.

9. Anderson and Baumbach based Steve and Ned’s paternity storyline on a similar story that alleges film director John Frankenheimer is the father of film director Michael Bay. Bay previously directed Owen Wilson in the film Armageddon.

10. The Life Aquatic marks the first collaboration between Anderson and Roman Coppola, who served as the film’s second unit director. Coppola would later go on to co-write, co-produce, and again serve as second unit director on Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, provide the voice of the Squirrel Contractor in Fantastic Mr. Fox, co-write Moonrise Kingdom, co-write and co-produce Anderson’s short film Castello Cavalcanti, and was a part of the special photography unit on The Grand Budapest Hotel.

11. The Loquasto Film Festival director who moderates the Q&A in the beginning of the film is real-life NYU film professor Antonio Monda. Anderson cast Monda because the two were friends and he needed somebody who could speak Italian.

12. Team Zissou’s sound man, Renzo Pietro, is played by the movie’s actual sound mixer Pawel Mdowczak. In many of his scenes he’s carrying a live microphone to capture real-time audio from each take.

13. Oseary Drakoulias, Michael Gambon’s character in the film, is based on infamous Hollywood producer Dino de Laurentiis. Drakoulias’ glasses are modeled after similar glasses worn by director Sergio Leone.

14. The film was shot almost entirely at the famed Cinecittà studios in Rome, Italy.

15. The Belafonte was a real British minesweeper ship—first launched in 1958—that was originally called the HMS Packington. It was later sold to the Navy of South Africa and renamed the SAS Walvisbaai before it was bought by the production designers on The Life Aquatic in Cape Town and towed all the way to Italy. After the film was completed, the boat was bought in 2006 by an anonymous millionaire, restored, and docked in Dubai. It now serves as a yacht named the Mojo.

16. The ship belonging to Zissou’s rival, Alistair Hennessey (played by Jeff Goldblum), was an operational NATO research vessel called the NRV Alliance that the production borrowed for various exterior shots. According to NATO and the Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation, one of the ship’s main goals is to study the “reduction of ship-radiated noise,” as well as “to conduct a wide range of experiments in all the oceans of importance to NATO.”

17. Cate Blanchett’s character Jane Winslett-Richardson was modeled after primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall.

Blanchett’s character is pregnant during the film, and the actress had a body cast made in order to give her a fake pregnant stomach. Blanchett became pregnant in real life prior to shooting, so for half of the film she used the fake stomach and the other half she used her actual pregnant bulge.

18. Kumar Pallana, an actor who appeared in Anderson’s Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Darjeeling Limited, was also supposed to appear in The Life Aquatic as Team Zissou’s cook, but his character was cut during the script phase of production.

19. The portraits of Zissou’s mentor, the fictional Lord Mandrake, are based on the likeness of photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue. Much like Jacques Cousteau, Lartigue’s influence can be found in other works by Anderson as well. One of the most famous shots from Rushmore, which features one of main character Max Fischer’s many clubs, is based on a photo shot by Lartigue.

20. Before settling on Lartigue’s image as Lord Mandrake, Anderson wanted to use fellow director Nicolas Roeg for the part. But due to scheduling conflicts, Roeg couldn’t make it to Italy in time for what Anderson needed and the director had to back out.

21. If you look closely, one of the pirates is wearing a University of Texas knit cap. Texas is Wes Anderson’s college alma mater.

22. The moment when Steve pulls a gun on Jane while she’s interviewing him was entirely improvised by Bill Murray. Anderson thought it was so outrageously funny that he had Murray do it again in different takes and kept it in the movie.

23. Wes Anderson’s brother Eric and Owen Wilson’s father Robert both appear as Air Kentucky pilots at Ned’s funeral aboard the Belafonte.

24. All of the undersea creatures in the film were done using stop motion animation, and were created by legendary stop motion director and animator Henry Selick who is best known for directing The Nightmare Before Christmas. Selick and Anderson were originally going to re-team after The Life Aquatic on Anderson’s own stop motion animated film Fantastic Mr. Fox, but Selick dropped out of the project to direct his own animated feature, Coraline.

25. Selick’s Jaguar Shark puppet measured 3 meters long, and was the largest stop-motion puppet ever created. In order to give it a sense of floating through water, all the stop-motion animation on the Jaguar Shark was done upside down to make it sag against gravity.

26. Co-writer Noah Baumbach has a cameo in the film as Phillip, the assistant to Michael Gambon’s character Oseary Drakoulias. Anderson and Bambach would go on to work together again: Anderson produced Baumbach’s 2005 film The Squid and the Whale, and they also co-wrote Anderson’s adaptation of Fantastic Mr. Fox.

27. The stairs and door seen in the final shot of the movie is the actual a back entrance to the Quirinal Palace in Rome. Anderson discovered the location by accident while riding his bike around Rome looking for a particular gelateria.

28. The song "Let Me Tell You About My Boat" by the film’s composer Mark Mothersbaugh, which plays over the cutaway shot of the Belafonte, is actually the melody of the song “Scrapping & Yelling,” which Mothersbaugh wrote for Anderson’s film The Royal Tenenbaums, played backwards. Despite Mothersbaugh scoring all of Anderson’s films up to and including The Life Aquatic, it is the only one of Anderson’s films to include a song by Mothersbaugh’s band, Devo.

29. The Life Aquatic is the first Wes Anderson film not to include a song from The Rolling Stones on the soundtrack.

30. Musician and actor Seu Jorge, who plays Pele and can be seen singing David Bowie songs in Portuguese in the film, compiled all of the Bowie songs recorded during the movie and put them together in a record called The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions Featuring Seu Jorge.

31. The idea for the end credit sequence, in which all of the film’s characters—including Ned—return for a sort of curtain call, was taken from a similar sequence in the 1984 film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

32. A line in the end credits reads: “The filmmakers acknowledge that the real Steve Zissou is a prominent attorney in New York City specializing in complex federal litigation.” The movie studio had to negotiate with a real-life lawyer named Steve Zissou in order to use his name for the title character. According to the real-life Zissou, "It's been, to my surprise, a lot of fun, and I think Bill Murray is America's greatest living actor."

Additional Sources:

Blu-ray special features

The Wes Anderson Collection by Matt Zoller Seitz

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Every New Movie, TV Series, and Special Coming to Netflix in May
Netflix
Netflix

Netflix is making way for loads of laughs in its library in May, with a handful of original comedy specials (Steve Martin, Martin Short, Carol Burnett, Tig Notaro, and John Mulvaney will all be there), plus the long-awaited return of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Here’s every new movie, TV series, and special making its way to Netflix in May.

MAY 1

27: Gone Too Soon

A Life of Its Own: The Truth About Medical Marijuana

Amelie

Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures: Season 1

Beautiful Girls

Darc

God's Own Country

Hachi: A Dog's Tale

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

High School Musical 3: Senior Year

John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous Live at Radio City

Mr. Woodcock

My Perfect Romance

Pocoyo & Cars

Pocoyo & The Space Circus

Queens of Comedy: Season 1

Reasonable Doubt

Red Dragon

Scream 2

Shrek

Simon: Season 1

Sliding Doors

Sometimes

The Bourne Ultimatum

The Carter Effect

The Clapper

The Reaping

The Strange Name Movie

Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V: Season 2

MAY 2

Jailbreak

MAY 4

A Little Help with Carol Burnett

Anon

Busted!: Season 1

Dear White People: Volume 2

End Game

Forgive Us Our Debts

Kong: King of the Apes: Season 2

Manhunt

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Tina Fey

No Estoy Loca

The Rain: Season 1

MAY 5

Faces Places

MAY 6

The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale

MAY 8

Desolation

Hari Kondabolu: Warn Your Relatives

MAY 9

Dirty Girl

MAY 11

Bill Nye Saves the World: Season 3

Evil Genius: the True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist

Spirit Riding Free: Season 5

The Kissing Booth

The Who Was? Show: Season 1

MAY 13

Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife

MAY 14

The Phantom of the Opera

MAY 15

Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce: Season 4

Grand Designs: Seasons 13 - 14

Only God Forgives

The Game 365: Seasons 15 - 16

MAY 16

89

Mamma Mia!

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

The Kingdom

Wanted

MAY 18

Cargo

Catching Feelings

Inspector Gadget: Season 4

MAY 19

Bridge to Terabithia

Disney’s Scandal: Season 7

Small Town Crime

MAY 20

Some Kind of Beautiful

MAY 21

Señora Acero: Season 4

MAY 22

Mob Psycho 100: Season 1

Shooter: Season 2

Terrace House: Opening New Doors: Part 2

Tig Notaro Happy To Be Here

MAY 23

Explained

MAY 24

Fauda: Season 2

Survivors Guide to Prison

MAY 25

Ibiza

Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life

The Toys That Made Us: Season 2

Trollhunters: Part 3

MAY 26

Sara's Notebook

MAY 27

The Break with Michelle Wolf

MAY 29

Disney·Pixar's Coco

MAY 30

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 4

MAY 31

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Howard Stern

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20 Best Docuseries You Can Stream Right Now
A scene from Wild Wild Country (2018)
A scene from Wild Wild Country (2018)
Netflix

If your main interests are true crime and cooking, you’re in the middle of a Renaissance Age. The Michelangelos of nonfiction are consistently bringing stellar storytelling to twisty tales of murder and mayhem as well as luxurious shots of food prepared by the most creative culinary minds.

But these aren’t the only genres that documentary series are tackling. There’s a host of history, arts, travel, and more at your streaming fingertips. When you want to take a break from puzzling out who’s been wrongfully imprisoned, that is.

Here are the 20 best docuseries to watch right now, so start streaming.

1. WILD WILD COUNTRY (2018)

What happens when an Indian guru with thousands of American followers sets up shop near a small town in Oregon with the intent to create a commune? Incredibly sourced, this documentary that touches on every major civic issue—from religious liberty to voting rights—should be your new obsession. When you choose a side, be prepared to switch. Multiple times.

Where to watch it: Netflix

2. FLINT TOWN (2018)

If your heart is broken by what’s going on in Flint, Michigan, be prepared to have that pain magnified and complicated. The filmmakers behind this provocative series were embedded with police in Flint to offer us a glimpse at the area’s local struggles and national attention from November 2015 through early 2017.

Where to watch it: Netflix

3. MAKERS: WOMEN WHO MAKE AMERICA (2013)

Narrated by Meryl Streep, this three-part series covers a half-century of American experience from the earliest days of second-wave feminism through Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court nomination in the 1990s. Ellen DeGeneres, Condoleezza Rice, Sally Ride, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and more are featured, and the series got six more episodes in a second season.

Where to watch it: Makers.com

4. THE JINX (2015)

After the massive success of Serial in 2014, a one-two punch of true crime docuseries landed the following year. One was the immensely captivating study of power, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, which chronicled the bizarre, tangled web of the real estate mogul who was suspected of several murders. The show, which could be measured in jaw-drops per hour, both registered real life and uniquely affected it.

Where to watch it: HBO

5. MAKING A MURDERER (2015)

The second major true crime phenom of 2015 was 10 years in the making. Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos uncovered the unthinkable story of Steven Avery, a man wrongfully convicted of sexual assault who was later convicted of murdering a different woman, Teresa Halbach. Not just a magnifying glass on the justice system and a potential small town conspiracy, it’s also a display of how stories can successfully get our blood boiling.

Where to watch it: Netflix

6. WORMWOOD (2017)

Speaking of good conspiracies: documentary titan Errol Morris turns his keen eye to a CIA project that’s as famous as it is unknown—MKUltra. A Cold War-era mind control experiment. LSD and hypnosis. The mysterious death of a scientist. His son’s 60-year search for answers. Morris brings his incisive eye to the hunt.

Where to watch it: Netflix

7. FIVE CAME BACK (2017)

Based on Mark Harris’s superlative book, this historical doc features filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro discussing the WWII-era work of predecessors John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. Also narrated by Meryl Streep, it looks at how the war shaped the directors and how they shaped the war. As a bonus, Netflix has the war-time documentaries featured in the film available to stream.

Where to watch it: Netflix

8. THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY (2011)

If you can’t afford film school, and your local college won’t let you audit any more courses, Mark Cousins’s 915-minute history is the next best thing. Unrivaled in its scope, watching it is like having a charming encyclopedia discuss its favorite movies. Yes, at 15-episodes it’s sprawling, so, yes, you should watch it all in one go. Carve out a weekend and be ready to take notes on all the movies you want to watch afterward.

Where to watch it: Sundance Now

9. UGLY DELICIOUS (2018)

David Chang, the host of the first season of The Mind of a Chef, has returned with a cultural mash-up disguised as a foodie show. What does it mean for pizza to be “authentic”? What do Korea and the American South have in common? With his casual charm in tow, Chang and a variety of special guests explore people through the food we love to eat as an artifact that brings us all together.

Where to watch it: Netflix

10. JAZZ (2000)

A legend of nonfiction, Ken Burns has more than a few docuseries available to stream, including long-form explorations of the Civil War and baseball. His 10-episode series on jazz exhaustively tracks nearly a century of the formation and evolution of the musical style across the United States. You’ll wanna mark off a big section of the calendar and crank up the volume.

Where to watch it: Amazon

11. THE STAIRCASE (2004)

In 2001, author Michael Peterson reported to police that his wife had died after falling down a set of stairs, but police didn’t buy the story and charged him with her murder. Before the current true crime boom, before Serial and all the rest, there was Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s Peabody Award-winning docuseries following Peterson’s winding court case. The mystery at the heart of the trial and the unparalleled access Lestrade had to Peterson’s defense make this a must-see. (Netflix just announced that it will be releasing three new episodes of the series this summer.)

Where to watch it: Sundance Now

12. PLANET EARTH II (2016)

The sequel to the 2006 original is a real stunner. Narrated (naturally) by Sir David Attenborough, featuring music from Hans Zimmer, and boasting gorgeous photography of our immeasurably fascinating planet, this follow-up takes us through different terrains to see the life contained within. There are snow leopards in the mountains, a swimming sloth in the islands, and even langurs in our own urban jungle. Open your eyes wide to learn a lot or put it on in the background to zen out.

Where to watch it: Netflix

13. THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA (2009)

The cheapest way to visit Yosemite, Yellowstone, Muir Woods, and more. This Emmy-winning, six-part series is both a travelogue and a history lesson in conservation that takes up the argument of why these beautiful places should be preserved: to quote President Roosevelt, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Where to watch it: Amazon

14. CONFLICT (2015)

Experience the too-often-untold stories of conflict zones through the lenses of world class photographers like Nicole Tung, Donna Ferraro, and João Silva. This heart-testing, bias-obliterating series is unique in its views into dark places and eye toward hope.

Where to watch it: Netflix

15. LAST CHANCE U (2016)

Far more than a sports documentary, the story of the players at East Mississippi Community College will have you rooting for personal victories as much as the points on the scoreboard. Many of the outstanding players on the squad lost spots at Division I schools because of disciplinary infractions or failing academics, so they’re seeking redemption in a program that wants them to return to the big-name schools. There are two full seasons to binge and a third on the way.

Where to watch it: Netflix

16. VICE (2013)

Currently in its sixth season, the series is known for asking tough questions that need immediate answers and giving viewers a street-level view of everything from killing cancer to juvenile justice reform. Its confrontational style of gonzo provocation won’t be everyone’s cup of spiked tea, but it’s filling an important gap that used to be filled by major network investigative journalists. When they let their subjects—from child soldiers suffering PTSD after fighting for ISIS to coal miners in Appalachia—tell their stories, nonfiction magic happens.

Where to watch it: HBO

17. CHEF’S TABLE (2015)

From David Gelb, the documentarian behind Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this doc series is a backstage pass to the kitchens of the world’s most elite chefs. The teams at Osteria Francescana, Blue Hill, Alinea, Pujol, and more open their doors to share their process, culinary creativity, and, of course, dozens of delicious courses. No shame in licking your screen.

Where to watch it: Netflix

18. NOBU’S JAPAN (2014)

For those looking to learn more about culture while chowing down, world-renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa guides guest chefs to different regions of Japan to ingest the sights, sounds, and spirits of the area before crafting a dish inspired by the journey. History is the main course, with a healthy dash of culinary invention that honors tradition.

Where to watch it: Sundance Now

19. THE SYSTEM (2014)

Should a jury decide if a child is sentenced to life in jail without parole? How can you go to jail for 20 years for shooting your gun inside your own home to deter thieves? These are just two of the questions examined by this knockout series about the conflicts, outdated methods, and biases lurking in America’s criminal justice system. Insightful and infuriating, it makes a strong companion to Ava DuVernay’s 13th.

Where to watch it: Al Jazeera and Sundance Now

20. BOBBY KENNEDY FOR PRESIDENT (2018)

It won’t be available until April 27 (so close!), but it’s well worth adding to your queue. This four-part series utilizes a wealth of footage, including unseen personal videos, to share the tragic story of Robert F. Kennedy’s run for president in the context of an era riven by racial strife. Watching this socio-political memorial told by many who were there (including Marian Wright and Congressman John Lewis), it will be impossible not to draw connections to the current day and wonder: What if?

Where to watch it: Netflix

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