Jason Schwartzman, star of "Rushmore," "Scott Pilgrim" and "Bored to Death," is just as excited about his stuff as you are. However, he likes to ramble -- a lot. I don’t mean for that to come off as a negative, it’s just something that he likes to do. When you ask him a question, he often digresses into complete randomness until he more or less arrives at the answer you’re looking for. This happened several times during our wide-ranging discussion, on everything from tee-shirts to magazines to movies to music (he was once the drummer for the band Phantom Planet, whose biggest hit, “California,” was the theme song to “The O.C.”).
Jason is also very passionate about the projects he works on, so much so that he’s been participating in press for his newest film, “Moonrise Kingdom,” despite being in it for a grand total of about 10 minutes. (Part of that is because he really loves the movie. The other reason is because his best friend, Wes Anderson, directed the film and “really worked hard" on it.)
However, the love of acting, the random talking points -- I already knew that about Jason going in, having read several of his past interviews. Which is why, when we first met, Schwartzman caught me completely off guard. After complimenting me on my shirt, he took a seat in front of me, looked me directly in the eye and said “Alright, ask me some questions.”
Well, the first thing I have is closer to a statement. I was surprised you were doing press for “Moonrise Kingdom.” You’re only in it for, like, 5-10 minutes
Yeah! That’s sort of a question. It wants a response. It was like a call and response.
You’re right, it was more than a statement.
Yeah, what do you call that?
It was a statement with a, uh...question mark at the end of it?
It’s a curiosity! … Well, to be honest with you, I am really proud of the movie, and...I want people to see it, and who knows what helps people go see a movie or not go see a movie. But Wes really works hard. He spends a lot of time writing them, and then trying to get them made. I know how much it means to him if people go see it. So, anything I can do [to help that], I just feel like I would like to do it.
It’s been doing very well in limited release. It broke the record for the highest per-theater gross for a non-animated film.
Yeah, that was weird. We had just left the Cannes Film Festival, and Wes and I and Roman [Coppola], who wrote the movie with [Wes], we were just together and I went online and read that he broke records. I was so happy to hear that.
I find most people to be very split on Wes. They either absolutely love his movies or don’t like/understand them.
Liking things in general is just a weird idea. I think there are some people that just do get [Wes’ films]... With directors or actors, my favorite types are the ones who have a style and do something that no one else can. So with Wes...he has a very particular style and I love that that’s his handwriting; it’s what comes out when he writes and it’s who he is. When you’re watching it, it starts to make you feel a way that you really haven’t felt in awhile. It just awakens strange parts of you... [And] I love anyone who has just their own style...[like] when a band comes out with just a sound and it’s their own thing.
It’s fun to watch the press (myself included) and fans try to categorize new styles of movies and music. For instance, with Wes Anderson films, people now describe them as being Wes Anderson-y.
But that’s why I am happy, I am just glad that everybody’s doing their own thing. You know, you watch another movie by somebody, like Gus Van Sant -- this guy is making his movies, he’s working, he keeps going, he keeps writing he keeps making stuff. I think there are so many great directors. It’s almost easier for me to talk about movies and music as a fan. I almost feel like I don’t have anything interesting to say about my work.
I don’t know if that last part is true. If you look at your body of work, you have interesting...
Where are you from, Philadelphia?”
I am from Maryland.
Rockville. It’s about 30 minutes outside of Washington D.C.
It’s funny, last night, this is a weird thing to say, but I said, “I am going to get an Orioles hat.”
I used to be a huge Orioles fan.
They are doing good this year.
They are. Although, I sort of lost interest when Cal Ripken retired.
I actually have a hat -- do you know the band Panda Bear? I think he’s from Baltimore, and he designed a special Panda Bear hat, and from the distance it looks like an Orioles hat...it’s really cool.
Nice. Anyway, what were we talking about [laughs].
[Laughs] Oh, sorry. [Looks at the Nike tee-shirt I am wearing] Have you ever heard of the magazine Mental Floss?
It’s a great magazine... It’s filled with odd facts, and...dorky, pun-filled shirts. But the [shirt in the magazine] that I really wanted is, instead of a Nike swoosh, it says “Nietze,” but it looks like Nike, and [then] it says “Doubt it.”
That’s a good one.
[Another shirt] I really want would be the one Bill Murray wears in “What About Bob,” which is a blue shirt and in yellow it [says] “Don’t Hassle, Me I’m Local.”
I feel like they have to sell that somewhere
Well they do, but it’s not blue and yellow.
Ah, too bad. Anyway, I wanted to get back to what you said about not thinking you have interesting things to say about your work. That can’t be true. Especially because many of the films and TV shows you’ve done have really diehard fan bases: “Rushmore,” “Bored to Death,” “Scott Pilgrim Against the World.”
I think that movies and music, basically -- it’s the only thing I love so deeply... I never thought that I would be an actor. But I think that, for some reason, the weird way that I got into acting and how quickly it happened...I still kind of carry the weird jolt. I am happy to say that I work with Wes, who’s a guy that I love, or Edgar Wright for instance, and Jonathan Ames...
So, I don’t really know about the fan base thing, [but] those three that you’re mentioning, those are more significant in my life than just the work -- they are so deeply rooted in real friendship that came after the work... Some people you do just kind of click with, and I am lucky that I got to meet those people and work with them. I am just happy if people like them. They all work so hard. Maybe it’s because they’re rabid directors and then there’s a rabid fanbase. It’s equal. Maybe the fans and director incite such a response from each other because it’s like they’re the same.
When it comes to working with those three, particularly in the case of Wes and Roman, does it help being friends with them? Or is that a hindrance?
I would say that it makes it a lot easier when you have the ability to work with someone you know... On the first day of work, you’re meeting new people and there’s a little bit of nervousness in your body, because in order to work, you have to be unafraid to be terrible. And that can be embarrassing. But Wes, for instance, I have been so bad in front of Wes -- bad acting, bad mood -- that there’s no expectation anymore. For instance, on [“Moonrise”] I was on a hiatus from “Bored to Death,” and I literally drove overnight -- I worked until three in the morning on “Bored to Death” and then drove straight to the set at 6:30 in the morning on “Moonrise Kingdom,” put on the boy scout outfit, walked onto the set and started working. I think, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I didn’t know [Wes]. There was no fear. Wes and I have so many shared memories. He can be like “Remember that guy who sold you that black licorice at that place...”
He can draw on your personal experiences to make the performance better.
Yeah! Just weird references. That’s what make bands so great. Like, “Hey, let’s do that” or “Try this song.” So the more you know those people, the better.
Well, let’s switch to the band/music thing for a second. I saw Alex Greenwald, the lead singer of Phantom Planet, in concert last year, and he played “California.” People still really love that song.
Oh cool! Oh, that’s so nice of you to say that.
Do you ever regret leaving Phantom Planet for acting?
Well, all I can say is that, playing drums on stage with your friends, there’s just no equivalent. It’s just so physical and so fun and great. So those are things that I definitely miss. But we’re all in communication. It sounds so cheesy. I sound so grateful, which I am. People [ask] “Are you sad about ‘Bored to Death’?” And I am. But I am not a super optimist -- I don’t know what I am -- but I do have a weird feeling over me, like, “Canceled, huh? Well, we’ll do more later.” Three years on HBO, this network I grew up watching -- other shows didn’t even make it past the pilot or get a pilot. I walked out of it with Zach, Ted and Jonathan [thinking], “That’s the best.” I am so thankful for my band or any of these things... I am so happy about the friends I got to make from the show or the music. That’s the positive of those things.
"Moonrise Kingdom" is in theaters now