Jason Schwartzman made my day. It’s always nice to talk to actors or celebrities whose work you admire, and sometimes they’re really cool to talk to, but Schwartzman has an enthusiasm that just got under my skin and nestled there like a cozy internal sweater. (Don’t think too hard about that metaphor, because I obviously didn’t.) He was doing interviews to promote Moonrise Kingdom, one of the best reviewed films of the year and Wes Anderson’s latest journey into heartfelt quirkiness. It premieres on DVD and Blu-ray on October 16.
Schwartzman’s first film role was in Anderson’s second film, Rushmore, and has been in most of the director’s movies ever since. I talked to him about his first film shoot, the two lead actors in Moonrise Kingdom (who also made their debut in an Anderson film), and about his new role as Richard Sherman, one of the famous Sherman Brothers who wrote the songs for Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and who appears in the upcoming film Saving Mr. Banks, the behind the scenes story about the production of Mary Poppins.
Jason Schwartzman: You’ve got me and my 21-month daughter Marlowe sitting next to me, so you might hear her talking at some point. She just waved to the phone. [Laughs]
CraveOnline: Has she seen Moonrise Kingdom?
Yeah, she did some DVD commentary for the release. It’s one of her favorites. She thought that it was a great movie, she loves Moonrise Kingdom, and she said to me, she’s really talky, she said, “It’s not North by Northwest but it’s good.”
You should put that on the cover.
Yeah. Quote my daughter. She could write it in crayon. [Daughter says something] That’s me trying to get her right now to watch the original King Kong. I’m only kidding. She’s a film snob.
As all the best people are.
She’s like, “The new one’s not as good as the original.”
Let’s get focused, shall we?
Yes, let’s do it.
I read a long time ago that when you auditioned for Rushmore, you made your own Rushmore Academy patch for your blazer. Is that true?
That’s true! And that story is because I had never been to an audition, acted or really even thought about doing any of that. Any acting of any kind. Actually, well, I auditioned in ninth grade for a school play, but that wasn’t because of acting, it was more to do it because a bunch of my friends were doing it, but I didn’t make the play or anything. I got to be in the background as an extra, but that really wasn’t my first. Rushmore was the first script I ever read, there was a casting director, all of that stuff. I called the office the day before, I said, “Hi, my name is Jason Schwartzman, I’m coming to audition and I have a question. What am I supposed to wear to an audition? Am I supposed to…” She said, “Oh, whatever makes you comfortable.”
And I just thought that was such a funny statement, because I’m not going to be comfortable any way you look at this. I am very nervous, and the only thing that is making this doable in my brain is the absurdity. It’s so absurd. I never thought I was going to get the part, so I just was like, well, if she’s telling me to be comfortable, I’m not going to comfortable and this whole this is crazy. I’m just going to dress as outrageously like the character as I can. So I found a blazer and all this stuff, I found my little brother’s blazer and it was really tight. It looked good, but the only thing that was missing was a patch, and so I went to this uniform store and I bought these two patches, and my friend Mike Myerberg drew a big “R” with a bee on it, all this stuff. I put Velcro on it, and I velcroed it to my jacket. It’s funny because when I went to the audition there were tons of other kids there dressed like my character, but none of them had the patch. And I sort of felt like, I’m not going to get the part in this movie, but I just beat you with this. I beat you.
Do you still have that patch?
No… Yes I do! I don’t have it personally but Wes has it.
So Rushmore was your first movie, and Moonrise Kingdom has a couple of first timers in the lead. What’s it like being on a Wes Anderson set as an actor your first time?
I remember being on the set of Rushmore very nervous. A lot of that had to do with Bill Murray. Not because he was making me nervous, but because he’s Bill Murray. He’s the legend, and I grew up watching his movies and loved him. People say, “What was it like,” and I just describe making that movie as, if you were to just take somebody and put boxing gloves on [them], or put them in a racecar, and just say, “Alright, you’re in the Indy 500 tomorrow.” You’re like, “I’ve never been in a racecar, I don’t know how to…” You wouldn’t try to win the race. At least I wouldn’t. I’d just try not to crash. And I sort of feel like that was… I was obviously trying to do a good job, but there were many obstacles in my way. Like, “Wait! What is this? What is that? What does this guy do? What is that? What does that mean? What’s that code?” There was just a lot to navigate through.
Whereas when I was on the [Moonrise Kingdom] set, and I said to the kids, “How are you guys doing?” They’re like, “Yeah!” “Pretty scary or pretty intense, huh?” “Uh, no!” “No?” “No. It’s great!” “Isn’t it kind of like, you’re working with Bruce Willis and Bill Murray. Isn’t that kind of nerve-wracking?” “No, they’re great! Bill’s great!” Just a real sense of looseness, and I thought like, f**k, I wish I had had that. You know? So that’s a badass feeling.
At this point does Wes just write characters for you, or do you get to pick out who you might want to play?
No. There’s different ways that stuff happens. In Darjeeling we wrote it together. Max Fischer, obviously I auditioned for that. But then in Fantastic Mr. Fox, he said to me, “I want you to be this character Ash.” And I was like, great! And then from there it sort of evolved, and Ash was not in it as much, and things just started happening and next thing I know he’s become a bigger character. But in Moonrise Kingdom… Wes will usually tell me, “I’m working on something and there could be a part.” In other movies they’ve made there were parts that we were talking about that I could play, and for whatever reason that character doesn’t make the movie. Because in the process of doing things, you kind of have an idea and certain things just don’t work out. Sometimes it will be vague, “I think I might have this thing but I’m not sure.” So this one, he said, “I’m writing the movie and I’m not sure,” but then he finishes the script, he calls me and he’s like, “You’re going to be Cousin Ben. He’s going to be like this, and…” Stuff like that.
I see that in Saving Mr. Banks you’re playing one of the Sherman Bros.?
I hope you know how special that is.
I think I do. Why? Is there more I don’t know?
No, obviously they’re just so important and wonderful.
Well, for me it’s like one of these tricky things where, I can’t let… I said to him, when I met Rich Sherman, I was like, “I almost don’t want to do this because I don’t want to… You’re just the greatest and I don’t want to disrespect you. What if I do something not right?” He said, “What? Don’t worry about that! You’re not going to make me look like… Don’t worry.” “But I don’t want to… I have to honor you…” “No, I already did my thing. I already did my life, and this is just a movie. Don’t try to be me. Don’t be me. I’ve already done that. This is the story of this thing. You just be you, doing the things I did!”
You can’t understand how nice that is to hear from the person you’re going to play. Because no matter what I’m going to try to in some way convey who Richard Sherman is to the public, but that took a lot of the fear I had away from it, [of] f**king up Richard Sherman. When he said, “I’ve already done it,” it’s true. This is a movie, okay. But for me, besides being in the movie and the great scenes and stuff that I think we get to do, as a musician, this job takes on a whole crazy other texture. I’ve been able to go to Richard’s house several times and I just with him and we just talk about music.
Not even about Mary Poppins. Just about songwriting and music and ideas. He was telling me some tricks he had for Mary Poppins. “I was very adamant about every song would start on this note.” Just talking about music with someone, I said, “Richard, if this just all of a sudden got cancelled and they never made it, we’ve already made the movie. I’ve already gotten…” I couldn’t believe it. He’s sitting there, and he’s playing these songs, and I’m watching his hands, and those were the hands that wrote the music! He’s also an inspirational person because he’s so optimistic and into people. He, like, loves music. It was so cool, one of the greatest things in my life was going to his house the first time, he’s playing piano for a while, and he’s like, “Do you play piano?” And I was like, “A little, but…” “Play something!” “I’m not going to play it. You’re Richard Sherman. I’m not going to play.” You know what I mean?
“Play something. I just want to see what you like. Just play me something, a chord progression that you think is great.” So I play the song called “Friends” by The Beach Boys? He goes, “Whoa! Look at those chords!” And we started talking about Brian Wilson, and then, “Let me show you this one!” and he started playing some other song. “And if you like that, check this song,” this Paul McCartney thing. Next thing, it’s just back and forth, geeking out about chord progressions? It was just one of the most special days of my life. This is why life is incredible and insane.