Jason Schwartzman On His Teenage Years and Mozart In the Jungle
Photo by: David X Prutting/BFAnyc.com
He ambles into the miniscule lobby of Austin's San Jose Hotel on a cold and rainy day, his French Bull Dog Arrow waddling along beside him. Unmistakably, it's Jason Schwartzman as any fan of HBO's Bored to Death and Wes Anderson's would know. A familiar sight in Austin's hipster haven South Congress neighborhood, he's in town shooting 7 Chinese Brothers, written and directed by local filmmaker Bob Byington. (Arrow's in it too, playing himself.)
People are said to resemble their dogs and it's a helpful comparison. Sturdy and compact, with dark, round eyes, Schwartzman is enthusiastic and lively without being yappy and loud; He's curious and sweet with a comical personality, bright and easy going. Of course, there's more to Jason Schwartzman than what's on the surface, but you get the drift.
An LA native with familial ties to Hollywood Royalty -- son of Talia Shire (nee Coppola) and producer Robert Schwartzman, nephew of Francis Ford Coppola and cousins with Sofia Coppola and Nicolas Cage - he grew up unimpressed by a world he took for granted. His folksy, one-of-the-guys bearing speaks well of his upbringing, his dead pan manner matching up well with Wes Anderson's Texas-bred quirkiness.
We're here to talk about Teenage, the idiosyncratic movie based on the book by Jon Savage and directed by Matt Wolf in theaters now. A docu-collage, it includes rare archival material, filmed portraits, and voices lifted from early 20th Century teen diary entries, telling the story of the struggle between adults and adolescents to define a new idea of youth. Schwartzman, a big fan of Wolf's Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, jumped on board to executive produce and helped get the film distribution. Schwartzman also played drums with the indie band Phantom Planet and his solo project Coconut Records is ongoing. A bit of a music and movie geek, the two world's overlapped when he found out the movie is based on a book written the same man who wrote England Dreaming, a definitive history of punk, a book Schwartzman worships.
Jason Schwartzman and Arrow in Band of Outsiders' 2009 F/W campaign.
David Hershkovits: What kind of teenager were you?
Jason Schwartzman: I started playing drums when I was ten. I was into sports too, I feel like that sort of gave me a focus. I was angry but in a more internal way. I had a rebellious feeling in me but I was afraid to get in trouble. I don't think I was into hardcore music, I was never that kind of angry...
DH: What were the big bands in LA like when you were growing up? Was it like Guns N' Roses or...
JS: Nirvana, Weezer.
DH: What about LA bands?
JS: LA bands? There were a lot of great LA bands. Weezer is an LA band. I like melodic music.
DH: Even then.
JS: I had lots of friends, my school was very small, but I was always feeling a little ... girls didn't talk to me, you know? I mean, I wasn't on a rock by myself -- there were those people at my high school, you know, sitting alone. Within that I had a hard time with girls. Specifically, I think of romance. I related to things like "In My Room," by The Beach Boys, that type of music, and to people who liked being alone. I feel like I did not have an abnormal teenage experience.
DH: You felt alienated.
JS: Yes, I had that. I wasn't necessarily angry, but moody, extremely moody. Quintessentially moody. Like. "What do you know?" and, like, "Mom get off my back!" And it's funny because, when you read the book and you watch the movie, it was interesting because at the time I remember my mom saying something like, "Oh you teenagers, trust me, you think what's happening is new, but this is not new and you'll get over this" and I remember thinking that's the last thing you want to hear, that what you're feeling isn't unique.
DH: So you'd be in your room listening to music. You didn't try to sneak out or go into clubs or that kind of stuff?
JS: Well, my band, we played a lot of clubs. Some of them were 21 and over, but we'd have to wait outside and then go in.
DH: And you didn't drink or act out that way?
JS: Maybe at 16 or 17 a little bit. But not really. There would be parties but I didn't really have a lot of fun in that type of situation. I had a problem with the group...
DH: Being in social in groups can be tough at that age.
JS: It's still tough. And I respect it, like my wife loves the idea of a game night with friends, and to me a game night is not fun. That's not my idea of a good thing but to each his own.
DH: Even music itself, was that a kind of rebellion -- to do music in the Hollywood world that you were from.
JS: Not at all. I think I was on a set maybe three or four times as a kid that I can legitimately remember and for not very long. My mom loves acting, but she has a very kind of apprehensive attitude towards the Hollywood mechanism in general.
DH: So she didn't buy into the whole thing.
JS: No. The '80s, that was blockbuster central. We would go see movies with Mel Gibson in it. I've read interviews with actors who describe watching a movie and saying, "Oh I'm going to be up there one day." I never really thought that.
DH: You started with music before acting.
JS: I got into music because that seemed like you could do that, in your house. I got into music and I loved movies. As a kid, we had cable so I saw a lot of really bad movies a lot. And I had a friend who now is one of the key guys at the Cinefamily movie theaters in Los Angeles. We would just watch movies, like Human Highway -- do you remember that movie, Human Highway, a Neil Young movie. I didn't really like "movie" movies. Of course I saw '80s movies that are now classics, I guess, like Ghostbusters, but my mom would aldo rent stuff like The Graduate, Harold and Maude, and Dog Day Afternoon. And I remember seeing those and thinking, "Where were these the last few years? I could've used these." I just know that when I would listen to music, I would get a rush and a feeling of like "Oh my god, I want to rip off my skin."
DH: So when you finally did start acting, was it weird?
JS: I think that in the very beginning I was like "Me? You want me for this audition?" What the hell's happening?
DH: So someone just approached you, you didn't seek it out.
JS: I was at my uncle's house in San Francisco at a hybrid party/ family occasion in honor of a piece of music that my grandfather had written, a score for [Abel Gance's] Napoleon. And there was a casting director, a friend of the family there, talking to my cousin Sofia. And Sofia said "What are you working on?" and she said, "Oh I'm casting a movie for the director Wes Anderson but we're trying to find a person to play the character and we've been auditioning lots of people." She described the character and Sofia said, "Oh, that sounds like Jason." And I remember saying "No... I'm in a band, you should meet the other guys they're great." She said, "No, no take my number" and I gave her my address and she sent the script. It was the first script for a movie I had ever read. And I went in and auditioned for Wes and I got a callback and another callback and I got the part.
DH: And it turned out to be this wonderful relationship.
JS: Yes. Beyond wonderful. He's my mentor and best friend.
DH: It seems to me like you're the reluctant actor.
JS: Reluctant in a good way or in a bad way?
DH: No, not in a bad way. It seems like you're not someone who's really out there trying to get the part, auditioning, working hard to be a star.
JS: I'm surprised that I've been in as many now that I've been in. It's very improbable. I went to the Critics' Choice Awards and I was looking around and I was like "All these actors, they all seem pretty comfortable here" and I'm wondering like, how do you get to that point, where this is not unusual?
DH: Bored to Death is one of my favorite shows. There's talk of a film version, right?
JS: We pitched a movie idea to HBO which they bought. But at the same time, I don't want to say that it's happening because sometimes they just don't happen. It's a combination of not wanting to get my hopes up too high and, in my mind, preparing for it because it was really heartbreaking [when the show was cancelled]... It would've been, in a weird way, less heartbreaking if I didn't know what the fourth season was going to be. Because Jonathan Ames told me the whole thing. I know what I missed.
DH: And now you're also in Wes Anderson's new movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
JS: I haven't seen it. I'm only in it for a few seconds. I'm probably in it longer in the trailer than I am in the movie.
DH: They're just using you for bait in the trailer.
JS: When you make a short trailer and you keep me in it for the same exact amount of time, it's great. It's like double spacing. I'm doubled spaced. I'm a longer essay.
DH: Any other projects in the works?
JS: Yes. The other thing that I'm waiting to find out about -- me, Roman Coppola, and this guy Alex Timbers. He did Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and he directed the Rocky musical that's out now. He's a great director and writer in New York. And for the last many, many years, we created a TV show called Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music. And it's all about the comings and goings and the various lives of the orchestra in New York. So we did it for Amazon and its going to launch in the fall. They have this system where they make, like, ten or twelve shows and then you watch them and vote on them. Based on views and likes and reviews of the viewers, that dictates whether or not you get green lit. So our show's up there now with Gael GarcÃa Bernal, Lola Kirke, and Malcolm McDowell.