So about a week ago I told everyone I would be interviewing The Man: Wes Anderson. Unfortunately they pulled a switch on me the day before and instead I got to interview Jason Schwartzman. I say unfortunately not because interviewing Jason wasn’t awesome but simply because I was all prepared for Wes. Still I think the interview went well. It was one of those interviews (I say like everyone sits down to interview people regularly) where I needed 3 hours but only got 25 minutes because he had so many stories and loved to talk. So I had about 500 more questions, including ones on gaming that I didn’t get to ask him, sadly. Still I think it went pretty well. Hope you guys like it.
Jason Schwartzman started his career with Wes Anderson in “Rushmore,” a film that was to be both men’s breakthrough into stardom. Now after almost ten years they have reunited in “The Darjeeling Limited,” which the two co-wrote together along with Roman Coppola, with Anderson behind the camera and Schwartzman as one of three brothers trying to find themselves during a train trip through India. The film also has a short available over ITunes for free titled “Hotel Chevalier” that Schwartzman stars in with Natalie Portman. After sitting down with Schwartzman and discussing the oversized couch in his hotel room, referencing “Wayne’s World”, and deciding that is was acceptable for his 25 year old brother, who plays in the band Roonie, to still live with their mother we got down to the business of making his newest movie.
What were you and Wes Anderson hoping to do with this film? We were shooting for many things hopefully. I think there was a dual shoot out which was how we wanted to write the movie and what we wanted the process to be like and then there was the movie as well. So when Wes first approached me about writing it part of the basic idea for the plot was that he wanted to write a movie about three brothers on a train in India, but along with that pitch was that he thought the three of us needed to make a movie that was very personnel to us. We need to make a script that makes it our three points of view, and then lets write it in India and let’s have an adventure just like the brothers in the movie. That was more of the pitch then anything. The way we wanted to write it, it’s kind of romanticized right off the bat. We were shooting to write something that was very raw, which is a word I hate, but we didn’t want it to be invented or built but culled from our experiences. We would take things that happen to us there and figure out if they were eligible for the movie we wanted to create.
I don’t ever want to say this is our message or this is what we are saying because I hate that kind of idea but my hope is that it relates to people. Like when my little brother saw the movie he called me and said “We all need to go on a trip. We all have to go.” It was awesome that he was fired up. He had connected with it and it inspires him and it was not something that I expected, that it would have that effect on him. The idea that we could make a film that was positive about family without being sappy even though we didn’t know we were making it makes me happy.
Also really I hope people know they should go to India and have a great time there. It is such a wonderful place and one that should be visited. Finally it was just writing a movie about brothers, and mourning and examining how the death of a father can literally be a bomb dropped into a close knit unit. It’s just amazing how it can create such a huge dynamic in a family.
This is the first time you’ve had a really major role in a Wes Anderson movie since Rushmore. How has Anderson grown as a filmmaker? Well this is the way I wish I could answer that question. I wish that I could have seen how he directs each of his movies. He’s much different than how he directed me on Rushmore but I don’t know if that’s a growth thing or if he is different for every movie. I feel like Owen Wilson or Bill Murray could give you a better overview.
But a couple things I will say are that on “Rushmore” he was very good and he knew what he wanted and knew how to direct a film crew. He had directing down then. He is really good with all that stuff like talking with a crew and working with actors but the difference that I saw was that with “Rushmore” he knew exactly what he wanted and he was super hands on with everything. But in India he was like “whatever happens, happens.” He wasn’t trying to build his version of India, he was just shooting India. All the time stuff was coming back to us that weren’t the way we had asked for and it seemed like that is what he wanted, where as with “Rushmore” he wanted to be in control of every detail. He was excited by the unpredictability of India, and he encouraged it. He didn’t want to control India; we were just walking around the streets shooting. He tried not to make it his India he just wanted to capture the moments.
Do you think this came about because his other films are more based on American culture which he is more aware of? He definitely said we had to make this a real India. Obviously it’s not real real, it’s not a documentary but it was a combination of things. We saw someone who painted a dish while walking down the street and then got him to paint the train. So we had to build India because it was a movie but we didn’t want to control it. He just wanted to make it India; there was an emphasis on just shooting India.
And we are western tourists there. I mean Wes loves the country and he said he wants to the go there for the rest of his life but no matter how much he loves it he will always be a western tourist so the movie is very much from the point of view of a western tourist. It wasn’t like he was trying to form India to him but he wanted to get in and show India realistically.
Why did you choose to separate “Hotel Chevalier” from the film? First let me say that I think we may start to add it in, I can’t say that as a fact but I think so. Now, they were written separately and the opening scene with Bill Murray was such a strong opening and it felt like this is the beginning of the film and it let you meet people in a great way so putting it right at the beginning didn’t work. They’re companion pieces of each other, with the short being like a prologue and in a perfect world you’d be able to see the short projected on a screen then the lights come up and you have some sandwiches and then like 20 minutes later you watch the rest of the movie but that just isn’t going to happen. So it was a conundrum about how we handle this short movie so we decided to put it online so people could watch it whenever they wanted.
Plus it’s great now that shorts have an audience online. All these movie can get out there. But it is true that it is harder for people to get it because you need a computer and ITunes so it’s not as guaranteed that people will see it but we just knew that that was the way it was going to have to be.
How did you approach this character? Well a big difference between this character and who I played in “Rushmore” is that one is a lot more outward and the other is more internal. We were writing the movie for two years and there was tons of stuff that was not in the final version but got cut out. So we wrote the script trying to keep it really lean and I was so focused on that writing that when I looked at the script as an actor with my actor face on, I know this sounds really actory, but I looked at the script and I swear I was reading something I had never read before, and I was going “What the hell is this guy saying?” I was totally freaked and was lost. I called Wes and told him I was totally unsure of how to do this and I flew to India just to be near Wes and talk about it and something started to happen in me where I realized that all the things that we took out of the script were still real they just weren’t in the movie. I know that sounds really obvious but it just occurred to me and I got all that stuff and all of sudden a world and a whole history became available to me. That was incredibly helpful for building the character.
Then Bill Murray gave me the advice though. We were both there on the first day of shooting and later that night we had dinner together and he said “I like your guy. I like the way you’re doing it. He’s sharp, he cuts like glass.” I played it off like “Oh yea, that’s what I was doing all along” but really that is such a great piece of advice. Don’t dilly dally with the character just stay it sharp and cut like glass with him.