It sounds dramatic to say that Jason Schwartzman would be nowhere in Hollywood without director Wes Anderson. It is. But it's also true.
Despite being born into industry royalty — his mother is "Rocky" star Talia Shire, his uncle is iconic director Francis Ford Coppola, his cousin is Nicolas Cage, etc. etc. — Schwartzman had no plans to embrace the family business until Anderson cast him in the lead role of "Rushmore."
It was the start of a prolific career and a long-lasting relationship with Anderson; their fourth feature film collaboration, "Moonrise Kingdom," comes out on Blu-ray tomorrow, 14 years after their first. So if you're a fan of the actor like we are, you can thank Anderson. Jason Schwartzman certainly does.
Wes Anderson obviously has an established — though growing — pool of actors he casts in his movies. Is that a function of pure admiration for the people he's worked with, or is he trying to create a cohesive body of work that way?
My feeling is that Wes really does love his friends and collaborators. I'm just going to answer this in a very convoluted way. You know how some people work certain hours of the day and they take breaks, or they work very hard for six months and then don't work? He does this thing where he is constantly working all day long, every day. He will walk out and go have lunch, but he'll be thinking about something, then he's writing, everything is moving, it's all about this something that he's making.
He's always going forward, and he meets people when he works with people. He likes the community feeling of it. There is no difference between working and not working, it's all life and work in one strange kind of weird swirl. You drive to the set together, everyone is in the car talking, get out of the car and keep talking, you walk up to the set, you are talking, now the cameras are shooting, now you start talking again. I feel like that’s how it is to work with Wes.
So he's sticking with roughly the same cast because that's just the world he lives in?
I just love it. And also, a lot of actors, he's wanted to work with for a long time — I'm sure he's been wanting to work with ["Moonrise Kingdom" co-star] Ed Norton for years, he's just been trying to think of what would be right. I know that Edward Norton is going to be in the next movie, and that's because they had a great working relationship, and now remain friends.
How much does that sense of community inform the way you all work?
On one of Wes' movies lately, he said, "no trailers," and there's this green room where all of the actors can be, but ideally the actors stay on set. That's also just to keep things moving forward, because when people disappear, it can really kill you time-wise, and that's really hard for money — you're trying to get all of the money to go where it's supposed to be — but all of the actors live together in a house with the cinematographer and stuff, they eat dinner together.
It makes it so much less scary to go to work the first day. I read this interview with Bill Murray ... he says that when he goes to work, his feeling is that you need to be prepared to die out there ... I took that as you can't be afraid to f**k up. Some actors are really serious and tense-looking, they're trying so hard to just nail it ... I realize that when I work with Wes, it's been so long: he has seen me be so bad, so way off. When you're relaxed and when you're working with people that are familiar to you, you can go farther more quickly. When you're working with people that you know, maybe you aren't working as hard.
It makes the working process fun. It's hard no matter what, but it can be a little less aggravating if the people around you, you don't mind how loud they chew because you love them.
Anderson cast you in your first role, and so many of your projects since then have been similar in their off-kilter sensibilities. Did he influence you that dramatically, or did he just really get 17-year-old Jason?
I wasn't trying to be an actor, I was with my band and I just never thought about being in movies. So yes, it sent me down a path to be in movies. Essentially, I grew up in L.A in the '80s. When you're little, and you're getting your hair cut in some barbershop and the girl cuts a bunch of kid actors' hair, you see headshots on mirrors of little kids with really spikey hair, dressed like cowboys. I felt like, when I was really little, "I am not one of those people, whoever those people are, I am not one of those."
When I grew up, I never went to film sets. [My mom] really loves movies, but she doesn't like Hollywood; she's very wary of it and so made a real attempt to keep us away from it. I have no problem with people who didn't do that approach, but for me it was cool to not have that. When I did go to see movies, everything was larger than life. I read this interview with an actor, he said that when he was little, it was like, "I want to do that, I can do that." I didn't see a movie that made me go, "I can do that." I was like, "I can say these lines on the way home in front of my family." When Wes and I met and began to work, it was like a lot of stuff in my life made sense all of the sudden.
Is he aware of his influence on your teenaged self?
At a time when you are 17 and totally lost and deeply unpopular, yeah. I talked to Wes about this a couple of days ago ... I'm comfortable being this sentimental. I was like, "You are really the first person who treated me like, 'Hey, what do you think?'" No one really asked me my opinion about anything. My mom did, or whatever, but I mean like a stranger who I thought was cool. When we were on the set of "Rushmore," he didn't treat me like I was 17, he treated me like I was 27, like I was his age, accountable and responsible. He asked me about music, and was interested in things that I was interested in, and wanted to know what was on my mind.
When you have a kid of a certain age and you're trying to talk to them, some say to kneel down and look your kid in the eye. It's kind of respectful to them. Instead of talking feet above them, you get down and talk to them. I noticed that on the set of "Moonrise Kingdom," that Wes — and obviously he hasn't been reading a lot of baby books — but any time he went to talk to [the kid actors] and give them advice, he would kneel down. He has an instinct to be respectful, to treat them as equals. I think that shows.