Being part of a Wes Anderson movie is kind of like being part of that cool family that you were always jealous of in high school. Remember those guys? They all liked great music and loved hanging out with each other? Sometimes they even skipped school in order to go on awesome trips like their vengeance mission against a shark in the middle of the ocean a few years ago or their family pilgrimage to India? This past summer they all went to camp together! Watching Anderson’s films can always make you green with envy as you look at the gorgeous visuals and great rapport that everyone has in this whimsical world of Wes’ creation, but hearing about it from one of his staple players and collaborators? That makes you yearn for the Wes Anderson lifestyle even more.
In Anderson’s latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, Jason Schwartzman plays a sharp-tongued khaki scout camp counselor with a business-savvy-style known only as Cousin Ben. Even though this is only his fourth role under Anderson’s direction, Schwartzman feels like he is right at home with the recurring cast and crew that he literally grew up with since his first acting gig as the precocious Max Fischer in 1998’s Rushmore.
FILTER recently caught up with Schwartzman—and his endless supply of analogies—about his experiences on set in Rhode Island, his strict dedication to music and why Bill Murray is always loose.
You’ve been working with Wes Anderson for over a decade now. What is your relationship with him like?
The greatest thing about a relationship is that when you know someone for so long, they aren’t only someone who is important to you professionally, but also personally. They’ve seen you at your best and at your non-best, so there isn’t anything to be really nervous or embarrassed about. I find when I go to start working with someone new, I can feel tension in my body sometimes, which I attribute to not wanting to fail in front of them, or make them regret the decision to work with me. That is a terrible thing! I feel like I should just have fun and say, “If I fuck up, let’s go again.” That mentality is very special and you can see it in certain people like Bill Murray. Bill Murray is just loose. When he comes to work, he’s just loose and he has every right to be! There aren’t many like him. When I go work with Wes, I wouldn’t say that I’m loose, but I’m ready to just jump right in because he’s just seen every side of me. There is just nothing to be afraid of and we can just go more quickly into the work; we can explore more things and experiment.
Do you think that some of this feeling has to do with the fact that your first acting job was with him?
When I work with Wes there is a different feeling around. It’s almost like when people who like are born in one city, and then they live someplace else, come home for Christmas. They just think “Yeah, this is where I come from.” That’s the feeling I get. Like, I work with other directors and it’s like I’ve worked in this city and I’ve lived in that city, but I’m from LA. That’s what I believe. I’ve worked with all these directors, but when I work with Wes, that’s where I come from.
I’m sure it helped, then, that for the filming of Moonrise Kingdom he had everyone—cast and crew—all living in one big house.
Yeah, and that’s something that evolved after Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. When we started to talk about The Darjeeling Limited and writing it, Wes decided that there were going to be no trailers; everyone does their own hair and makeup; you get into your wardrobe in your own room and you come to set to shoot. It was an idea to try and be more nimble and to work more quickly. Also, when there are trailers or places for people to go, people will normally go there. It can happen that when you are doing a movie, no one is ever hanging out! And I don’t think that it’s necessary for everyone to hang out all the time on set and become friends or whatever on all their movies. That seems like the case on action movies…from what I’ve…read about them…
What are you talking about? We haven’t even begun to discuss your illustrious action film career!
[Laughs] I know! I know you’ve seen all of my action thrillers. I don’t think I really have to get into it, but let me just give you the inside scoop: I go out, I shoot, they explode it and then I sit around for like an hour while they set up the whole thing again—
And at that point you are just so tired!
It’s exhausting! But really, what I’m saying is that it doesn’t work for every movie, but Wes is always really trying to build a community feeling or a family feeling. Kind of like a camp! So on Darjeeling we would work all day and we would go home and eat together. Me and Owen [Wilson] would play badminton after work and we would all play soccer together on the weekends. I think that Wes’ filming attitude is more flowing; there is not as much up and down. It just never stops—it’s constant. For instance, you get up in the morning, you get in the car and you’re talking about the movie. You work all day, it’s time for lunch but no one sits down; food is brought out and everyone eats while standing and talking about the movie. You get in the car and you’re talking about tomorrow’s work. Everyone gets home and is hanging out: you talk about The Beatles for a second and then you talk about the next scene, then you talk about Fellini and then you talk about whatever else. It’s not like you’re always talking about it, but it’s always there brewing in your mind. It’s not like there is an on-and-off switch; the lights are always on dim—just dimmed all day long.
With most of Wes’ films you are playing one of the younger or youngest characters. What was it like being an older character as Cousin Ben and working with children on the set of Moonrise Kingdom?
I loved it. I didn’t work with any adults this time. And it was funny, I got to set and I asked Wes, “Oh, how’s it going with the kids?” and he said “Oh, it’s going great, the kids are great, but this is what I really need you to do is to not really engage with them between takes. We are trying to shoot a lot of stuff and they can talk.” He knows it’s hard for me to not ask people questions; I just like to talk to people! There are quiet people and there are not quiet people. I am extremely quiet when I’m at home or with my friends, but if I’m around a bunch of people that I don’t know I love to talk. I saw what he meant the next day: literally between shots I had these aviators on and I am trying SO HARD not to engage with them, but I’m listening to them just going off and saying things like “did you hear about this?” and “fucking that” and “megabytes”…all this stuff! I was just gazing off into the horizon. I just had a fixed tree that I had to look at between takes and I literally could not look away from it. All the time in my brain all I wanted to do was say, “Slow down! What was that?”, “Could you write this down?” It was very, very hard for me to not talk to them.
Who is your favorite character that you’ve played in a Wes Anderson film?
Ooh, that’s a tough one! I can’t really say. Each one has been very different for me. Max Fischer was very talkative and my character in Darjeeling was not. And Ben kind of is, but yeah, they are all very different.
Who is your favorite Wes Anderson character that you have not played?
I would say that would be Bill Murray in Life Aquatic. It’s all about Steve Zissou!
Do you ever get the bug to really go back to music?
I do music every day. I put out these records which are called Coconut Records—which is my band—and I scored a movie last year, but music for me is like…OK, I’m going to use another analogy…yet again. To me, Arcade Fire is a professional bodybuilder. And I try to do a minimum of two to three hours of music a night; now that could be writing a song or playing other people’s music, but, to me, it’s like when people say, “I just got to go to the gym.” Like, you aren’t Arcade Fire, you aren’t going to the gym to work out and get huge for a contest or anything. I just do it because I love it—and I know that they love it too—but I’m sure that they are doing music all day long. I just do it like a treat because it makes me happy, but I have to do it every day. It’s regimented. It is like going to the gym! And the life of the actor is so weird that it’s important for me to have a discipline of some kind. I just love music so much.
Believe me, we do too!
It’s just the greatest thing in the world, hands down. F
Taken from FILTER Magazine. Published November 5, 2012.