Since bursting into the film industry in Wes Anderson's 1998 film 'Rushmore', Jason Schwartzman has proved himself as an acting juggernaut on both the small and silver screens, as well as establishing himself as an accomplished musician. Now, ahead of the UK release of 'Listen Up Philip' on 5th June, 2015, Schwartzman took some time to speak to us here, at Contact Music, to discuss the interestingly unlikeable (yet compelling) character of Philip, as well as discussing the upcoming second season of 'Mozart's Jungle', and the potential of working on more music for Coconut Records.
How's everything going at the moment?
Everything's going well. I'm just here in Los Angeles; I just dropped my daughter off at school and that's always a great way to start the day. I'm one of four executive producers on a television show called 'Mozart's Jungle', and we're gearing up for our second season, and we're currently in our writer's room environment, and trying to cook up ideas. I do parent stuff in the mornings and then work all day uninterrupted in the room.
How's that all coming along?
Good enough - everyday we're just trying to move the ball forward. In general I'm just curious in the way people make anything; I mean, I love listening to and reading interviews with people where they talk about how they make stuff, because it's always different and there's no real formula to it, but some days are really good and some days are not good.
Philip isn't like a lot of the characters you have played in the past, but would you argue that he's still likeable?
When I first read the script, I thought 'wow, this person is saying a lot of stuff that is arguably not very nice, and he's treating people very unkindly and he's making very poor decisions'. When you read the script it's very relentless in that way, and I felt very claustrophobic because the behaviour's so extreme that it didn't have any relief on it.
But he's certainly compelling...
To leapfrog a tonne of steps, when it was time to start making the movie, I moved to New York about a month early to be near Alex [Ross Perry] because he'd written the script and knew it inside and out but I felt that I had to be near this man and this project -I knew wouldn't be able to do the role if I was just having an hour-long Skype meeting with him every day.
This idea of likeable and not likeable came up and we discussed and asked if we should just try to imagine what this movie would be like with a little bit of sunshine for this character but it became apparent that it was going to work against us. The character is constructed to be extreme. If you try to retroactively put things in that make him nice, it actually makes him passive aggressive and REALLY makes him unlikeable.
Once it became apparent that he would be passive aggressive and it was going to hurt whatever the movie was gonna be, the idea was to use the very word that you just said - 'compelling'. We wanted to make a guy that was fascinating and compelling to watch. One thing about this character is his honesty, and he knows exactly what he's doing. I think if you make him kinda nice, then he seems like he's not really aware of what's happening. I think one thing that's genuine about Philip is that you know exactly where you stand with him.
On that note, is the ending something Philip would have wanted all along?
I could never be so distant from someone like Philip gets, and then go back to my old house and expect to be invited in. Alex always thought about the character a bit like a drug addict and speaking his mind and erupting like that was new. I always thought that he was experimenting with this type of behaviour but that kind of thing can overtake you without you even knowing it - especially being cold. You can be a really nice guy, and then you can be hurt by a relationship and think 'I'm not gonna wear my heart on my sleeve so much', and then before you know it, you don't wear your heart at all. I felt like the character was flirting with this type of thing and dabbling with it, and then at the end of the movie he is addicted and alone. But that was one concept.
Did you enjoy playing such a self-destructive character?
Yeah, I did because laying into someone is not something I do. I don't rip people apart; I prefer not to let it get to that place. Philip doesn't really care what people think. After he leaves a room, I don't think he really thinks about that room anymore, and there was something really fun about that, and this job is a very strange job and it was fun to do it, for sure. But there was a lot of apologising between takes, just for the record.
Who do you think you laid into the worst?
Elizabeth Moss. I didn't like fighting with her or hurting her feelings on set. In the script, it doesn't say that she cries, but in one of the takes I was getting upset with her and she started crying and I was like 'oh no, did I hurt her feelings for real?' because I'm just not used to that. Then I was like 'oh yeah! She's a really good actor'. For a while there, I was like 'don't you do this! Don't you make me feel bad for you right now - I'm supposed to not like you!'
You've got a few writing credits to your name and you're playing a writer in this film - is writing something that interests you?
Yeah, I would say that it interests me more and more. When I was really young I thought that I could be one. My mom loves plays so much and she would take me to various plays and I remember loving that feeling, and I was 10 or 11 but I thought that writing was so wonderful. But that goes away in high school when you fail. But all the more, it's more exciting.
I think writing in a movie or television type scenario is a different thing to writing a novel, which I would say is one of the hardest art forms that you can imagine. I think writing a novel is just brutal. With music - even if it's not done or a piece of s*it - you can play it for somebody, and it can be a 'work in progress', but I know someone who wrote a novel and it took them ten years to write it. That slow, like an ant carrying 50 times its body weight, and having all that weight on your back, just seems such a noble and incredible thing.
You seem to pick films directed by people who deliver extraordinarily visual movies. Even at the very beginning when you first read a script, do you personally have quite a clear visualisation of how the director might make it look, or is it something that you don't think about too much?
I think that's just part of the collaboration of not just between a director and an actor, but everyone. You get a script and there's nothing more thrilling than seeing how things are interpreted. Like, you get to a set and you see how something is built, or how they decorated it - I really love all that stuff but it can really vary.
Certain scripts are highly detailed like Wes Anderson's, and you know going in that a lot of those things are going to be made or customised for that movie. This script was very detailed, but in a different way. You'll hear about meetings where the actor will meet with the director because they want to hear what the look is. I try to be excited about that, but at the same time I don't get too excited because it can often turn out very differently. Everyone wants it to look like 'The Graduate' - they want that richness, but it's very hard to do that. When I'm first reading a script, I just imagine watching it, and what it feels like to see that movie.
Briefly before we go, let's talk about music. Have you got anything in store for Coconut Records?
I don't! I'm not in a recording studio because I've just had another child, so I've not been writing as recently or as often as I would like, but typically I like to be doing some form of music every day. I'm not recording an album right now, but everyday there's music. If it's not writing, it's learning someone else's song and I'm always thinking about it and always cooking up ideas. It was only the other night that I was like 'I've gotta actually start recording a record now; I haven't done one in a long time!', but I'm very happy because I have GarageBand on my computer so I can record music at home and it's the making of the music and the writing of it that I really love.
Finally, without thinking about it too much, what are your favourite albums of all time?
Oh, come on! That's so hard! At the end of the day, it's just The Beatles records and The Beach Boys 'Pet Sounds', David Bowie's 'Low' - too many.
Watch the trailer for Listen Up Philip here.
Listen Up Philip is released in the UK 5 June 2015.
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