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Jason Schwartzman Jason Schwartzman.

the vulture transcript

Jason Schwartzman on Ghost Stories, Boy Scouts, and Ignoring the Moonrise Kingdom Kids

Just as the sun was coming out after a torrential downpour at the Cannes Film Festival, Jason Schwartzman could be found on the Moonrise Kingdom's beachside press junket, wearing a smothering tan raincoat but an appropriately sunny attitude. And why shouldn't he? He was on the beach in France, with BFF Wes Anderson nearby, and his other great buddy, Bill Murray, off somewhere in the city starting spontaneous dance circles with adolescents. In Moonrise, Schwartzman's fifth collaboration with Anderson, he plays a rebellious middle-ranking Khaki Scout leader the preteen protagonists turn to when they want to get married while on the run. We talked to Schwartzman about his own experiences with scouting and first love, as well as his next, very surprising project, which we cannot wait to see.

Aren’t you boiling in that raincoat?
No, earlier — you were here — it was colder. It’s just now becoming a little bit hot, but at this point, I’ve come this far that I’m gonna wear it. And, also, I feel like this white shirt and this light gray jacket, they definitely need protection. Because I spill a lot of stuff. I’m very, like, clumsy, and this is waterproof, and I just feel like today’s not going to be a good day for me. I have a bad feeling about what could happen. I’m going to go home and put on dark things and have nothing around me.

But if you wear that raincoat all day, then you’re covering up your beautiful suit.
That’s true. I did dress up for today. But I don’t know. It’s just too risky.

I also like how worn out your shoes are compared to the crisp outfit.
It’s funny, I was at this young clothing store in Los Angeles and this person said to me, “Oh, your shoes! Your shoes are so GOOD!” And, you know, they’re destroyed. And I was with my father-in-law and he looked down, confused, and I explained to him later, “No, no, he was paying me a compliment because I destroyed them.” And he did not get it, because he’s a respectable man and you want to look good.

So, when Wes calls, do you just drop everything you’re doing to be in his movies? Do you have a say in what you play?
First of all, let me say this: This is one of my best friends in the whole world and I am very, very lucky for that. There are very few people I could say that are my close people that I really, really care about. And I would say that there are an even smaller amount of them that I could say I actually work with, too. And it’s just very lucky. I met Wes on Rushmore. We made a movie together. We stayed in touch through the years. And then this weird thing happens to you personally and you talk about it and then you keep talking, and then all of a sudden it’s twelve years older and you’re like, “Wow, this is my best friend.” It just kind of happens behind you in a weird way and you turn around and you can’t believe it. So I have that in my life with him separate to work. And I never assume that we’re going to work together, you know what I mean? I almost assume that we’re not. Part of the feeling in my mind is like, “If we’re going to be friends like this, you have to be able to sort of separate them a little bit.”

That said, when a job presents itself through Wes, it’s never worked out where I have ever been unhappy with the material or wanted something more. I’m so happy to be a part of it in any way that it’s never even crossed my mind to bring up something. Because he’s very smart and I think he’s got an incredible gut feeling about balance, and it doesn’t always have to be the same balance. But for whatever work he’s done, he just has an innate sense of where things should be. Characters, music, actors, color, whatever, there’s a certain configuration to it all, and it’s all been thought out for a very, very long time. He’s very careful. So if you said, “I’d rather do that,” that’s not the right thing to say to someone who’s thought very long and hard about everything.

What’s your character’s official rank within the Khaki Troop?
That’s a very good question. I know what it is, but I have forgotten because I haven’t been asked that. I am below Edward Norton and above the little guys.

Speaking of the little guys, I was at the premiere party and they were all looking for you.
They were? Oh my God.

I think you might be their favorite adult.
Oh, really? I don’t know. I love them so much. I have so much fun with them. But I thought they hated me, because, you know, I don’t exactly have an ironclad attention span. I like to talk to people and if they bring up something, I just like to have conversations. And you know, this movie, shooting quickly and being efficient was of the utmost importance for a variety of reasons. And it’s a fact that young people don’t stay on track either. And so Wes said to me early on, “Will you do me a favor and just don’t encourage distraction. Just help me stay on track.” I guess he knows my history, you know. And so I would stand on set with these aviator glasses and these kids are having, like, the most incredible conversations between takes, and all I want to do is be like, “What website was that?”

What were the conversations about?
Just anything. Or they would use phrases I’d never heard before. There was just so much I wanted to ask. But I literally had to ignore them. I had to ice them out, you know what I mean? Like, I had to literally pretend I wasn’t listening. I’d just gaze off. But all I wanted to do was talk to them. So I’m glad to hear you say they don’t think I’m a total jerk. I was trying my hardest to keep it in check, because if I did talk to them, it would be over.

Do you remember any of the weird phrases they said?
No, I don’t remember anything, but I do remember thinking, I am not as young as I thought I was.

Maybe the kids could sense your fight against your lack of attention span and responded to that.
Maybe, but they don’t know. As far as they could tell, I was the most focused man in the universe.

They also seemed to love Bill Murray.
Well, yeah, it’s impossible not to.

Were you here for the dance circle?
I heard about it. I heard it was incredible. Bill was telling me about it the next day. He was like, “You haven’t seen moves like this for years.”

He pulled me into it.
Oh my God. Lucky you. I’ve said this before, when you’re with Bill, you feel like everything’s going to be okay. He knows what to do, when to do it, how to do it. He’s got a trick for things. I’ve been fortunate to know him since I was 17, and there’s a feeling as I’ve been growing up, like, I want to have some kind of … I want to be like this in some way for my family. I don’t think it’s something you learn in school. I think it’s something you learn from, like, a dance-circle night. He’s plugged into the life force, so he’s always learning. New experiences are always happening to him. You see how he is now, so imagine how many years he’s been able to do that.

Is it like, if your faucet broke, Bill could fix it?
Yeah, and if he didn’t know how to fix it, he would know someone who did. Or give you a good reason why it’s not a good idea to fix it. Like, “You don’t want to do that.” He’s just got a great … there’s no one like that that I know in my life.

You’re doing your next movie with him, right?
I am?

Charles Swan?
Oh, we already made that movie.

Is there another movie after that?
Oh, no. I was like, “What are you hearing?” Yeah, I already made that movie. It’s so cool. Every time I see him, it’s like a combination of a reunion and a first meeting, in the best possible way. You know what I mean? He has so many dimensions and secret corners. There’s so much there. And it was great to work with him.

How do you interact in that movie?
We each play Charlie Sheen’s closest friends.

Are you friends with Charlie Sheen?
I am now. From the movie. I didn’t know him before. Yeah, I love him.

I interviewed Aubrey Plaza, and she said he had crazy stories like, “I punched a supermodel on a boat!”
He said that? See, I didn’t get that stuff. But you sit with him and he’s telling stories like, “Yeah, I lived in that city at that time,” and you’re like, “What were you doing there?” And he’s like, “Oh, I was shooting Platoon,” and you’re like, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry.” He has a very vast filmography. He’s worked with so many people and he’s such a great actor. Just his voice, his speaking voice and his body language — he’s really done incredible work and it was such a privilege to spend my time with him.

You marry the young couple in this movie. Do you have your Universal Life Church ministry license?
I don’t because I’m not Method. But Jonathan Ames who created Bored to Death, he became ordained to marry me and my wife [Brady Cunningham]. I asked him if he would marry us, and he became ordained and did it.

Did he marry you well?
I was doing so good up until he started speaking, and what he was saying was just so moving and sweet and kind, I just became like … you know in Indiana Jones when he takes the skull and the whole place starts to self-destruct? That’s what he did to my heart. He plucked it out of my chest and my whole body started to fall to pieces inside. It was so amazing.

How long ago did you get married?
Two years ago and change in Los Angeles. It was small. Not a lot of people there. It was nice.

Did you have a summer camp or Boy Scout experience?
I was a Boy Scout. Summer camp I didn’t really do. Like, I never went away to sleepover camp. My little brother did, and I envy people who did. But I never did. I went to rocket-building camp, like a day camp where you’d build rockets and shoot them into the air. But I was a Boy Scout. I was the equivalent of a white belt, like, in karate.

The worst.
Well, not the worst, but the lowest. And I didn’t rise very high in the ranks, though I intended to. I saw the patches and I was like, “I’m gonna do this! I want that! I want that! I want those beads.” And basically, pretty early on in being a scout, we had to go camp out in the woods and they all told ghost stories right before bed and it really got to me. And I was little, you know, and I spent this night in this tent and I didn’t sleep. Because a lot of the stories are like, “There a story of these three scouts and they went out and rumor has it they never came back.” You know, one of those things where you’re laying in your thing and you’re 8 or something, and you’re like, “Oh my God! I think I can hear them howling! I think I can hear them saying, ‘Help us’ or something in the woods.” So I resigned almost immediately the next morning.

Does that mean you have no wilderness survival skills?
I didn’t then, and it’s not like I learned any now. But I feel like I could spend at least three nights now.

You could start a fire without matches?
Oh no. With scouts. I could spend three nights with some scouts now. Not by myself.

You would be okay if you heard some ghost stories?
You know the song “The Outdoor Type” by the Lemonheads? You should listen to those lyrics. That about sums it all up for me.

I get it. I went to Girl Scout camp and they told us that some girl had fallen into the latrine and her ghost still lived in there and would pull you down by your butt if you went to the bathroom at night. So my friend and spent the rest of the week peeing in the woods.
I’m telling you! Ghost, fear … I remember when I was little, the depth to which I could be frightened was so profound. I remember seeing The Neverending Story. That movie is so scary! Like, the idea of the Nothing, I mean, that is a fucked-up idea for a kid to see that. So I’m like, “Okay, we’ve got Freddy Krueger, we’ve got Jason, and now you’re telling me there’s something called the Nothing, and it rolls over you and there’s nothing there?!” That haunted me. That was my first real taste of deep fear of mortality, my first mortal thoughts as a child. And The Neverending Story, I’ve never had that. Where is Falkor when you need him?

It’s true, Falkor never shows up for us, does he?
Not in my life. Well, actually, yes, in the form of my child. My little baby came along and that’s my Falkor. He’s my little luck dragon.

The preteen protagonists in this movie experience their first love. What was your first kiss?
It’s a French kiss in the movie. My first kiss-kiss, I was in kindergarten and we were all sitting cross-legged on the ground doing some sort of game, all these kids in a row, and I had this really passionate crush on this girl, and she was the supply monitor that day. So she was the only one not sitting with us. She was in the back of the room putting away glue sticks. And I was just like, “I want to kiss her. I want to kiss her.” So finally, I just stood up and walked away from the group. They must have been watching me, like, “Where is he going?” And I just marched right up to her, tapped her on the shoulder, she turned around, and I just kissed her. And I walked back.

Bold move! How did she respond?
I didn’t even look to see how she responded. It was very selfish. It was a mission.

Did anything happen?
I have no recollection, but I will tell you this, later in life she dated a friend of mine and I hung out with her all the time.

And you never discussed it?
I never brought it up.

And neither did she?
No, because now it’s like 26 years later, and it’s like, “Not to bring up the old days, but did you ever have feelings for me? Did you? When we were doing the parachute game, what were your feelings about me?”

Did you have a deeper first love as a preteen?
Oh yeah, all kinds of crushes.

Do you think you’re able to fall in love at that age?
Are you kidding me? I think that you’re able to be whatever you think is the limit of what you have. I think even if the love you have isn’t huge, if you believe that it is, you’ll play to the fence, so that you’ll go as far as you think you can. And I think that a young heart … my favorite thing about Wes … I didn’t pick up this fact until I worked on Moonrise Kingdom, but on Moonrise Kingdom, whenever Wes would go and direct the kids, they’re all standing there and he would lean down and talk to them all. And in all the baby books that I read, as the kids get to a certain age and you need to talk to them, the main thing that they encourage is getting down to their level and look at them eye to eye. It’s a very respectful way to communicate, to basically say, “I’m here with you. I’m not talking down to you.” And I’m sure he hasn’t read whatever children’s pediatric book I was reading, but it’s very natural to him, and he’s very respectful of kids and their emotions, like in Fantastic Mr. Fox. All these things have been alluded to in his other movies, that kids have a much deeper, complicated inner life than some adults will really acknowledge. It’s funny, like, I’m around people that have kids that are 12 and they’re like, “Oh, she doesn’t like boys yet.” You know what I mean? And I remember being 6 and in love, and loving people and wanting to hug and to hold people. That’s why kids have a lot going on.

After you did this movie, do you feel prepared for your kid growing up?
No, not at all.

What’s next? Anything after Charles Swan?
Yes, I’m working on a movie called New York Magazine.

Ha.
And it’s all about working at New York Magazine.

Really? So did you agree to this interview so you could secretly shadow me?
I don’t know, but this has been really good research for me. I’m also recording this entire conversation. Yeah, I play a young reporter who goes to Cannes to interview actors for the New York Magazine movie.

The plot doesn’t sound that intriguing.
Well, that’s not the plot. That’s just the teaser.

Oh, so what happens in the movie?
Files get lost, deadlines aren’t met, people are misquoted, spelling mistakes are corrected …

Sounds riveting.
… threats are made. That kind of stuff.

I would watch that movie.
I think you’ll like it. I hope it’s spot-on.

You could hire me as a consultant.
Okay, good. I’ll have my people call your people.

Photo: CLINT SPAULDING/Patrick McMullan