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October 2005
Shopgirl: An Interview with Jason Schwartzman

Shopgirl: An Interview with Jason Schwartzman

By Julian Roman

We haven't seen a lot of Jason Schwartzman on the big screen since he made a splash in 1999 with the critically acclaimed film, "Rushmore" in which he played the quirky but likable character Max Fischer opposite Bill Murray. With the exception of the film, his only other big role was last year's "I Heart Huckabees", a film that went either way with audiences. His upcoming role in "Shopgirl" should give him more attention. Schwartzman plays Jeremy, a slacker who's in love with a department store girl (Danes) unaware his rival for her affections is a rich guy played by Steve Martin. While at the Toronto Film Festival to promote, Schwartzman recently spoke to blackfilm.com about his character, his film career thus far, and his band.

Do you find it interesting that in a Steve Martin film, you're the comic relief?

JS: Yeah, definitely, it's an awkward and scary proposition. I always tell people that to be the funny person in a Steve Martin movie is like getting a call that Keith Moon wants you to play drums on his record. He should be playing drums on his record. He's Keith moon. I was scared. It felt like a daunting responsibility to try to be as funny as Steve Martin. God knows, to me, he's one of the funniest people in the world. Hopefully, I had a slight confidence that the novel, the script, and Anand, were three incredible ingredients that might help me out a little bit.

Do you have any flashbacks to Rushmore?

JS: These damn love triangles that I keep finding myself in. I definitely made that connection, the way the cookie crumbles.

I didn't realize that Claire Danes was a longstanding friend of yours. Is that a challenge, in terms of building a romance with one of your oldest friends?

JS: Yes, what did she say about it The truth is that we were really good friends. I've known her for many years. That's actually how I first came across Shopgirl. She was attached to it years before we even shot it. I had read the book, when she had said she was going to be in it. I could see it so clearly. I was so excited for her and that's how it first entered my orbit. It's not awkward when you're dong the scene and looking in her eyes, because she's such a great actress. She's so natural and organic, you kind of forget about those thoughts. But there are those funny moments when you hit the POV button, fly out of your body, you can't help but smirk. I, at least, ruined a lot film being embarrassed about it. I'm that kind of person. In terms of that ill-fated night, there was some tension and it was suggested by someone to have like a sip of vodka. Drunk is wrong. It was more of like a toast, a celebration. I've never really done anything like that before, and I wouldn't want to do it again. That kind of scene. We did it together.

What's your game with the ladies? Do you find yourself running out of places to go and things to do?

JS: Man, I hate to get depressing on you, but I don't have a game. I'm so alone, so depressed, so dark, no.

Are you on antidepressants?

JS: No, no I'm notnot anymore. No, so running out of places to go and stuff? I'm a creature of habit. I go to restaurants all the time and stuff. I don't have a game. Hopefully, the game, and this is cheesy - so if you're lactose intolerant pause it, is to ultimately have no game and to be honest. Do you have a favorite place in LA to go?

JS: I just have some restaurants to just go and eat there. Do mean places to watch people? I like to go shopping look for guitars and stuff with my friends. Look at Meyer, great old instruments, talk about pedals and stuff.

You were the only one that improvised?

JS: He's full of lies this guy. Well, I will say that sometimes I did say words that weren't exactly what was written. Without a doubt, they are directly linked to whatever the real line was that the new line, that it took its place. Every line that's unscripted was definitely related to the line that was there. The great thing about Steve and Anand is that they do give you tremendous freedom, but within a serious frame. They show you the frame, say here's the part of the canvas that's blank and now here's where you can paint. But there wasn't a kind of wild abandon, where no one knows what's happening.

Was it the tour bus stuff?

JS: I think it's different each time. Anand, one of the great things he did, he's an investigator, an experimenter on set. It was a matter of doing the scene multiple ways and one of those ways was slightly different with the dialogue. Steve would come to set a lot. I worked with Steve Martin but not as an actor. We never shared scenes together, I pass him once. But my working experience with him is as a writer to actor. When he would come to set, he would watch and he would suggest new lines or suggest alterations, maybe take that out. He was very open to the idea of experimenting. I think improvisation sometimes has the sound of just making up stuff or actors just kind of talking for twelve minutes. It was never like that. Anything that was unscripted, I felt to be definitely discussed, agreed upon, and worked out. It wasn't what was in the original script but there was a direction and a frame.

Any urge to get back in music business?

JS: After I quit my band, I definitely was so full, like I'm so full I could never eat again. I had that kind of feeling where the elements, like the touring stuff, were harder for me and I definitely felt fine not experiencing it again. But I have never stopped playing music. I still try to write all the time, play songs, I'm just not getting paidI never got paid for it ever.

Should we expect to hear things from you?

JS: I'm not going to say no, but I am going to say not yes. Now is the first time after a little while, maybe it's going to see a lot of live music, there's just nothing like doing it this way. Playing live is such an incredible feeling. Now I am missing the live concert.

Who would you be a roadie with?

JS: All kinds of bands, let me think, I don't know. Built to Spill, Pavement, any of those bands would be interesting to talk to. I would want to be a roadie for a singer/songwriter so there wouldn't be too much to carry.

What does Mirabelle see in Jeremy?

JS: I think the first thing, the reason why she doesn't move on, is his sincere interest in her. She wants to be loved and wants to be held, what it talks about in the book and the script. She wants that. Jeremy, I think, honestly and sincerely likes her. He's truthful with her, although he may not say the right thing all the time, or be the right guy at that time. His interest in her is interesting to her.

Rushmore is seven years ago, have you found a groove to your acting career?

JS: I don't know what I want to be part. I ultimately want to live my personal life with some kind of flair, non-stagnant kind of energy. Hopefully that will filter into my work. I think it's great to know what you want, but I think it's good to not be too careerist. I hate to say it, and it's funny when you say its seven years old, but it's still so new to me. I'm still so awestruck and I'm still so nervous. I do have a hard time with meeting Steve martin. It's not natural to me. It always feels like a blessing. It always feels like an honor. That it is a true feeling. I'm so happy to be here. I just want to keep rolling with and going down the ski slope.

What kind of things are you involved in?

JS: Personally, that's a good question. Travel, and books, literature, other movies, music, those are great ways to change your life that aren't too expensive or hard to do. You can watch a movie anywhere and hopefully it can change you a little bit. That's why I'm reading, writing, and watching movies a little bit. I think walking is really nice. Taking different streets. It sounds so cheesy when I say it, but it is true.

People will think this is a comedy. What is this about from your point of view?

JS: First of all, the category questions is an interesting one. I'm just calling it a true take on relationships. That is funny and also heartbreaking. I think it's about people in this day and age trying to find love, connect with other people, an investigation of how hard it is in this world, in Los Angeles, to find someone. To stop missing people and make a stand and grow. It's a love triangle. It's also about my character meeting this woman and the necessary relationship she has to have with Steve for us to be successful. It's an investigation of a relationship might not be meant to be but is necessary. You might not end up with a person, but it is your duty in your lifetime to know them and learn from them.

You don't mention the transformation of your character?

JS: I wasn't doneand then there's the transformation of your character. There is a transformation through love.

You have to change, but you're still the same Jeremy?

JS: To be honest with you, Steve and I talked about this. We have to just know that he's not changed at the end of the movie. His fašade has changed, new suit, hair slicked back, that look in his eye, but it would be unrealistic to believe that a guy like that went through that big of a change, so quickly from some books on tape. But I think were we end with Jeremy is the beginning, now the willingness and motivation to begin that change, it's kind of like the door is open with Jeremy. I think that's what Steve really stressed, that's what I intended in the book. This Jeremy at the end is not new or totally changed. I want him to look different, but inside I want you to see that he's still the same Jeremy. He still doesn't know what to say. He's just trying and is aware of the other person. So, it's an interesting transformation. It's a transformation to the beginning of a transformation, if that makes sense.

Was the film done in sequence? Or were you jetting between the extremes of Jeremy?

JS: Jetting, it was tough. The kiss with Claire was pretty early on in the movie. Sometimes, those date scenes were all back to back. That was kind of funny, shooting a relationship in one night. If only we could do that in real life. It wasn't too hard. That's the great thing about Anand and Steve. It was so well thought out and meticulously planned. Any question you has, there was an answer for it. I sometimes feel like as an actor its okay to get lost in the fog of schedules, it gets strange. One great thing about Anand was that he was like a lighthouse in that fog, a guiding light. I think in normal situations it would be hard to shoot two ends of a spectrum in one day, but not with Anand. And not with Anand directing Steve's words.

What can you tell us about Marie Antoinette and working with Sofia?

JS: The process of it was incredible. It was definitely scary and I was nervous to work on that. She's an incredibly director. One of her strength's is that she talks to each actor differently and talks to them specifically. It's not just a blanket way of working. She's like Steve actually, very precise in what she says. She's a great connector of emotions and truths and memories. For me, there's such a well to reference, we blessed being able to contemplate, it's kind of like that. And I know exactly what she's saying and no one else would even understand it, but it's just right, pinpoint, and helpful. She's very quiet. Sometimes when you work, I've noticed, being alone at home or on the way to work is very tranquil, and then you get to set and it's crazy. Money's involved and people are trying to get the day done. Many people have different jobs and they want to do there best and everyone's kind of colliding. I felt this to be the opposite way. To be in a new foreign city, which was Paris and I love, I felt that to be a little bit scary. I was lost a lot, getting there was a long drive. But she's like a candle burning. She was so calm.

Is this going to be an offbeat version of Marie Antoinette? JS: I don't know what offbeat means, but I do know

Well, casting you as Louis the 16th

JS: Why's that offbeat

Well, you're American

JS: I think it's going to be her version of it

Do you wear wigs?

JS: I do wear wigs. That was fun. To be honest, if you had said to me when I was eleven that I would play a French king, I might have said you're koo koo. But if you had also said that you'd be an actor at 16, I would have said you're koo koo too. My life is full of crazy surprises that I guess would be considered offbeat. That's alright with. But I will say that I haven't seen the movie. And as you know, the process and the product are so unrelated. But I know what we shot felt like an individual take. It won't be the normal period piece we're accustomed to. It feels more intimate, it's not epic. It's not 5000 horses, it's more about people.


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