A lot can change in two years. When ComingSoon.net last spoke to actor Jason Schwartzman at the Toronto Film Festival for Steve Martin’s Shopgirl, he had been playing around with writing a few songs but nothing serious. Two years later and those songs have been turned into album, he’s appeared as Louis XVI in his cousin Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and he’s been reunited with Wes Anderson, the director that gave him his start in the popular cult comedy Rushmore. For The Darjeeling Limited, Anderson brought Schwartzman on as a co-writer along with their mutual friend Roman Coppola, and the young actor also plays Jack, the youngest of three estranged brothers (played by Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody) who reunite for a spiritual journey by train across India. Schwartzman is also the star of Anderson’s short film Hotel Chevalier, which acts as a prequel of sorts to “Darjeeling” and which can be downloaded for free on iTunes.
As always, Schwartzman is a pleasure to interview–friendly, funny and often self-effacing–so obviously some things don’t change in two years.
ComingSoon.net: How did Wes approach you originally to co-write this movie? You obviously hadn’t written a movie script before. Jason Schwartzman: The approach was weird. The acting approach was clear. He arrived in Paris, because his “Life Aquatic” press tour ended there. It seemed like he wanted to stay. He only was scheduled to be there for a couple of days, but it was the end of this thing, so I said to him, “Look, if you want to stay and you don’t want to pay for a hotel, just come stay at my apartment.”
CS: You had a place there while you were working on “Marie Antoinette.” Schwartzman: I had a little place there. I mean, I don’t have an apartment in Paris, heh, but they were putting me up in this little place and there was a guest room. I said, “You could stay with me if you want” and he said, “Great” and he moved in. There was a little bar down the street from my house called “Le Palette” and like every night after work, we’d sometimes go down there, have a little dinner or have a coffee or something, and he said to me, “I want to do this movie about three brothers on a train in India and I want you to be the youngest brother.” That seemed okay and I was totally flattered, because I missed working with him and I was excited about that.
CS: This is before you made “Hotel Chevalier.” Schwartzman: This is before “Hotel Chevalier” yeah, well before “Hotel Chevalier.” The writing thing was a little more unclear to me because part of our relationship over these last ten years has always been talking about ideas and recounting stories and trying to make each other laugh. That’s just part of our dynamic, so there was nothing out of the ordinary of us walking through Paris with a notebook talking about things and writing them down, but at a certain point, he said, “Why don’t we bring Roman on this.” And I said, “In on what?” and he said, “The movie that we’re writing.” It was a little bit blurry that whole thing.
CS: I thought that was similar to how Noah Baumbach ended up on “The Life Aquatic” too. Schwartzman: Yeah, I didn’t realize it and then I realized it. That one I tried to play cool. “Oh, yeah, yeah, we’re writing a movie together” but I was freaking out, to be invited on that level with Wes. And not only did he pitch the idea of the movie and us writing together, but also, the way he wanted to make the movie was already in place. Like I want to go to India. I want no hair and make-up, no wardrobe department, no trailers. I want to do a very small crew, very quickly, on a train, so the whole thing was set. So that’s how it all happened.
CS: Noah also mentioned that you eat very well when you make a movie with Wes, because he said they would meet at an Italian restaurant for their writing sessions and it was very casual and laid back. Schwartzman: Noah said that?
CS: Was this like that, writing on the fly when you were together, or was it really structured writing sessions? Schwartzman: No, it felt pretty strict. I mean, like we weren’t always in the same city, so no matter where anyone was, we’d always have a conference call for these four hours every day, and then when we were in the same city, which was pretty much a lot of the time–three weeks in Paris, two weeks back in L.A.–the writing sessions were casually rigorous, if that makes sense, in that they’re not intense. Most of the writing was talking. You really are just asking questions, you’re telling stories about your life, you’re looking for something, but that for like thirteen hours.
CS: Did he just record everything and then just go through it later and assemble the best parts? Schwartzman: No, no, no, we would write it there, too, but it is a lot of discussion. We were always together. It always felt when we were writing that the characters were real and this whole movie was a real thing. It didn’t seem like we were telling them what to do as writers. It seemed like they already had done it, and we were just trying to figure out why.
CS: When you went on the original train trip through India with Wes and Roman, did you automatically take on the Jack role? Schwartzman: No, I mean in the dynamic, I am the youngest of the three writers and of the three brothers, so that exists already. I didn’t become Jack, but we would act out the scenes and in them, I’d be Jack.
CS: You weren’t the one who hit on the porters. Schwartzman: No, I wasn’t hitting on any stewardesses. None of us were for the record. Too busy.
CS: How did the script change after you three made the trip considering that you’d already been doing a lot of writing beforehand? Schwartzman: Well, I think India really gave it something else. We had a lot of stuff written, but it really kind of came together in India. It really showed us itself.
CS: Had you been there before? Schwartzman: No, the writing trip was our first trip there. Wes had been there for one week earlier in the year, but it was fun.
CS: And Wes was scouting locations and figuring out how to shoot on that writing trip? Schwartzman: It ended up becoming like a location scout. We’d have backpacks and our scripts in the back and then we’d see a temple and go, “Oh, let’s stop at this temple and do a scene at this temple.” We’d sit at the temple and Wes would go, “Hey, this is actually a good location. We can put the cameras in here and light it. Let’s shoot it here.” And then we’d just shoot it there. It ended up being really great.
CS: How cramped was it shooting on that train? Schwartzman: It’s more cramped than you can ever imagine.. but I loved it. It kept the actors together. You need to keep the actors together in this kind of movie.
CS: I know you didn’t have trailers but did you have your own cars? Schwartzman: No, not our own cars. We had cubicles. Some time to have a nap.
CS: How do you feel you’ve changed since making “Rushmore”? Obviously, that was your first movie and you’ve made many movies with other directors before working with Wes again. Schwartzman: I suppose I’ve changed a lot but maybe I haven’t changed. I have more experience on a film set, and I do have more years of just hanging around in life. At the same time, I’m still quite nervous and quite obsessive on a film set, and so I don’t feel leisurely and confident like “I’m an old pro.” I just feel like I’ve just got so much to learn. I still have the attitude and energy of “Oh, don’t f*ck up” but I’m a little bit more comfortable. In “Rushmore” I wasn’t even thinking about acting. I was just thinking about not getting creamed on the whole deal.
CS: The last few movies you’ve made have been with friends, but how did this experience compare to “Marie Antoinette” being that it’s a little more male-oriented than a French period piece? Schwartzman: Yeah, it was a pretty big change of pace, but it was also so many years after the fact, like we really shot it two or three years after “Marie Antoinette” so it felt like I had gotten that out of my system.
CS: When you did the “Shopgirl” interviews in Toronto, had you already shot “Marie Antoinette”? For some reason, I thought you hadn’t. Schwartzman: I already shot “Marie Antoinette,” I’d already done it. I was thinking like that but I know that I did it because I had to lose all the weight from the movie before that premiere.
CS: I didn’t realize you had gained weight for the role. Schwartzman: Yeah, I gained 50 pounds.
CS: Really? I guess the period costumes help hide that. Schwartzman: Yeah, they do.
CS: You’ve stacked up quite a line-up of leading ladies starting with Claire Danes, then Kirsten Dunst, and now Wes has set you up with Natalie Portman for this one. Do you have some kind of checklist you’re knocking off? Schwartzman: No, no, they’re all great actresses and they’re all beautiful women, and it’s all extremely mind-blowing to me.
CS: I know you knew Claire before and you must have known Kirsten. Did you know Natalie before you two shot the short film with Wes? Schwartzman: No, I’d met her once before at a party, as you do in Hollywood, but I hadn’t spent time with her. You know, really, we spent the first amount of time together for “Hotel Chevalier.” She got there, we rehearsed a bunch, had dinner, got up the next day and got right into it.
CS: How much time did you spend shooting that? Schwartzman: Two days. A day and a half really.
CS: What else do you have going on? I know you’re in “Walk Hard” playing Ringo Starr? Do you play any drums in that? Schwartzman: No, it’s just a small cameo. I also did a movie called “The Mark Pease Experience.”
CS: Yeah, I was going to ask about that because I’m a huge fan of Todd Louiso as an actor. Schwartzman: Yeah, he’s a great director and this movie is very funny. I loved it. He wrote it, and it’s about an ex high school musical star, who now ten years later is a little more of a burnout, but still living the dream. He still loves high school theatre and he’s also trying to get an acapella singing group off the ground. It centers around him and trying to get in touch with his old singing teacher, Ben Stiller.
CS: In “Rushmore,” you were a playwright, you’ve mentioned that you wanted to be a playwright yourself. Have you tried to approach any theatres about writing something? Schwartzman: When I was 15, I wrote and directed a play, a long time ago, but I haven’t tried to do it since.
CS: It seems like an obvious direction, since you keep coming back to that in the movies you do. Schwartzman: Maybe, maybe, yeah, but I also feel like people are born and bred for that kind of thing, and I hope I didn’t miss the boat on it.
CS: I interviewed Jonah Hill a few months ago for his big movie and he mentioned that you were friends and that he wanted to do something with you. Schwartzman: We’re hoping to write something together, but nothing’s concrete yet.
CS: I know you also have this new record out. What’s that about? Schwartzman: It’s under “Coconut Records,” that’s the name of the band.
CS: Are you playing drums on it? Schwartzman: I did most of the instruments and sang them, but some stuff, my friends played on. It was a big collaboration.
CS: I remember in Toronto at the “Shopgirl” junket, you mentioned that you were writing songs, but I didn’t know you had plans to do something with them. Schwartzman: Yeah, well I didn’t either, it happened so quickly. I just went to my friend’s house and did them all there in one week, and not under the idea that it’s going to be a released record, more that it was an experiment in multi-track recording for myself. I’m used to having an idea for a song, but you have a band and you bounce ideas off them and hear how things sound together, but I used the studio like it was my band.
CS: Did you do it all on the computer? Schwartzman: Yeah, mostly computers.
The Darjeeling Limited opens Saturday in New York and will open in Los Angeles and other cities on Friday, October 5. You can also check out Jason Schwartzman’s solo album “Nighttiming” under the moniker Coconut Records at jos MySpace or buy it at Amazon or on iTunes (at the same time as you’re downloading “Hotel Chevalier.”)