Exclusive Interview : Jason Schwartzman


Clint Morris meets the “Shopgirl” Shopboy

He’s one of todays most gifted and applauded actors; his ma is cinema’s Adrian Balboa, and in his relatively short acting career he’s has shared scenes with such luminaries as Shirley MacLaine, Dustin Hoffman, Bill Murray and Al Pacino. It’s quite a surprise then to hear Jason Schwartzman was awe-struck when he first met Steve Martin, penner and co-star of his latest film “Shopgirl” says, CLINT MORRIS.

From the moment the 25-year-old actor was told he had to meet Steve Martin if he wanted in on the film version of the comic great’s book – about a young retail clerk named Mirabelle who has to decide between two men in her life, a rich older suitor (played by Martin) and a young dimish scruffier (Schwartzman) – Schwartzman said he was as panicky as a virgin on their wedding night. “There’s no way I’m going to meet Steve Martin and it’s going to go well”, he recollects. “Not because of him, because of me”.

Schwartzman, having grown up in the eighties, spent most of his weekends at the cinema watching movies, movies that usually always featured Steve Martin. He was the guy. “Because I was just a kid back then, I was only allowed to see comedies – he was in nearly all of them! He’s very much engrained in my human fabric. I just knew it was going to be hard for me to meet him. I get star struck normally, but this was Steve Martin! This was a whole other level of star struck.”

Schwartzman was hired for “Shopgirl” at the 11th hour, only after comedian Jimmy Fallon dropped out. “I had heard that, but I don’t know the truth about that”, Schwartzman, whose mother is Rocky and Godfather star Talia Shire, uncle is Francis Ford Coppola and cousin is Nicolas Cage, explains. “They probably all said ‘Don’t tell Jason about that’. All I know is that I was the last that was cast. Obviously Steve was onboard first, and I know Claire (Danes) had been involved it in for a long time too –and then I, somehow, got in there”.

The perceptibly modest actor says he was far from simply ‘offered’ the role though, he had test like everyone else did. “No, I’ve yet to really reach that stage yet”, he laughs. “I was shooting this movie called I Heart Huckabees and I got a call to say Steve Martin had adapted his novella Shopgirl into a film and that Claire Danes was in it and that Anand Tucker was directing it. They said they were going to send me the script. I freaked out because I had read the book and I’d loved it. So I said ‘What can I do to throw my name on the pile?’”

Schwartzman said Martin magnificently adapted the book into screenplay form, and he knew he wanted to be a part of it – regardless of how nervous he’d be meeting the silver-haired legend. “It was the truest way to adapt that book. Steve adapted the essence of it, not the plot. I don’t think he sat there with the book on his left and his computer on the right. He didn’t just copy the words from the book over to the computer screen, like ‘Now, I’ve got to write in the scene where they’re having coffee’, I think he just understood what the book was about and that’s how he did the movie. I so wanted in.”.

That meeting with Steve Martin went well, but the actor says it’s not because he still didn’t “go to shit” – He did. “I just sat down on the couch and was like ‘Three Amigos’ is just perfectly incredible!” he laughs. “For like half-an-hour I was gushing. I was confident that I had lost any chance I might have ever had of being in the movie. Somehow – I got it”.

Martin, says Schwartzman, isn’t the ‘wild and crazy’ guy we all know him best for either. “He’s not like a wild and crazy guy. He’s a man on a quest for art and beauty and information. Every conversation I have ever had with him has been about music or movies or about books. I have to have my Franklin word speller in my pocket when I talk to him though – because he uses words that I have never even heard before. But every time I leave him, I feel totally inspired. He’s an inspiring man. He’s one of the few people around that have an undying love for art”.

In the movie, Schwartzman plays Jerry, a messy and forthright music-buff who’s on the hunt for love. Unfortunately, he’s got a severe case of foot-in-mouth. It wasn’t a real stretch for the actor, he explains.

“He wants to meet a girl – and I do too”, he inaudibly slips, adding “I more than related to him though. I admired his ability to not be so censored. I love the idea of playing a character that didn’t over think everything. He knows what’s in front of him and he has an ability to just say whatever he felt. You know how a kid can hurt your feelings but you don’t hate the kid for it because you know he doesn’t know any better? That’s what Jerry’s like. He can offend and confuse Mirabelle, but he’s not a malicious man”.

Schwartzman, who claims he’s never actually dated a ‘Shopgirl’ in real life, says the love scenes with Danes weren’t too hard. “Not hard, definitely not hard”, he says, “More, just, funny”.

It’s been quite the decade for Jason Schwartzman. In 1998, despite being mainly only interested in music, he was cast in the indy film smash “Rushmore” opposite Bill Murray. His career essentially skyrocketed after that.

“I was heartbroken at the end of that, because I thought that was going to be it for me. Somehow I had worked my way into this movie and it had exposed me to people and I had a chance to be an actor, which I loved, but I didn’t think it was ever going to happen again. I didn’t have an agent, I didn’t have a headshot. I didn’t even know if anyone would know where to find me. I just went back to highschool and started playing with my band (Phantom Planet)”, he says.

Schwartzman ended up having the best of both worlds – he got to play in his band, and he also got more movie offers. He starred in the teen comedy “Slackers” (“I did that for all the right reasons – mainly to have fun”), the Al Pacino comedy “Simone”, “I Heart Huckabees”, and “Bewitched”, to name but a few.

He may still have to audition for roles, but he only tests for films he’s interested in, says the actor. “It’s kind of like falling in love. You can do all this work to try and fall in love – but the person’s got to be there too. I want to find someone, I want to meet someone, but they’ve got to be there. You just go on a hunt. You gotta go with your gut. I want to work with people I respect and I trust”.

Though he doesn’t have any aspirations to write like “Shopgirl” co-star Steve Martin, he does enjoy writing too. Since leaving Phantom Planet in 2002 (they got their big break when TV’s “The OC” used their song ‘California’ for the opening track), he’s been writing his own music. “I’m not like trying to have a career in it, or make money of it, but I need to play and write music. I have to write, I love to write – but I don’t want to be that actor that’s like ‘Yeah, I write’”, he laughs.

And again, no, he hasn’t got a special someone and wants to dispel a belief about being in a rock band. You don’t get the girls. “You’d be amazed”, he groans.

SHOPGIRL Commences Thursday around Australia