Back in 1998, young director Wes Anderson found a then-unknown actor to play the near-impossible role of Max Fischer in Rushmore. In addition to leading to one of the great performances of the decade, that choice also led to a partnership—a surrogate family unit, even—that is still thriving after 14 years. Schwartzman has appeared in six of Anderson’s films (counting two shorts), and has become an intimate part of Anderson’s process. Recently Schwartzman spoke about what makes Moonrise Kingdom different.
What I thought we’d talk about first for a couple of minutes is how Moonrise kind of fits into Wes’ oeuvre. And you, of course are in a great position to speak to that, having been a part of many of those films. And what I’d start out asking you is that there seems to be this thread of concern with family running through his films. In this movie we’re seeing these two kids kind of searching for that connection, and making a new family connection in that way. Do you see that as an intensification of that theme in the arc of his career?
Jason Schwartzman: That’s a really good question and you know, honestly he would give the better answer because he’s writing it. But I’ve worked with Wes and so I’ve sat by his side for many interviews and things and I’ve heard him. And we wrote Darjeeling Limited together, and I was talking to him about this movie too. He lets me peep over his shoulder, try to learn. What separated this movie, I found, was that as he says, most of his movies start with the characters. And he has an idea for those characters. Very strong ideas. And then the world opens up when he starts realizing that they live here and they do this. But he said with this movie, it started with a feeling. Not a character, not a person, but the feeling of, like, falling in love at twelve. Feeling like you could run away and pull off something incredible and wild, and have a true adventure. Feeling like that was possible. It’s not nostalgia, exactly, but it’s some kind of echo of something in your body. That was the driving thing. That kicked off the movie. And he tried to write a movie around that.
That’s really interesting.
Schwartzman: And so yes, there is always an arc of family in these movies. What I love about movies about family, in particular Wes’, is first that they can allow you to have a lot of characters. Like in Royal Tenenbaums, you know what I mean? It can really expand. And then more than that, the characters, if they’re family, they can fight in a way like no one else can fight, because there’s like a real feeling of love underneath a lot of it. And if you’re family, too, you’ve got so much, so many things to reference, all the things you can say under your breath. It just allows you to get to things quicker. You could just start a fight with someone by saying the word avocado. You know what I mean? It can push things a lot. I love the movie Big Night.
It’s a great movie.
Schwartzman: It’s one of my favorite movies. It just blew my mind so much so that I bought the Big Night cookbook, and modeled my wedding dinner after a lot of those things. I love that movie. There’s a scene towards the end of that movie where Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub fight on a beach and they’re like falling all over each other. They’re brothers, and they’re like trying…like slapping each other, but they’re not really hurting each other and it’s so angry, but so sweet. And that to me is family. It’s a big deal. And everybody has it.
But that’s a very Italian thing too.
Schwartzman: Yeah, oh yeah…
I think everybody has it, but especially in Italian families, you know?
Schwartzman: Yeah, I mean, I think that there are just different levels of ahh…of volume. There are different levels of volume.
Schwartzman: And the Italians can go to eleven. But I think a lot of people can. But I just love family. I love family. You said you’re in Atlanta — my whole extended family, my wife’s family is from Alabama. I love to go to Alabama. Just hearing that you’re in Atlanta makes me long for Alabama actually.
There’s a lot of unknown cool places in Alabama.
Schwartzman: Amazing. So I just love family and I love when I’m watching other families fight too. It’s just incredible. And I also love exploring marriage. There’s a scene in the movie where Bill, Bill Murray, and Frances McDormand are lying in this bed and looking up at the ceiling just having this discussion. And its just so, so loaded and intense and… I don’t know, I just think it’s a beautiful scene. That’s why this movie is just the greatest.
In what ways do you see Moonrise as a departure for Wes?
Schwartzman: It’s harder to talk about stylistic things with Wes, but it is easier to talk about how he’s changed his whole method. His whole method of shooting started to shift after Life Aquatic and now he’s really honing into this way he likes to work. He has all the actors do their own wardrobe at home, and you try to do your own hair and make-up, and there’s a very small crew, and there’s no trailers, and everyone lives together in one house, and eats a big dinner together. He started to get into that on Darjeeling Limited. That was part of the idea even before we shot it. That was built into the writing of it….
Given the family atmosphere of the writing itself.
Schwartzman: And I think it’s only gotten more focused. When I showed up to Rhode Island to be in this movie, there was my outfit waiting for me in this room in this house where Wes was living, and I put it on and I did my stuff and went to work. If you were to look at most movies from a distance you’d say ‘Oh, they’re shooting a movie over there.’ But I feel like with Wes it would be more like ‘What are they shooting over there? Is that an interview?’ You know what I mean? ‘What is that? What is that? Is that a news crew?’ You know, it’s a pretty cool…it’s intimate, and I like that.
It’s funny you mentioned Big Night. One of the things that Big Night has in common with Wes’ films, I think, is that there’s a tone that Wes hits that’s like a ten degree of difficulty. He takes these characters that all have sort of some absurd element to them. A lot of his characters, Max Fischer primary among them are absurdly, passionately, committed to things…
Schwartzman: Yes, yes! Thank you, that’s a good way of saying…I might steal that.
You can! And it is kind of funny, but it’s also completely un-ironic…you know, Max Fischer is a little absurd, but he’s also the coolest damn character in films in the nineties. I mean, how do you walk that line and get that tone right, as an actor and as a director?
Schwartzman: Well, I mean, he’s a great director so that’s really the thing. But I do agree with you. Wes is really, he’s one of my best friends in the whole world and he’s so funny. I think we all laugh at broad humor. Growing up in the eighties, I will always love big comedy, you know what I mean? And when somebody has their blinders on and is trying to get something really badly or is at some kind of breaking, and they are so focused on it that they kind of lose perspective, it’s uncomfortable and kind of funny. And you know, in real life too, if you ever see someone so obsessed with something… Come on, that’s crazy, you know what I mean? But also, you’re laughing too because they are absurdly focused on something. A lot of my favorite movies, the characters are trying to get something badly, but they don’t know it all the time. There’s the ones that are agitated and you can feel that they want it and there’s other ones who don’t even realize it.
Schwartzman: That’s what I love. Anyway, so I’ll let you go. I hope I gave you some good stuff.
You gave us some great stuff.
Schwartzman: Tell everyone at Paste I said hi.
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