INT: Jason Schwartzman
Jason Schwartzman first gained attention for his quirky performance in RUSHMORE starring opposite Bill Murray. Since then, he has appeared in SHOPGIRL, BEWITCHED and I Y HUCKABEES. He also recently left his gig as drummer for the alt rock band Phantom Planet. An accomplished actor and musician, he returns to take on history with his performance as King Louis XVI in Sofia Coppola’s MARIE ANTOINETTE.
I recently got to hear Mr. Schwartzman play a little piano and talk about his role, and the relationship he has with Kirsten Dunst (who plays the title role) when he stopped by The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. He is a very unique individual who seems somewhat nervous about dealing with the press, as he speaks slowly and deliberately choosing his words carefully in a very detailed manner. He is also very funny and truth be told, a very quirky dude (in a good way).
How did you lose all the weight?
lost the weight… ah, I came back from
In the movie you have seem to have a permanent look of terror in your face. How was it developing your character in a film that is not really narrative?
do you want me to go from the very beginning of all the research and
everything or do you want to talk specifically about the silence and
what you see on screen?
Well, basically when I found out I got the part I read everything there was to read and then I met with historians at UCLA, they were very kind to me, they answered all my questions and all my late night e-mails, “Why was he like this?” And when I moved to Paris, the people of Versailles and the Director of Versailles were very welcoming and opened their doors to me and provided me with any information that I needed and then I also met with Antonia Fraser and talked to her a lot.
It’s interesting because the more I researched him, the more I was confused because I had a list of questions and everybody had a slightly definitive answer from my questions and in the beginning it was really frustrating for me because he says that and he says that and she thought that, you know, and I realized, I just didn’t know whose opinion I was supposed to portray and then I kind of realized that the vagueness that was beginning to happen in my mind was actually, maybe, I just had to accept it and maybe embrace it. And so, really instead of impersonating someone or feeling like I stepped into someone’s shoes that were really well defined I think that I just decided to work with Sofia (Coppola) and take, cherry pick the elements that were most relatable to me and express them in the film and kind of create this guy whoever he was gonna be.
And first when I was going to play the character, I had a hard time understanding how to play a king and I couldn’t understand, I don’t know what it’s like to be a king, I didn’t grow up in a castle, thinking about it technically, and then I just thought you know, maybe I’ll try to approach it as playing a man who was trying to connect but wasn’t doing a great job of it and desperately wanted to relate to people and actually did have a lot to say but really he wasn’t saying it, and when he did say something, perhaps it was confusing to those around him and hard to read.
So in the scenes with Kirsten (Dunst), it was, like I remember when we started to rehearse them, Kirsten would ask me a question and my natural inclination would be to like, look over at her and begin the scene and talk to her and Sofia just said, no, you have to just abandon the idea of wanting to answer her or make her feel comfortable, um, it’s okay to love her if you want to or want to connect but, you know, don’t. Or wait as long as you have to before it’s just like, too long. And so the tension is really… and I just thought it would be more interesting that, if this character, to play it as… instead of saying he didn’t say anything it was that he couldn’t say anything.
And so, it was just, I tried for better for worse or whatever, my interpretation is that he is a man who was longing to connect and so for every time she asked him a question, he had a million answers and a million things he wanted to say but it was just too hard and awkward for him to do that. And so finally he got the thing out, maybe it was not the way he wanted to it and knew it and then wanted to say something to correct that but just figured why… well, I’ll just not do that. I think he was shy and uncomfortable in his own skin.
And so I can relate to not being able to look people in the eyes sometimes or having something that I want to say and not being sure if I should say it or kind of say something “like” what I meant to say and it didn’t come out right and I just know I’d be burying myself more if I try and correct it so… I think that was for me the way that I began to play him is just that instead of not looking her in the eye he was trying to look her in the eye.
you playing games with tourists on the grounds while you were in
Yeah, well, I think without any disrespect the story and to Versailles, I tried to pop the bubble because I felt like – it wasn’t a tense shoot, it wasn’t an uncomfortable experience but you know, day after day in the situation I just felt, I, especially, I need to decompress in some way, just lighten the mood sometimes and play around. One time, I played around but it was for no one but me. I was in the back in the gardens and I was like, sitting underneath a tree and I saw some tourists standing over there, I decided I would make them think that I was a ghost.
So I stood up and like I emerged from these bushes and I walked with like a strange way about me and then I walked with my eyes open and then I walked really close to them, right by them and off into some more bushes and they kind of like disappeared to me and then I crouched down and hid and I was like laughing and looking to see. And I could tell they were totally freaked out. [Laughing] It made me really happy. I think it’s important to break the mood.
you a practical joker on the set?
I don’t, like, I’m not like a real big, I’m not a prankster
like I hear that some actors are pranksters, like fart machines, I
appreciate that, I don’t think to do that to play pranks on
people. I like to joke around,
you know, make fun of things but I wouldn’t know how to like,
I’m gonna steal Sofia’s viewfinder… [Laughing]
I don’t have enough… I can’t do that.
I’m not that big of a strategist.
do you think the film is trying to say?
Well, the opinion that were supporting in the film is just that… first of all they were both teenagers and their bodies were going through changes, it’s a time of change in your body and they were forced to get married to align two countries and then thrown into a bed together with everybody watching, expected to produce an heir to the throne pretty immediately, to consummate that marriage pretty quickly. And added on top of that, I think the character that I was playing, I think it took him a longer time to not be so awkward in his skin. And I think all those ingredients lead to seven years of fumbling.
though this is a period piece, your regular accents were used.
How did that come about?
Well, I had asked Sofia should I talk in a Mid-Atlantic accent, and she said, no I want where ever you’re from, just to talk like that. She thought it would be more distracting to talk like this, she said I don’t understand why people talk like… she said it distracts me more when people talk fake, half-English voice when they do a history movie, in a period movie. And I think the intention of this film was to kind of give CPR to oil paintings basically, and to not make them feel so distant and so any attempt to make an audience member feel like they could relate to these people and think, Oh God, he’s just like me, or I feel that way sometimes, it was encouraged.
That said, we couldn’t just like walk around and slouch and you know, not pretend like we weren’t in those clothes… So, I think for me, learning to horseback ride, learning the movements, becoming comfortable in the costumes and then trying, in such a short amount of time to make it so natural that I could forget it. And then once… if that could happen then you could begin to combine a little of you, a little of them and as far as like modern – I never thought of it as modern as much as I just thought of, timeless, like things that I was trying to play I don’t feel are modern feelings.
I don’t think that things like shyness or self-doubt or any, you know, any lack of self-confidence or inability to connect is a modern man’s dilemma. I just feel like it’s people, it’s what happens to people and I feel like when I look at the movie, to me I just think, you know, when I see all the whispering and gossiping it reminds me a lot of high school and a lot of my high school years and a lot of my adolescence and how hurt I was by gossip and rumors and stuff like that just from the girls and boys around me in high school.
And so I think that, if anything, we were trying to do a human thing and make the characters relatable. When I was little I saw Amadeus and I remember what a breakthrough for me that movie was, just because, I was like, “Wow! Mozart smiled… Mozart laughed… he found things funny, he was sad!” You know, it was just like for the first time [and] that was the first time I saw a historical figure was like me in some way. And so hopefully… the intent of the film is to show the similarity between all people during all time. And that’s why there’s the music and… to me it’s not a period piece or a bio movie, to me it’s an emotional movie. It’s more to show the connection to the emotions of people.
did you know Kirsten?
we, I guess met each other through Sofia around the time of The
Virgin Suicides and we knew it other and were friendly and knew each
other, but I think in comparison to how we know each other now is
just night and day. Like
we really have an unspoken kind of pact to just totally be there for
each other and support each other and we were like, the closest in
age and in a foreign country and we just really like became security
guards for each other or insecurity guards for each other.
And I lived down the street from her and she could call me at
any time and say like, could you come over, I’m concerned about
tomorrow and we just talk about it and I’d say, why don’t you
just come over and I’ll make you dinner and we’ll just talk
about how things are going. So
it was a real kind of brotherhood between us… and now she’s one
of my best friends. We
see each other for lunch all the time.
It was a very intimate time and a very personal time.
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