After first coming to the public eye as Max Fischer in Wes Anderson’s masterful “Rushmore,” Jason Schwartzman has made a name for himself as both an actor and a musician, playing the drums for Phantom Planet. With the release of the drug movie “Spun,” in which he plays the out of control meth addicted Ross, Schwartzman sat down with me for a few moments to answer some burning questions about the movie and music.
Edward Havens: The role you play in “Spun,” Ross, is a static character; he does not change from the beginning of the film to the end. What was it about this screenplay that said this is a movie you had to do? Because he does not grow, he doesn’t improve himself, and it ends with him having nothing.
Jason Schwartzman: I think he does. I think, had the movie gone on to show the next week, I think he would eventually have kicked his habit. We shot two endings for the movie, one which he becomes the next cook. But this is an anti-drug movie, and at the end of the day, Ross will no longer be a drug addict. But what attracted me most is that I wanted to pair up with all these people and play up against them. They were really far out there and it was an exciting opportunity to be able to work with them.
Edward Havens: When I was watching the film, I kept thinking to how many of today’s actors look for something in a character where he grows as a human being from the start to the finish, and this character just seems to crank on throughout the entire film. At one point, he says “The great thing is that I’m not an addict” as he’s taking his eighth snort in a span of a few minutes. It just didn’t seem that he was any better off at the end.
Jason Schwartzman: That’s the life of a crystal meth addict. It’s all about the next five minutes. That’s all they care about. That’s their world. These characters are otherwise just normal people with boring lives. My character’s job here is as the narrator. The movie is seen through Ross’s eyes, and since it only takes place during the course of three days, he almost has to be neutral and unchanging in order to see the changes in the others, to see them really self-destruct. I think it’s a good thing he doesn’t change that drastically in the course of three days, because it’s an honest and very real portrayal of what it’s like to be a crystal meth user. I think that drugs keep people from changing.
Edward Havens: With the Coppola’s on one side of your family, and your father a producer and entertainment attorney and your brother a very good cinematographer on the other, was it destiny that, no matter what you did in your life, you would end up in front of the camera somehowr I know you didn’t actively pursue acting at first.
Jason Schwartzman: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe statistics also show that people who come from a family of doctors they end up being doctors themselves. And while there is a high percentage of people in my family who work in show business, there are a lot of people in my family who don’t. The one thing my family has always been is supportive of our endeavors. I didn’t tell my mom I was auditioning for “Rushmore.” I went in and auditioned and broke it to everybody. I don’t know if destiny is the right word, but the chances that I would be exposed to all these creative people were much higher for me. I remember when I was ten, my mother took me to Italy for the Dionysian Playwriting Festival, with all these playwrights from around the world came together for this conference. Writers from Nigeria and Russia and Poland, doing two weeks worth of plays with actors from their countries, and being exposed to all of this at ten. I’ve been around creative people for so long that I kept an interest and developed a thirst for the idea of putting smiles on people’s faces.
Edward Havens: What’s happening with Phantom Planet’s next album?
Jason Schwartzman: We’re up in Buffalo right now with the guy who made all the Flaming Lips records.
Edward Havens: What influenced you to be a musician?
Jason Schwartzman: Do you remember 1991? That was a watershed year for me. That’s when I first heard music like that and it just changed for me. When I heard “In Bloom,” the floodgates opened. I knew I wanted to play drums. Before that, I just wanted to be on the cover of Modern Drummer with a mullet. But when I heard Dave Grohl, I thought “Oh man.” And then I heard Ringo Starr and thought “Oh, man.” But when I heard Pete Thomas from Elvis Costello and the Attractions, it was over. I could never be that good.
“Spun” opens in New York March 14, in Los Angeles March 21 and in selected cities March 28.