Interview: 'Big Eyes' Star Jason Schwartzman On Margaret Keane, 'Star Wars', And 'Bored To Death'

In Big Eyes, Jason Schwartzman plays a typically Jason Schwartzman-ish character: he's Ruben, the gallery owner who haughtily dismisses Walter and Margaret's work. "Good God, it's a movement," he grumbles when the Keanes make it big without his help.

But for all of Schwartzman's experiences playing pompous types onscreen, Schwartzman stresses he's not one in person. "If I could say what's my least favorite quality in someone, it's when they make you feel dumb," he told me. "I just feel like that's bullshit." Nor is Schwartzman particularly interested in staying in his niche as an indie actor. "I can safely say that I would be in any Star Wars movie," he admitted.

Schwartzman was also game to discuss his opinion of Margaret Keane's paintings, Christoph Waltz's opinion of Margaret Keane's paintings, and the long-promised Bored to Death movie. But first, he got my opinion on what prank he should play on the next journalist. Read the full /Film interview with Jason Schwartzman after the jump. 

The first thing I saw when I walked into the hotel room for my interview was Schwartzman turning on the shower. As soon as he saw me, he turned it off and admitted he'd planned to prank me by pretending someone else was in the shower the whole time we were talking. I'd ruined the gag by coming in too early.

Still, he had a full afternoon of interviews ahead, and therefore plenty more chances to trick journalists. "Should I do that one or the other one?" he asked me. "I was thinking of bringing that director's chair over and sitting right here and doing an interview from that director's chair looking down at someone." I voted for the director's chair.

In the end, he took my advice. As I left the room he was sitting in that director's chair, towering over the next interviewer who was seated on a low couch. But in between, we discussed everything from his Parks and Recreation experience to those Jurassic World rumors to his favorite movies of the year.

What made you decide to sign onto this project?

It was a situation — you know, I got a phone call from my agent saying that Tim Burton was having auditions for his new movie Big Eyes and I read the script and I went in and auditioned because I loved the script.

For me, honestly, when I read a script, I am obviously reading the part that I'm mainly supposed to play and considering it. Not considering like to play, but considering, okay, he's this, he's that. But it's kind of, oddly enough, a little bit pushed out of my main focus which is, what is the movie and the story? Who are these people? Also on a larger context, who's directing it? Where is it going to be shot? Who are the other actors? So it's sort of like, what is this experience?

'Cause for me, I like movies. So I want to see everybody in the movie and kind of enjoy it as a thing. So I loved the script, I thought it was so great. And I knew those paintings. Obviously not as in-depth as Tim, who owns them and stuff, but I've seen them in people's houses. I know this guy named Matthew Sweet, he's a songwriter... that was the first time I saw them. I was like 16 and he had them in his house and I was so entranced by them.

Anyways... Even if Tim Burton wasn't directing it, I would have been very excited to be in the movie. Of course, the fact that it was Tim Burton was also exciting. But again, I tried not to get my hopes up too high when I went into the audition, I figured it was just even cool to be auditioning for this.

Did you have to do anything special for the audition? How did you win him over then?

I don't know. I don't know.

So just being you, I guess.

I don't know. I do know that... it was a little bit last minute. I got sent the stuff and I was preparing — I was with my wife actually, in Dallas. She owns a clothing store, there's one in LA and there's one in Dallas. It's called Tenoversix, just so you know. [Looks pointedly at recorder.] But anyway, I remember I was reading it on the plane, trying to make my notes and thinking about it. I didn't have enough time to get too worried because it was a deadline.

So I know your character hates those paintings. What do you personally think of them?

Personally, like me now, right now?

Yes, like you, Jason Schwartzman.

Well, it's a tricky thing. I like them. I do like them. My point of reference is slightly different. You know Tim, like, everyone had them in their houses and stuff growing up, and they're a part of his childhood. They are a part of my life, not my childhood. But he was talking about how this movie in a lot of ways is about kitsch culture and the advent of kitsch culture. Not the advent, but...

For me, growing up in — I was born in 1980 — kitsch culture was well into effect. There were stores that were just novelty stores devoted to jokey things or like... what are those girls you put on your dashboard? [Mimes hula dancing.]

Oh, like those hula dancers.

Yeah, kitsch is just a part of my... It's funny, I don't even think of it as kitsch or camp or whatever you want to call it. Because I'll say, oh, I like that. Even now, I'll say 'I like that,' and my wife's like, 'Yeah, you do like certain things that...' I guess I like them because I like that they're very realistic but the eyes are so exaggerated. I like when something is not totally surreal but has a surreal quality to it. Yeah, I like them. You like them?

Continue reading for Schwartzman's thoughts on big franchises, those Jurassic World rumors, and more.

Jason Schwartzman in Listen Up Philip

Do I like them?

Yeah.

Honestly, they're not really my taste. I mean, especially after watching the movie I came to appreciate them, but it's not something that I would personally put in my house.

Yeah. Yeah. It's like, I wouldn't really put it in my house unless I was like, maybe from this movie, if someone would give me one. But yeah, I wouldn't... Like, Christoph [Waltz] seems to have a real severe side on these, whereas I don't.

Oh, he doesn't like them?

I don't know if he doesn't like them. He just doesn't consider them fine art. But I... it's not like I like everything, but I can appreciate these. They're not my ultimate taste. If you were going to say, what would you put in your house, that wouldn't be my first choice.

Yeah, I'm with you on that. So, you're playing another pompous type. That seems to be kind of a niche that you've carved out. How did you end up there?

[Joking.] Well you know, no one can do it. [Laughs.] Pompous answer. Um... I don't know.

Like do you ever wonder, 'What is it about me that I keep getting these parts?'

I don't know. I don't view them as like... Well, obviously certain characters you're like, that is obviously what's going on here. But I don't know. I haven't thought about it too much.

I think that in my life, especially playing music a lot, you meet a lot of pompous people. Whether it be someone who's at a record label, or someone who's like a music snob. It's a terrible feeling to feel stupid. If I could say what's my least favorite quality in someone, it's when they make you feel dumb. I just feel like that's bullshit.

So then you spend your career playing people who make other people feel dumb?

Well no, I think it's something that I can relate to. I can relate to that feeling and maybe it's just exciting to be on the other side of it. But again, I don't set out... It's not so GPS-ed. It's not like, tonight I want pizza, I'm going to go get it. It's also not like, whatever happens, happens. I'm very conscious about stuff, but I think it's not because like I have a master plan. More and more I try to listen what you're relating to. But it's not like I look out, search for them.

Again, a lot of the characters, I feel like they don't mean it. I also like characters, not for me to play but just in general, that are trying to do something that they believe in and failing as opposed to meanness. And I know I've played mean characters too, but... As I get a little bit older, too, that snob or that pompous person, maybe there's something going on there.

Well, you're also really known as an indie actor. Do you ever get the urge to do a big studio franchise like a Marvel or Star Wars or something?

Yeah, I can safely say that I would be in any Star Wars movie. [Laughs.]

I remember there were those Jurassic World rumors and you explained how they came about...

Yeah, yeah. My brother [John Schwartzman] shot that movie, so maybe there was just a misunderstanding. But it was funny because I remember I was coming back from a trip, like a work trip, and I was on a plane and I landed and I turned on my phone and I got all these texts, like 'Oh my God, is it true?' All that stuff, and I was thinking, 'What?' 'Are you in Jurassic thing?' And I was thinking, 'Wow! Is it because these are texts that are coming in faster than emails, and is there some email now that's gonna come in that says I'm in it?' And I was looking and I didn't see anything. I emailed my agent like, 'Am I in Jurassic World? What's happening?' And she's like, 'No, not that I know of.'

Aww.

It's okay though. It was fun. It was fun. I've never rumored to be a part of something, because everything I'm a part of, there's not enough for it to be rumored about.

It's a new experience.

Yeah, it was pretty wild. Shows you the power of the Internet. I'd never really experienced the power of it like that. Just like [snaps] two seconds later, people are talking about it. It's like, holy shit. I can't imagine what it feels like to be the others.

But yes, I would love to be [in a big movie]. Again, I don't have a master plan, so if a movie came along... By the way, I don't think I'm an indie actor. There are so many levels of filmmaking from super super small to bigger, and my movies I feel like, some independent movies are seen by like 15 people. My movies are seen by more, but not by as many as that guy. There's so many gradations. If it was a cool thing I would love it. Also if just the experience was interesting. 'Cause I do think of it all as some experience. Like what would that be like, to go and do that? I think that's enough of an interest to me.

Is there any one specific franchise that you want to be a part of? If you had to pick one?

No, I don't think about it like that. I don't have one. They're all so good.

Maybe your brother can get you a job in the next Jurassic World sequel.

Yeah, maybe behind the camera. Maybe I'll help him.

On the next page, Schwartzman talks Mozart in the Jungle, Parks & Recreation, and his favorite films of 2014.

Jason Schwartzman in Bored to Death

Actually, I was going to ask — do you have any plans to direct?

I don't have a plan to direct. But I just produced this television show called Mozart in the Jungle.

Yeah, I've seen the trailer for it.

I was an executive producer and one of the writers and on set every day. In television you're working with the director and it was really fun. It was really satisfying to be watching it all. Usually you're in a scene so you're looking at everything, but to watch actors and be there if they have questions. I've never been acting in a scene and the guy asks me if I can help with their part. But that's what this experience was like. I didn't think of myself as an executive producer. I just thought of myself as an actor with some headphones on, watching it on set sometimes. Not all the time. But when they come over and say like, 'I don't know, is it okay?' I'm like 'Yeah, it's great.' But then I got a little bit more comfortable. You know, like Gael Garcia Bernal, what am I supposed to say to him? I mean, he's great, everything's great. But if he wants help or has a question I'm happy to do it, but for sure it was so wonderful to create a world and watch all the people come together.

I will say that I ... do you know what a follow van is?

No.

When they do scenes where characters are driving, if they're really driving the car, sometimes they're on a trailer that's moving and they're just pretending to drive. But sometimes they really will drive and when that happens there's not enough room in there for a crew obviously. So they have a remote feed from the camera to a little television that's in a van. Everyone is in the van somewhere following that car watching it. I was in the follow van, and I was watching. Between takes they leave the feed on, and I saw Lola Kirke, who's our star, and Gael and Hannah Dunne, who's our other star, and they were talking between takes and laughing about something that was clearly some kind of inside joke story that had been happening for a while. It was like, 'Anyway, so I was at the party...' And they were laughing and I was watching like, wow. I can't even ask what they're laughing about. They're the actors. I'm not part of this. I felt really isolated.

But you still have no plans to direct as of now, no desire to?

Of course there's a desire to try things and I would love to do it, but I don't feel like... Just because you want to do it, it doesn't mean that you should do it.

That makes sense.

I feel like it's gotta be — you've gotta really think about it.

It's getting to the end of the year. What's your favorite movie that you saw this year?

You know, I didn't really ... we had a new baby this year, so I didn't get out to a lot of movies. So I didn't really see a lot of stuff. But what I did see, I really liked Happy Christmas. I'm dying to see Inherent Vice and it's almost the end of the year so I'm going to try to see it tonight or tomorrow. And I loved Birdman. I thought Edward Norton was so great and Michael Keaton of course. I'm trying to think of other things I saw. I saw a lot of rock docs and stuff, fun documentaries.

Any in particular that you would recommend to our readers?

Well, I produced a documentary this year. And I really am a big fan of it. I'm not just saying that. It's called Teenage. Have you seen this movie? You've gotta see this movie. I'm so proud to be a part of it. I don't even feel like I should be. I barely did anything. But you should watch it. It's really great. It's fantastic.

I will pass that information along. I have to ask, Bored to Death — any updates? Last I heard, Jonathan Ames was working on the script.

Yeah, so you know it seems like something can get going and then for whatever reason it won't fully happen? That just seems to be the Hollywood way. I think that it's somewhere between happening and not happening, if that makes any sense. HBO approached Jonathan, commissioned him to write it. He's writing it, they're in a dialogue about it. Hopefully it will get made. 'Cause I will say that doing that show was the greatest. And working with HBO was wonderful. I love them as a company, they're wonderful. So cool.

Is it true that Jonathan is going to be a police officer in the movie?

I can't comment.

That's fair. Any chance that you're going to be in the final season of Parks and Recreation? I know you were only in it for a couple episodes, but I really enjoyed you in it.

Oh, thanks. No, I'm not in it.

That's sad.

That's sad that that show's ending. You know when I was on it, I walked on the set and I was like, this is a firm example of a dream. The cast all are so unique but all, I don't know how, probably because Amy Poehler is the captain of it, you know, is the acting captain. I think her history and experience in improv, there's probably inherently a desire to have everybody be great. Because it doesn't matter if you're good if the person next to you isn't. So there's a kind of graciousness on that set. It's not like that's the Amy Poehler rule, I just think it seeps into the water. There's a real, everybody is allowed to be themselves. That's so rare on a show with that big of a cast. Everyone has a unique style and is allowed to pursue it. It's really cool.