Guest of Honor

Jason Schwartzman Is More Likable Than He Thinks

Jason Schwartzman, known for his more lovable roles in projects like "Rushmore" and "Bored to Death," tackles the Philip Roth-inspired 'angry literary man' archetype in his newest film, "Listen Up Philip."

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Larry Busacca / Getty Images

Near the opening of “Listen Up Philip,” Jason Schwartzman’s character claims not to be an angry person — and then proceeds to spend the rest of the film disproving that assertion. The actor, known for somewhat less prickly roles in Wes Anderson films (“Rushmore,” “Moonrise Kingdom”) and HBO’s “Bored to Death,” tells Brendan that this character’s arrogance and anxiety may have taken a bit of a toll on him… but we’re probably all narcissists at heart, anyway.

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Brendan Francis Newnam: So Jason, is it exhausting or satisfying playing a jerk for an entire movie?

Jason Schwartzman: Both. I think that it was exhausting because there was a level of worry, or not worry, but hope that we were doing an okay job of it. This is an extreme character, and we definitely don’t want to do anything to lighten it up. But at the same time, if it’s just all one thing, it might maybe lose its effect. When I read the script I loved it, but I definitely felt that I couldn’t… I needed help. That was the first thing I thought was, “I need someone’s help to do this.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: You need a director to kind of calibrate your performance.

Jason Schwartzman: Yeah, I can’t, I wouldn’t know how to do this by myself. I wouldn’t have the ability or the skill-set to do this.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Wow, well then he is a good director, because you seem very comfortable.

Jason Schwartzman: Good! Well yeah, and then that’s exhausting (but it’s great too) because at a certain point you get so into the groove of being a guy who literally will say anything that’s on his mind and doesn’t really care about what you think, and that is so unnatural. It was great and I loved it.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Did it bleed into your personal life at all?

Jason Schwartzman: Well, since doing the movie, I’ve had three insane verbal altercations with people.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And that’s usually not how you…?

Jason Schwartzman: Never. I’ve never had one.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So you were inspired by it.

Jason Schwartzman: Something was opened.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So Phillip is a certifiable narcissist. His mentor in this movie is also a narcissist. These are people who are unable to feel empathy. You work in an industry famously filled with these types of people. How do you deal with them? Are you drawn to them? Are you repulsed by them?

Jason Schwartzman: In Hollywood, it’s a culture of gathering around someone and, “We’ll take care of this, we’ll do that, you do this, we’ve got that,” and “Yes, yes, yes.” That can only heighten someone. They can raise their ranking in the spectrum.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So in self-regard, yeah.

Jason Schwartzman: Yeah, but I’ve seen people who really kind of tune out when it’s not about them. That kind of thing.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I just tuned out when you said. Sorry. I was like “Wait, he’s not answering.” No, I’m kidding.

Jason Schwartzman: But I knew you were a narcissist from the second you made me come in here.

Brendan Francis Newnam: It takes one to know one.

Jason Schwartzman: I had to come on your show.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Actually, Jason why don’t you ask the questions and answer them?

Jason Schwartzman: Because it’s too late.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Alright, so here’s another interesting thing about this movie. Talking about how unpleasant this character is, you’ve become a bit of a specialist in playing characters that are liked despite their questionable behavior. When I was researching this I read a Wes Anderson quote. He said that one of the reasons he chose you to play Max Fischer in Rushmore was because you could “Retain audience loyalty despite doing all the crummy things Max had to do.” And Alex Ross Perry said the same thing. You have a likability, for lack of a better word. Is this something you knew about before you were an actor? Like when you were growing up?

Jason Schwartzman: Yeah, it was on my resume.

Brendan Francis Newnam: But were your friends like, “Jason, you go tell our parents that we smashed that car window?”

Jason Schwartzman: No, I’m not aware of any ‘likability.’ I mean, I feel like I’ve got a hate-ability, but I think… I used to be in a band and I was a drummer in my band, and when I’ve met other drummers, maybe there’s a quality of wanting to be jovial, you know what I mean? Like bass players are usually more reserved and quiet. So if anything, I just like talking to people, and I’m enthusiastic about movies and music and stuff. So I don’t know about likable, I’m just excited about stuff.

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s actually a non-narcissistic quality, being a drummer, I think.

Jason Schwartzman: Maybe, yeah, hopefully.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You didn’t go for lead singer.

Jason Schwartzman: I didn’t go for lead singer, no.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Which is usually the role reserved for…

Jason Schwartzman: But on some level, they’re all narcissists, because they all wanted to be in a band in the first place.

Brendan Francis Newnam: They wanted to be on stage and say “Hey, look at me.”

Jason Schwartzman: Yeah, but again, I feel like everyone is a narcissist. You know, whatever.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, you would know. I mean, I’m just saying.

Jason Schwartzman: I do know. No, it’s not that I would know. I know this stuff, okay?

Brendan Francis Newnam: We have two standard questions we ask each of our guests. The first one is, what question are you tired of being asked in interviews?

Jason Schwartzman: I thought about these questions, just so you know. It’s a funny question to me, which is, “What do you like more, music or movies?”

Brendan Francis Newnam: For those who don’t know, you were also in a band that had some success called Phantom Planet.

Jason Schwartzman: Yeah, but it’s just funny, because to me they’re like, they occupy the same place in my body. You know, I want to make music and I want to make movies.

Brendan Francis Newnam: It’s like, “Why would I have to choose, right?”

Jason Schwartzman: Yeah, it just seems like, I love both of them so deeply, and I think that’s possible.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well our second question is, tell us something we don’t know, and this can be a personal fact about you, or a piece of trivia about the world.

Jason Schwartzman: Trivia wise, there’s a magazine Mental Floss. I don’t know if you know Mental Floss, but I love it very much. I love trivia. And the first thing that popped into my brain, and this is no joke, that I love is, are you aware that from 1999-2010 they had the World Sauna Championships in Heinola, Finland?

Brendan Francis Newnam: I was not aware. What did you have to do?

Jason Schwartzman: So in Mental Floss years ago there was a thing about the world’s deadliest sports, and I think this was one of them. You have to sit in a sauna, it starts out at 230 degrees Fahrenheit, and it’s last one in there who can leave without help.

Brendan Francis Newnam: This is miserable.

Jason Schwartzman: And you have to sit sort of erect. You have to be butt on the seat and arms down like this. You can’t hunch over and you can’t lay down.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You just have to withstand the heat.

Jason Schwartzman: Yeah. It was ended officially because there was a death, unfortunately, someone died. And there was another one that was a near death.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I wonder what you do to relax if that’s your actual job. What do you do on the weekend? Like do you probably jump out of an airplane?

Jason Schwartzman: Go to a waterslide park?

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, rehydrate. A waterslide park is probably the right move.

Jason Schwartzman: Cool.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well Jason Schwartzman, that you so much for coming on our show.

Jason Schwartzman: Hey, can we do it again where it’s not as rushed?

Brendan Francis Newnam: I would love to have you here.

Jason Schwartzman: Okay, cool.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And now you can return to your narcissistic bubble and I’ll return to mine too.

Jason Schwartzman: I never left.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I didn’t even notice you were there.

Jason Schwartzman: No, it’s for me to come here and just be asked a lot of questions and talk about myself. It’s truly the best way to spend an afternoon.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Alright, cool. That’s what I like to do too, but I took turns with you this time. Next time you can interview me.

Jason Schwartzman: No thanks.