With Bored to Death, Rushmore and The Darjeeling Limited, Jason Schwartzman has forged a niche for playing neurotic writers. But with Listen Up Philip, the latest from writer-director Alex Ross Perry, there's a new tweak to this niche. "Those writers that I’ve played before would be jealous of this one, " Schwartzman told me as we sat down in a Tribeca office to discuss the New York Film Festival selection, "because he actually has published two books and he’s pretty well regarded."
Listen Up Philip stars Jason Schwartzman as Philip Lewis Friedman, a novelist who has opportunity knocking, has his literary idol as a mentor, and is essentially his own worst enemy. He refuses to promote his novel. He sabotages writing assignments that could bring him wealth and further recognition. And maybe most impactful, he pushes away those who would dare to love him, like his photographer girlfriend Ashley Kane, played by Elisabeth Moss.
Elisabeth Moss and Jason Schwartzman have known each other for years, as both grew up in Los Angeles. Yet despite bustling careers in film and television, Listen Up Philip marks the first time they've ever worked together. I asked if their friendship and familiarity with each other made it easier to dig into the caustic arguments of their characters in the film. Moss responded:
Schwartzman reminisced about teen Lizzy Moss before explaining how this helped with Listen Up Philip:
Check out a clip of Schwartzman and Moss arguing in Listen Up Philip:
Jason Schwartzman : Yes, it’s my niche. It’s a section of the movie. I’s interesting because he’s a different type of writer. He’s a writer who, like those writers that I’ve played before would be jealous of this one, because he actually has published two books and he’s pretty well regarded, and his hero--you know, this guy Ike (played by Jonathan Pryce) has sought him out and tried to get in touch with him and been gracious and invited him to be sort of part of the life. Philip doesn’t like suffer from the writer’s block trope. You know, he, even though you don’t really see him writing, he says he’s filling up notebooks. He’s like, "I fill up tons of notebooks, but they’re just filled with crap," and that says to me that this is a guy who is flowing. He might not be good, but he’s flowing.
Yeah, it’s interesting, because it seems like he has, he says repeatedly he has all these things he wants and yet he’s not happy.
And so is that a story you’re particularly attracted to?
That’s the story of a guy who has it all and just doesn’t feel it, but that’s definitely like fits into a lot of the narratives that I’m ultimately attracted to, and maybe that’s just like a human thing. I mean, I only know maybe like two people in my life who are just totally satisfied.
Who are they?
One of them is about to retire. I can’t get into it really, but yeah, like they don’t really worry themselves. They just sort of feel, it’s not cocky either, it’s like they earned it and it’s just like why would I, I’ve done the best I could.
There’s just a feeling of they’ve earned, they’ve worked super hard and have risen to ranks of, you know, not power, but like respect and they feel they did it. But most people I know, this dissatisfaction, worst enemy, it seems to be like an undercurrent thing. I mean, a lot of people just like, are just unhappy, so it’s not even like I have it and I’m unhappy. It’s like, I don’t have anything and I’m unhappy.
It’s funny to me that you’re like, there are these two people really satisfied with their lives and you’re nervous to say who they are.
(Smiling) Yeah, I’m scared they’re going to get assassinated!
So, you and Elisabeth Moss have actually known each other for a really long time.
Yeah, that’s right.
Did your familiarity with each other make it easier for you to get into these scenes where these two characters were so rough with each other?
Probably, I mean, I didn’t know, we used to hang out when I was in this band and she was, back then she was 16 and she was always so sweet and nice, and I think just knowing the type of person she was, like the fact that she would like wear these cute dresses she had. She has a cute necklace with her name on it. I think it said like Moss or Lizzy. She was just nice and great, so when Alex said, yeah, I think Elizabeth Moss is going to do it, I was like oh, I hadn’t seen her for years, but there’s no question she’s great actor, but what I remembered of Elisabeth was that she was great and you know, nothing has changed, but I think for sure that like if it was a brand new actress that, I mean, it’s not like I knew her super well, but if it was like a brand new actress that I had to work against, opposite, be in love with, be out of love with, I think it would have been, there would have been a lot more, like extra fabric, to have to like hem, because we would have been like nervous. I would have been nervous probably and made bad jokes, and then like calling Alex after, I think I made too many bad jokes. No, no, its fine. She thinks you’re great. I feel like I shouldn’t have said the thing about the smoothie. No, no, it was good, it was funny. Everyone has smoothies. That would have happened. But, because it was her, it was like hey, how are you, good to see you. There was just like an instant familiarity.
So basically like you’re both from the same neighborhood type of thing.
Kind of, yeah. I think it benefits you to work with people that you know and the reason is because I think that time is the most precious thing on a movie set and I do it, I’m definitely guilty of this, and I’ve seen other people do it, which is the wasting, stalling, because you’re nervous, and I think that at least me, it’s nervous to be bad. Everyone is going to be bad, but it’s like you’re nervous and it’s embarrassing to act. I think that for me with like Wes or someone I work with a lot. He’s seen me do everything wrong and so then like, I mean Moonrise Kingdom, when I did that movie, I was doing Bored to Death and I drove overnight to Rhode Island, got out of the car, literally walked into the set and within ten minutes we were rolling. So it was like, it was just like, 'Alright, come jump in, let’s shoot it.' So…it’s good to be able to go in there and you have a shorthand, when someone knows that’s not right. You can just be more honest. So, I think it benefits…So, now Alex and Elisabeth just did another movie together and I guarantee you that helped.
Yeah, we talked about that a little bit about that the other day. Speaking of Wes, it’s been 16 years since Rushmore, which is crazy to me. I’m kind of curious, what do you think 16 years later, Max Fisher would be up to?
I don’t know. I hadn’t thought about it really. Yeah, I don’t really know. I prefer to just sort of let it be. But it’s come up a few times because in this movie, people say there’s a similarity and I mean, maybe there is, but the thing that I really see similar anything, if I had to think about it, is just that, you know, that’s like a character with very high expectations of people. This character does too. He’s easily disappointed, and I think that’s like, that’s been on my mind now. Yeah, I haven’t thought about it.
Have you and Wes talked about what your next project together might be.
Rushmore 2. No, I’m just kidding.
You don’t even understand. My heart just jumped so high and I was like , 'Oh. Jokes.'
You cap the whole four last letters. No, we’re just, you know, just loose rumblings.
Ok, can you tell us any kind of story about what it’s like to work with Bill Murray, because he’s kind of become this mythic figure now.
He was already mythic and then he jumped to a whole other level.
He’s almost a God at this point.
I think he is. I think, yeah, to quote his own thing (from Groundhog Day), he’s not the God, but he’s a God. Yeah, I don’t know, he’s just, look, there can only be so many gods in this world. He’s one of them.
Can you tell us a story of what it’s like to work with him?
No, what would you imagine he’d be like, because that would be it. Look, there’s no way I could describe it. He means to me what he means to you. It’s the same thing.
Ok, just recently Justin Long talked about what it was like playing the Beatles in Walk Hard and he described it as being a completely terrifying experience and he mentioned that you felt the same way. Can you talk a little bit about what that was like preparing for that?
Yeah, well, there wasn’t much preparation. Any preparation I had was thanks to Justin Long, because I got this call the day before saying like, "Would you be a Beatle," and I was like, "What?" It was like, "Yeah, Paul and you and Jack," and I was like, "Yeah, fuck yeah." So...
So, it was just a Beatle. They didn’t even tell you who?
I didn’t even know until later that night, but Justin, most people don’t realize, is a really incredible mimic. He can do incredible voices. He can do any voice and when I got to set the next day, I had Ringo’s voice and then like I got there and I lost it. I couldn’t do it and he’s like, "It’s sort of like this," and he did it for me, and I was like, "Thank you," and he gave me all these clues. He’s so sweet. So, it was scary for sure and crazy, but Ringo is my favorite drummer.
Who is a director you haven’t worked with that you’d like to?
Who haven’t I worked with? Paul Thomas Anderson... I was thinking of someone, I mean, John Cameron Mitchell.
That would be rad.
Andrew Bujalski, Computer Chess. I love that movie so much.
That’s a pretty solid wish list. P.T. Anderson is going to be there on Saturday, so you should get to NYFF and make that connection.
I’m so excited. Have you seen that movie?
I’m seeing it Saturday. I am excited. I haven’t even watched the trailer, because I’m like, I’m seeing it Saturday.
I think it’s going to be fucking incredible. I watched the trailer three times. I can’t wait.
So, is there any update on a Bored to Death movie?
The update is, Jonathan Ames is writing the script, but he’s also doing another show right now with Seth McFarlane. Yeah, they’re doing a show (Blunt Talk), and they’re shooting it in LA. I don’t even know the name of it, but it’s with Patrick Stewart. Pretty fucking awesome.Yeah, so that’s that. I don’t know what’s happening, because I think everything is sort of on hold right now.
Well, he had talked a little bit about what the movie might be about. Have you guys talked about what would happen in it?
I’ve read scripts and it’s hard because…I think it was such a downer (that the show was cancelled.) HBO was the best and I would totally work with them again, if they would have me. It's not like a feel angry, but it was sad to lose the show, because I miss those guys and seeing them everyday was the best. We had the best crew. But also it was hard because we knew what season 4 was, like it was all done. It was all figured out. So I was all ready for it in my brain. And so I had to envision all these crazy (plots), I knew exactly what was going to happen. It had like a real crazy story. And then when it got cancelled it was like so now what do I do with this information?
Do you want to tell it to me now?
I can’t, but I was like where am I supposed to put this. (I point to myself.) I like that you went like this...(mimicking my pointing to myself)
(Mock indignation) What am I here for?!
(Mimicking my mock indignation with a big grin) Come on!
But I really like the way the season ended. I was bummed that it ended, but it was an interesting note that it ended on.
Yeah, it’s a bummer. But hopefully the movie will get made. I guess my secret dream is that I get a call tomorrow that says, 'You’ve been reactivated. Bored to Death is coming back for season 4!' Because that would be like--it’s like a teenager waiting for like one more inch of his growth spurt, you know what I mean? I’m not going to give up.
I’m 5’ 2", I totally know what you mean.
That show has been cancelled now for a few years, and there’s a movie possibility.
But The Comeback came back!
See, I don’t even know what that it. But my dream is that I get a call tomorrow from HBO that is like, "You’re back! Rent a place in New York."
I like it. I’d be completely into that. So, this last one is completely off the wall, so just bare with me. So, for west coast, you did like a music video for the Nerdist Star Wares cantina karaoke. Are you a Star Wars fan?
Yeah, I’m not like Chris Hardwick.
Chris Hardwick’s level of fandom is its own thing. Do you have any hopes of maybe being looped into the new franchise?
That’s such a crazy question to me. That’s like you asking if, that’s like me asking you, do you have any like, are you going to climb the Statue of Liberty soon. It’s not even something I’d considered, but if I said to you, you going to climb it, you’d be like, "Fuck yeah." That’s like, if I got looped in, yeah, I’d loved to be conferenced in on that call, but I’ve never once thought about it, because I don’t even...
It just seems so impossible is what you’re saying.
Yeah, it seems like...
But they have been pulling in a lot of indie stars. They’ve got Adam Driver.
Yeah, I’m excited about that. When I heard that Adam Drive and Oscar Isaac for cast, I was so excited because to me that’s like the victory, you know, and I think JJ Abrams is cool and I just was like, I don’t know, Adam Driver or Oscar Isaac, but I was, if I knew them, I would have sent them an email with the subject saying, "Fuck yeah". So, I think that, I’m excited for them.
For more from Elisabeth Moss, including details on her reunion with Listen Up Philip's writer-director, Queen of Earth, click to page three. What drew you to Listen Up, Philip?
Elisabeth Moss: I don’t pay much attention to who’s involved or who will be directing, that kind of thing and they email me and tell me everything. But I don’t pay too much attention to anything except the script at first, because often, you know, you can read something and you know, it can be a big budget thing or you can read something and it can not have financing yet and they can both be great. So, I kind of try to not look at it and just read the script first and I just fell in love with the script. It was just a gem.
It was one of those things that I, you know, it was this small film that was sent to me and there wasn’t really a whole lot of reason for me to pay any extra attention to it, but I just thought it was great and I called my agent, and I was like, "Eli, this is a really great script," like, and you know, they were like, "I know," and so I talked, and then I knew Jason was involved, so that obviously was extremely enticing. I was like, "Yeah, Jason Schwartzman ad I should totally be in the movie together. That makes a lot of sense," and then I Skyped with Alex and we got a long so well, and that was it. It was very kind of, very simple, but it was the script first and foremost.
Had you seen his movies prior to this, Impolex and The Color Wheel?
I saw The Color Wheel. I watched that before I Skyped with him.
And apparently you enjoy working with Alex, because you’ve already wrapped another movie with him, right?
Yeah, we just wrapped another film like three days ago. We decided we’re just going to make a movie every September. It will just be like, "Ok, it’s September. It’s time to make a movie." We already know we want to make one next year in September. We just have to figure out what it is.
With Queen of Earth, which is the next one, you also produced. What made you want to do that?
That kind of came about really organically just because I was producing it. It wasn’t one of those things that like was a vanity credit or like I asked for or anything like that. He sent me the script for that. He texted me and he was like, "I have this script. I think you’d be great in the main character. Can I send it to you?" I read it and the next day, "I love it. I want to do it. Let’s do it," and that was back in May. I was just very heavily involved in it from that point and there was another female character in it that was extremely crucial and I was really heavily involved in the casting of that. Just all kinds of different elements of like location and when it came down to it, when it came down to making the film, it was an extremely collaborative experience. It was very much like, I don’t even know if it was producing. It was like producing, co-writing, kind of like, just doing all three of us, me Katherine Waterston and Alex were doing all of these things together. So, it was just one of those things of like, well, I am producing it. So, I guess we’ll call, it wasn’t one of those things like, "I want to produce a film now." It was like, well I am, so we might as well call a spade a spade.
So what is Queen of Earth about?
It’s much darker, much edgier, much more dramatic than Listen Up Philip. We just wrapped it three days ago, so I only know from what we’ve filmed. I haven’t seen anything yet, except for a little bit of assembly and stills, but it’s much weirder and stranger. It’s basically about two friends who have been friends for quite a long time and they come together at a certain point at their lives, when one is kind of one their way up and doing well and one is on her way down and not doing so well, and my character is the latte. They come together at this summer house that they sort of vacation at, and my character sort of, I don’t want to run the risk of spoiling anything, but she doesn’t do so well, let’s just say, mentally, and she sort of has this mental breakdown and goes through it with her friend. It’s all related to kind of things that have happened in her life in the past six months. We shot it all in order. We shot it completely chronologically, which was so interesting and so, yeah, it was so valuable, because … I had a really huge emotional arch to attempt, and dealing with the sort of insanity and it would have been very difficult to do shooting out of order. So it was really great to be able to shoot it chronologically, and all in one location, with a crew of about 10 or 11, maybe 12 people. It was really, really interesting, not always easy, it was hard, but it was a really interesting experience.
It sounds like both this movie and that movie deal with the theme of success being a problem in a relationship.
Yeah, I mean, you know, I thought, it just came up in another interview today, and I think that’s kind of more Alex’s job and take on it. That’s kind of his writer take on it. I kind of came at it more from the point of view. Listen Up Philip I came at it more from the point of view of telling a relationship story and telling a story of a girl coming out of a relationship, and what that’s like and finding her feet again and sort of finding herself again, and that sort of feeling of releasing yourself from a relationship that you know you shouldn’t be in and that journey. So, I approached that from more of that angle, and then Queen of Earth was more approaching the issue of somebody kind of maybe losing their mind, you know, and dealing with depression and dealing with, you know, sort of extraordinary circumstances. At the same time, it’s a very, it’s a very strange film as well, so it’s kind of deals with that in a very, not like a, we don’t sit around and talk about depression or mental illness, you know. It’s not that literal. So, I approached it from much, I approached both films from much more of an emotional character standpoint than a sort of statement about success, but I know what you’re saying and I do think he definitely has that kind of theme in his films right now and it’s definitely dealing with this issues.
There’s a scene in this in particular, where Ashley and Philip, your character and Jason’s get really brutal with each other and say very hurtful things. Did you feel like knowing Jason as long as you have, it made it easier to kind of go to that place?
Yeah, for sure. I mean, Jason’s the sweetest, most awesome guy. He’s so funny and smart, and lovely. I think it helped that we have known each other for so long because in the film, we drop in to close to the end of their relationship really. So you don’t have a lot of time to kind of develop a rapport or develop an ease or any of those kinds of things. We didn’t have time to do that. So, it definitely helped that we didn’t have to get to know each other. We’re fine. We know each other. We don’t have to do all of that, and we have kind of a natural chemistry which definitely I think really helped us."
You mentioned how we start the film and it’s basically Ashley and Phillip are already towards the end of their relationship. Did you and Jason have a discussion beforehand of what we don’t see in their relationship, and those positive days that are now behind them?
Yeah, basically the idea is that they are, you know, at some point, the person that Phillip is, was charming to her, was funny, was intelligent, his views on life were interesting. Then it kind of turns around, and when he starts to direct to that intelligence, that wit, that bitterness and attitude towards life towards her and their relationship, then it’s not good for her anymore. It’s kind of a case of, and I think we’ve all had this in relationships where the things that attracted you about the person sometimes end up being the things that repel you from the person in the end. That’s kind of what our take on it was. I think it’s kind of interesting to have a film that, it’s starting with them at a certain point in their relationship and we kind of don’t really worry about explaining to the audience what happened in the relationship before. We’ve all had relationships. We know what they are. We’re telling a specific story about a specific time in these people’s lives. We don’t need to go back and be like remember this when they met. That was nice. Who cares. We’re telling a different story.
So, I’ve also been looking at the films you have coming up and it’s kind of amazing, you’re becoming like a real champion for first time filmmakers by jumping into these projects with guys who haven’t made movies before. Can you talk a little bit about that?
I know, it’s kind of, it is kind of strange, isn’t it? It’s not really necessarily intentional. It’s just, like I said, I base so much, everything really, on the script, and I don’t really care if--I mean it does matter if he hasn’t made a film before, because obviously that’s a little bit scary. But you know, with Charlie McDowell, he had so much, you know, education in film, and he was so well versed in film, and was such a great writer. I didn’t feel that it was going to be hurtful, and then with Alex, obviously he had made a couple of films, but this was his first film with actors, real professional actors, that have been around for a while. But you know I was secure in the fact that he knew where to put the camera and he knew about editing. He did know those kinds of things. I think that for me it’s so much about the script that I don’t really look at that. I don’t really care. If the script is good and then I meet the person and they seem like an intelligent, humorous person, you know, an intelligent person with a good sense of humor who knows about cinema, I’m like what’s the difference? Everyone has got to make a film for the first time sometime.
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