Jason Schwartzman Interview – THE DARJEELING LIMITED

     October 20, 2007

You’re probably saying to yourself… “Didn’t Darjeeling already come out and didn’t Frosty already post interviews?” And those questions would be justified as I did already post interviews. But now that the movie has expanded to more theaters… I figured it could use a bit more help. Also, while I posted video interviews with Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody, I didn’t post the transcript of my roundtable interview with Jason. So now that I have the transcript finished, I figured some of you might want to read what he said.

And as I’ve said previously, Wes Anderson’s “The Darjeeling Limited” is a great movie and one that’s absolutely worth your time. And for those who don’t know the story… The film is about three American brothers (played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman) who have not spoken to each other in a year. They set off on a train voyage across India with a plan to find themselves and bond with each other — to become brothers again like they used to be. Their “spiritual quest”, however, veers rapidly off-course (due to events involving over-the-counter pain killers, Indian cough syrup, and pepper spray), and they eventually find themselves stranded alone in the middle of the desert with eleven suitcases, a printer, and a laminating machine. At this moment, a new, unplanned journey suddenly begins.As you can tell… a typical Wes Anderson movie.

During our interview Jason talked about the writing process, what scenes were based on real things, was he playing himself or a character and a lot more. And if you missed the video interviews I did with Jason and Adrien you can see them here. Or you can watch some clips from the movie here. Finally, you can listen to the roundtable interview by clicking here for the MP3.

“The Darjeeling Limited” is playing in limited release now.

Question: Are you playing yourself in this?

Jason Schwartzman: I think the three characters in the film are a good mix of each of Wes, Roman, and I. I think we are pretty evenly dispersed amongst the three. Though, I probably do feel closer to my character than probably the other two characters. But it’s a pretty even dose of all of us. But I do think that the three of us, Wes, Roman, and I, could relate to Jack because he takes things that happened to him in his real life and he writes them down as short stories like little chapters in his life, and he kind of moves on after he writes them. He takes the truth and he writes it. And I think we can relate to that because that’s in essence what the three writers were trying to do. We were trying to take things that happened to three of us and put them down into the story and make a chapter out of it, and move on. So I think we all could relate to that. But I’ve never taken a girl into a bathroom on a train. I’m not “the guy.”

Which scenes were based on your experiences?

JS: Don’t you want something left to the imagination? I don’t know. At this point, it got so muddled up. I mean, all of it’s real. And all of it’s happened to me and to Wes and to Roman. But I kind of feel like the characters are all fictional.

Did you know the character in the short film was the same as in Darjeeling?

JS: Oh yeah. We knew. Once we were shooting the movie we definitely knew. We knew early on. Hotel Chevalier was intending to be a companion piece to the Darjeeling Limited. It was supposed to be like a prologue to it and I always knew I’d be Jack Whitman in both and that it would be separate. In other words, I knew it was a contained piece. It was written and had an ending, and scenes weren’t supposed to go in front or after. So it was always a short film, and I knew that I’d be Jack. And it was great for me on many levels to have done the short film, A) it was a gentler way to reunite with Wes professionally, director-actor. Much easier to work two days with him on a short film in a small room with a very small crew. It’s like, less scary, if that makes sense, that going to work with him after so many years in India with a lot of people walking around with just much more happening. So it was a gentler way to work together again to see how were were with each other. And B) it was great to test out the character, which at that point was still being written because we were only three months into writing the feature when Hotel Chevalier came about. And by the time we shot it we had more of it down. But it was great to grow the mustache out and get the suit and really start to play the guy. It was wonderful and it was also slightly a bit of a mad dash to think, okay, well we haven’t finished the feature script, but we are shooting the short, and we know we are going to want to reference things, or we would want to have the flexibility to reference things, so what are we going to want to put in this short that we can use later in the movie? So we had to get the suitcase made and we had to get the suits made and everything had to be kind of, because whatever we chose would be what we would use later. And also when I was in India it was awesome to have done the short because I could just remember Hotel Chevalier and I just knew that was where my character was coming from, where he was in his heart, and how kind of fucked up it all was. And it’s nice to not have to imagine something. It’s nice just to remember it or just watch the DVD of it. And so it was very helpful and I felt like I had an advantage in a weird way over past experiences of work. I hope from now on that I could do a short movie before every movie that I do. It was so helpful to me. It was great.

What was it like working with Owen and Adrien?

JS: I’ll say one thing, and this is so great for people who write and direct their films. I am not used to this feeling, which is that the moment they walk out in their outfits for the first time, it’s a pretty big thrill. We had been talking about them and these scripts for two years. I felt so close to these characters. And talking about their suits and everything and what they were going through, they just, they were real to me. And then Owen and Adrien put on the suits and Owen’s got the bandages on and Peter’s got the glasses we’ve been talking about. It’s like, wow, this was emotional. So it was a thrill at that moment. That’s my initial way to answer your question. And then working with them, well, I respect them both tremendously and I just wanted to be as good as them in the movie. And I loved them. The three of us, the script is one thing. The script is a blueprint, but you’ve got to build it. You’ve got to say, okay, here are the plans for the walls and here are the things for the sink and everything, and you’ve got to build the house. And I think that the chemistry between the people are the things that build the house. And you just never know if that’s going to work. You get to India and you just hope that you are going to love these guys. And I did. And we became friends immediately. And I think that, and I’m not passing judgment on the way movies are typically made, but what typically tends to happen is you work on a film set and there are trailers for actors and trailers for different people, there are just places for people to go to isolate themselves.

And that’s fine if actors need to preserve their energy or focus on the scene or whatever, but if you give people places to go, they’ll go there. And there is a tendency, it just becomes less intimate. It becomes bigger, slower, everything. So on this set there was no place to go. There were no trailers. And the actors stayed in the train compartment where we shot all day. Unless you had to go to the bathroom, there was nowhere else to go. So I think that kind of claustrophobia worked to our advantage in that it was like speed-reading. It helped us to get to know each other faster and more intensely. There wasn’t just a casual hey, how are you, is your girlfriend good? Tell her I said hi. It wasn’t, that’s not to say that’s how most movies are, but it’s an example of what could have happened had the circumstances not been like this.

So I think it was great to work with them because we really became friends. And the environment helped us become friends and between takes, like Wes had to stop us sometimes from goofing off because I just loved them so much and I do have a thing where I just love Owen so much. I just want to try to get him to laugh. And I love Adrien so much I want to tell him stories. We really were just always playing games and rehearsing scenes and it was very efficient. The friendship was efficient. And the working was efficient. And also just the way we lived was helpful too. It aided this relationship because we lived in what was technically a hotel, but looked and felt more like a home. It was kind of a big house with 8 rooms in it. Each room looked different, which makes it feel not like a hotel, instantly. Everyone had a different-looking room. All the actors lived there. Wes lived there. And we’d get up, have breakfast together, ride to work, spend 14 hours together on a train, come home. The train goes all around, by the way. If you are late to set, it’s bad, because the set might not be there when you arrive because it was a real train that did have a departure time. We’d go around all day in India, come home, and then walk upstairs and have dinner together in the dining room. And then go hang out in someone’s room and watch a movie. So we were all alone out there in India. There was nothing for us to do except be together. So it was a really wonderful experience to do it. So it’s like I got to work with Owen and Adrien, but I also got to live with them.

What were some happy accidents that happened?

JS: I would say they are kind of subtle, but I know that no dialogue was changed. Nothing kind of happened spur of the moment dialogue-wise. We were trying to always get the scene the way it was written to be its best. But because it was a moving train, and when you have a moving set, especially a train in India, many unpredictable things can happen. It can stop. It can hit a big bump. It can take sharp turns. And even when you are not on a train, when you are out walking around doing the scenes that are not on the train, we didn’t really have control over those environments. You can’t tell 5,000 people to stop walking down the street. So we were mostly just walking around shooting it with a small camera capturing it. So people are just wandering around. They are real. So, acting-wise, what might kind of answer your question was just you constantly are reacting to things, physically. So your movements are never locked. You can’t rehearse your movements really. Because, you are saying the scene and all of a sudden a cow walks by you. So you just don’t plan for certain things. I think Wes wanted that. He wanted to go to India. He said to me, If we write in the script that the three brothers get picked up in a red car, but when we go to shoot they bring us a blue truck then we’ll shoot the blue truck. So I think he just kind of surrendered to India. And that gave him a great experience shooting-wise, like not trying to control it too much. It was wonderful.

What’s it like writing for your own character?

JS: Oddly enough, and to a fault, I had been so focused on the writing, like really just little missions, like so focused on trying to solve certain things about the script. Well, why did this happen? How did that happen? And should this be here? That I forgot about that I would have to act it, and I freaked out about 7 weeks before shooting because I realized, I read the script like for the first time as an actor would approach something. Like, I sound totally like a pompous guy, like, As an ACTOR prepares for…but you know what I mean. So now I’m going to have to learn my lines and everything. I was going like, Holy shit. I have no idea how to do this! I don’t know how to say these lines convincingly. I had no idea who I’m playing. I called Wes, who was already in India. And I said, I’m freaking out. I have no idea what to do. He said, What do you mean? You wrote the guy. You know who he is. But I don’t. So I got on the next plane to India. That was a bit dramatic. I packed and said my goodbyes, had a couple of lunches, and then I took the next available flight to India. And that was really to be close to Wes. Because, I think to be close to the director is nice for me, to feel grounded in India. And the process then just became, I really just started to rehearse it with Wes. But it was interesting. We wrote it together, but then all of a sudden the dynamic shifts. He becomes the director and I become the actor. It was kind of great how respectful we were of those roles. I never said, “Hey, you can’t say this to me. I wrote this with you!” I felt like he was the director so, Why is he saying this now? Why am I not doing this right? And getting into it that way was a wonderfully respectful collaboration once the roles had shifted. So it was nice.

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