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Jason Schwartzman and director Wes Anderson have both come a long way since their first project together, 1998's Rushmore, which starred Schwartzman as a lovelorn prep school nerd vying for his teacher's affections. The longtime friends' latest movie together is once again a fresh new look at love and family life, albeit one populated by stop-motion foxes and other furry critters: Fantastic Mr. Fox. Schwartzman voices Ash, Mr. Fox's young son who wishes he could live up to his dashing father, voiced most appropriately by George Clooney. Smaller than the other foxes, a little bratty, and always wearing a cape, Ash has to learn why he doesn't have to pretend to be anything he's not in order to be loved.
[The star can also be seen in the upcoming Edgar Wright film, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which stars Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim, a lovelorn indie kid who has to literally fight each of his crush's seven evil ex-boyfriends, with Schwartzman as the last and most evil. He also stars as the writer Jonathan Ames in the HBO show Bored to Death, created and written by Ames.]
Stop-motion animation is the perfect format for the director known for his attention to detail. Fantastic Mr. Fox is as meticulously crafted as any other Anderson venture, if not moreso, since he was able to focus on everything all the way down to the way the fur moved. "Part of my idea to do the movie in the first place was not just to do it in stop-motion, but to do stop-motion with fur… I wanted textures like that," the dapper director said. "In a movie like this, everything's in miniature… You're not going to find a location, you're not going to find props. You've got to build them. But that means when you make them, you really do have complete freedom to decide everything... I just don't concern myself with whether it's too much, or whether it's overkill. I just would rather say, 'I'm going to put everything I can think of that I feel like makes it better,' so for me, it was very fun."
Though the two have been close friends for years, Schwartzman found it hard to pinpoint how they themselves have changed, focusing instead of the different situations they had been in together. "It's interesting because each time I've worked with Wes, it's been so completely different than the last time," said the thoughtful actor, who tends to speak in paragraphs. "It's like a science experiment. The variable is the movie, the location, where we are; we're the constant, but the situations are always so different that it's impossible, really, to compare how he's changed as a director, because I can't tell if it's him that's changed or the fact that we're on a train in India that's changed. But the one thing that's the same, too, about Wes is just that you know it's going to be an adventure and you know it's going to be unorthodox, and he always does have, like, the movie and the way he wants to make the movie, at the same time." One example of this is how Anderson had the sound person record the voice actors acting out their parts on location.
Tribeca Film sat down with Schwartzman in New York City to discuss being a small fox in a slightly bigger world, trying to make an evil character nice (and failing), and the joys of vegan bakeries.
Tribeca Film: What did you think when you first saw Ash?
Jason Scwartzman: I've always been attracted to anything that's miniature or anything that's jumbo. There was a store in the mall when I was growing up, and in the window of the store there was a huge pencil, and I would go to the mail when I would go see a movie or something and just say, "Can I go and see the giant pencil?!" I just loved seeing the huge pencil. And also, my mom took me to a miniatures museum when I was a kid; I've always loved miniatures, I've always loved detail. At the [Art Institute of Chicago], they have a whole floor of just miniature rooms, and you can look in these things and you can see… literally, replicas of very realistic settings, like a living room from a house in Georgia, or a New York apartment, but built exactly to scale [and] shrunk.
And that was the first thing I thought when I saw Ash… I had that kind of childlike—all the child parts of my brain were firing, all the synapses were [makes whooshing noises]. It was just like, "Ah! Small fox! Amazing! Beautiful!" I love the artistry. I think that's what's cool about the movie; it's like—any movie, you know a lot of people had to work on it and it's not an easy thing to make a movie, but when you look at this movie, you can see the artistry. And when it really dawns on you that everything is not only handmade but hand-moved, it's pretty astounding. And Wes told me, "Oh, yeah, a good day for the animators was [when] they get two to three seconds." I mean, you think about that, that's insane.
Tribeca: How did you tap into your petulant inner twelve-year-old to become Ash?
JS: Well, I could tap into the twelve-year-old pretty easily. I mean, I felt very similar… liking girls that don't like [you] back, and not only that but liking people that you know very well, feeling littler, wanting to be a better athlete, feeling different, feeling like kind of an outsider, not feeling understood—all of that is exactly what I went through. I don't think I was petulant, though. I went the other way with it, which was like [being] the clown... I wish I had the courage to be petulant, you know what I mean? I wish I was just ballsy enough to spit and be kind of more defiant, but I… just wanted acceptance.
Tribeca: You're pretty bad-ass in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. You have fighting scenes, and you're the evil ex-boyfriend. That's fun.
JS: Yes, yes, absolutely, that's fun. That was fun because I got to play a guy who's pretty cocky—I mean, he's the bad guy any way you want to cut it. I was trying so hard to make him really, really nice, but what was interesting was you still can't get around the fact that he's a bad guy, and I found that the nicer I tried to make him, the jerkier he came off, so I just tried to make him the nicest man in the world, but… he is pretty dislikable.
Tribeca: Bored to Death is so much fun and so New York. Where are your favorite places in New York? I understand you're a big fan of the vegan bakery Babycakes.
JS: Oh, my God! Well, Babycakes is heaven on earth, shall we say? I love the cupcakes and the food and the cookies and, in fact, Babycakes always sends me cookies when it's the Super Bowl for my guests and stuff, but what I also love about Babycakes is their M.O., like the way Erin McKenna (who owns it) did it—she had a dream and made it come true. It's really inspiring.
So besides Babycakes, my other favorite places are—you know the store Opening Ceremony? What I like about Opening Ceremony is, I don't particularly look great in all those clothes, but it's nice because it's a place where it's kind of going to like an art house movie theater, where you can just see lots of different movies and see what lots of people are up to and what they're thinking… I mean, they have very wearable clothes, but they have extremes of all different kinds of things—things that are very forward and very beautiful and great designers that you wouldn't see in other places. So what I like about it is just going through there and flipping through the clothes and saying, Wow, so this person had this idea to take this color, put it with that color, and stitch it like that…
Film Forum is another place, and I like the place teany [a vegan restaurant and tea shop co-owned by Moby, currently closed because of a fire]…. I'd say Babycakes, Opening Ceremony, Other Music, and I like Southside Guitars and Rivington Guitars.