Jason Schwartzman was 18 years old when he made his first foray into acting. The film was 1998’sRushmore—Wes Anderson’s hipster-revered breakout project—and Schwartzman played the lead, Max Fischer, a charmingly awkward misfit teen with an unfortunate beret habit. It was a telling start.
In the years since this debut, Schwartzman has built a résumé that looks like it’s borrowedheavily from the “Likes” section of an impassioned film geek’s MySpace page: After Rushmore came Schwartzman’s cameo on Judd Apatow’s beloved television series, Freaks and Geeks. Then there was David O. Russell’s I Heart Huckabees (2004), Steve Martin’s Shopgirl (2005), his cousin Sofia -Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006), and another Wes Anderson film—which Schwartzman actually co-wrote—The Darjeeling Limited (2007).
The 29-year-old Los Angeles native spends the majority of his time onscreen, acting . . . well, pretty tragic. This fall, the actor continues his examination of the psychology of the unfortunately weird takes a new turn. He’s starring in HBO’s newest original series, Bored to Death, based on a short story by Brooklyn writer Jonathan Ames. He also found the time to reunite with both Apatow, for Funny People, and Anderson, for the upcoming stop-motion adaptation of Fantastic Mr. Fox. Aziz Ansari, who appears alongside Schwartzman in Funny People, agreed to wake up in time for a 10:30 a.m. phone interview with the actor. It took place on Schwartzman’s 29th birthday.
Watch first trailer for Bored to Death
JASON SCHWARTZMAN: Hey man, how are you?
AZIZ ANSARI: I’m good.
SCHWARTZMAN: Dude, where are you?
ANSARI: I’m in Los Angeles right now. You’re in New York?
ANSARI: Oh. All right—wait, so are we starting now, or do we start like now?
SCHWARTZMAN: Now, we’ll start now!
ANSARI: Okay, we’ll start now. Interview: Aziz Ansari, Jason Schwartzman, and go. So Jason . . .
ANSARI: I’m very excited about your new HBO show, Bored to Death. Can you tell the readers about it?
SCHWARTZMAN: Um, can you hold on for one second, Aziz? There’s someone knocking on my door . . .
ANSARI: Oh my god, this is very, very unprofessional. Oh my god.
SCHWARTZMAN: [laughing] Hold on, hold on, hold on! [to person at door] Coming! Oh great. Come in.
ANSARI: So transcribe this, yo. Everyone says Jason Schwartzman is a nice guy. You know, he says, “Hey do this interview thing. Block out 10:30 a.m. Friday morning. Block that time out of your day to do an interview with me.” I do that. I go, “Hey, tell me about your new show.” First question, and what’s the response? “Oh, someone’s at my door.”
SCHWARTZMAN: Sorry about that. Are you ready?
ANSARI: Yeah. Did you have fun with the person at your door?
SCHWARTZMAN: Sorry, that was unprofessional.
ANSARI: You wanna go make a sandwich?
SCHWARTZMAN: [laughs] Look, I’m sorry man. I’m sorry, I apologize. Will you forgive me?
ANSARI: Yeah, okay, we’ll move on.
ANSARI: So, tell us about Bored to Death.
SCHWARTZMAN: Okay. Well, it was created by this writer named Jonathan Ames, who’s a great novelist, and it’s about a young writer whose girlfriend leaves him. She leaves him because, you know, he’s struggling to write a book, but ends up just sitting around playing Internet backgammon all day. She also thinks that he’s an alcoholic, but he really only drinks a glass of white wine at night. But she thinks he’s addicted to white wine, and she leaves him. He’s very sad, and so he starts rearranging his apartment—which is why he rediscovers all of these old detective novels that he used to read by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. He starts reading them again, and he decides on a whim, out of depression and heartbrokenness, to put himself up as a private detective for hire on Craigslist. Just to see what happens. And he actually isn’t a bad private detective. He’s actually pretty good. He’s a little rough around the edges, though, and gets sucked into the world of drugs, sex, and, um, skateboards. All kinds of wild things.
ANSARI: Yeah, yeah. Now, I didn’t hear any of that because I went to my kitchen to go eat a banana but I’m sure it’s a great show. [Schwartzman laughs] Have you done much TV before? The only thing I could think of is your great cameo in Freaks and Geeks.
SCHWARTZMAN: I did an episode of Freaks and Geeks, and then I did a show that was created by Mike White, but it was short-lived. It ended before it fully, uh, ripened. But this is my first HBO show. It’s so exciting. Did you get to see it, Aziz?
ANSARI: Yeah, yeah. They sent me the pilot.
SCHWARTZMAN: So did I do an all right job? You’re the first person I’ve talked to about the show, so if I left anything out will you be like, another me?
ANSARI: Well, we should talk about the other people in the show, because it’s got a cool cast. There’s Zach Galifianakis, who’s hilarious, and Ted Danson as well.
SCHWARTZMAN: Yup. I got to work with all these people who are on sort of a wish list of actors and directors that I’d always wanted to work with. Parker Posey being one. I mean, even before I was a professional actor, I’d always loved Parker Posey and wanted to meet her, just as a fan. Another person is Jim Jarmusch. He plays himself in one of the episodes, but I got to act with him for like, three days—so in a sense, I got to work with Jim Jarmusch. He’s also someone whose work I really love and who I kind of follow. Like, if there is ever an interview with Jim Jarmusch, I’ll read it. There was a great one in this magazine, in Interview. In fact, I was in a place where they had the magazine and I ripped it out and kept it in my pocket and would just unfold this, like, disgusting piece of paper over the next two weeks and read it whenever I was waiting some place. So, Jarmusch is in the show. Kristen Wiig from Saturday Night Live, who as far as I’m concerned is one of the funniest women in the world. Aubrey Plaza is not in the show. [Ansari laughs] She’s in a new show.
ANSARI: We kind of all met together on Funny People. How did you get involved in that movie?
SCHWARTZMAN: I got an e-mail from Judd Apatow that said, “Call me now.” But it was a loving “now,” it wasn’t a demanding “now.” It felt exciting. So I called him, and he explained that he was working on this movie, Funny People, and he said that there was a part in it that he thought we could talk about. It was just bizarre—like, Whoa! Just an incredible phone call. And an unusual phone call. I didn’t quite know how to handle it. It was very exciting.
ANSARI: You know, when I read about you on the Internet, it’s clear that you’re a ladies man. Well, now you’re married—so you’re a former ladies man. But let’s just say I was a girl and we’re going out on a date this Saturday in L.A.
SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah . . .
ANSARI: Where would you take me? What would our date be like?
SCHWARTZMAN: Well, that’s a good question, Aziza. Would your name be Aziza?
ANSARI: I think it would probably be Jennifer.
SCHWARTZMAN: Okay, Jennifer. Where did I meet you? How did we meet?
ANSARI: We have mutual friends.
SCHWARTZMAN: Is this a blind thing? How is it?
ANSARI: We have a couple of mutual friends and, you know, we kind of flirted and I asked for your phone number and now you have to take me out.
SCHWARTZMAN: Wow—so you’re a bold woman. You got my number, you asked me to call you, and you’re saying we’re going out?
SCHWARTZMAN: Okay. Gosh, I don’t really have a go-to date. Do you have a go-to date?
ANSARI: No, not really. I guess I usually go to a nice restaurant, and then maybe a bar. Nothing too, uh . . .
SCHWARTZMAN: I mean, I would think if we were going on a date, maybe we would go to a place where we could have a drink, and if it seemed like it was going well, maybe they’ll put out a menu and we could order some food. Maybe the place is a bar first but it’s also known for its delicious tapas.
ANSARI: Ah . . .
SCHWARTZMAN: So if it’s going all right, then maybe I would be like, “Are you hungry? Did you want something to eat? Let’s get some food.” But I would not be so presumptuous to think I’m gonna take you to dinner and you’re gonna wanna talk to me for two hours . . .
ANSARI: I guess I’m a little bit more presumptuous. I’m like, “All right, you’re in it for six hours!” [laughs]
SCHWARTZMAN: Have you been on a lot of dates?
ANSARI: No, not really.
SCHWARTZMAN: I’m sorry to let you down.
ANSARI: You didn’t let me down at all. One of the first times we met was when you and our mutual friend Jonah Hill were guest-hosting on the radio -station Indie 103. You have such a deep well of music that you listen to. Where do you hear about new bands and stuff?
SCHWARTZMAN: I basically read a lot and keep lists. For instance, if I’m reading a review of a record, and they describe the record with reference to other records, then I’ll write down not only the name of the record that is being reviewed, but I’ll also write down the references. I’ll keep these lists. Also, you know, I count on my friends.
ANSARI: What are the last five albums you had in heavy rotation?
SCHWARTZMAN: Well, no big news, but, the Animal Collective album. John Cale. The new Dirty Projectors album. What else have I been liking? Um, let me see. Can I open my computer?
ANSARI: Sure, whatever you wanna do.
SCHWARTZMAN: Okay. What’ve you been listening to?
ANSARI: I’ve been listening to a lot of older stuff. Some Velvet Underground, some Dylan stuff. Kinda going through a classic-rock phase.
ANSARI: I’ll open my iTunes as well.
SCHWARTZMAN: Do you ever have this happen, where you go through periods when you listen to and watch stuff, and it goes right through you? It doesn’t seem to really dent you in any way. You watch stuff and it’s like, “Oh, that’s funny,” but you don’t laugh and you don’t feel anything? I’ve been having the reverse of that. When I put on the new Phoenix album or the Animal Collective album, I get so excited. Like, “Yes, this is amazing!”
ANSARI: Darjeeling Limited was your first foray into screenwriting, and it’s a film which I’ve Netflixed but have yet to watch. What was the writing process like? Any plans to write anything in the future? And why do you think I haven’t gotten around to watching the movie, even though I’ve Netflixed it?
SCHWARTZMAN: [laughs] The writing process was incredible. I wrote it with Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, and it took about two years. We ended up finishing the script in the Himalayas.
ANSARI: Wow! Geez. That’s awesome.
SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah, it was fun. And then we came back and had to rewrite it all in New York. [laughs] It sounds so romantic—and it was romantic, because I was with my two great friends and we really were working on something very personal—but it wasn’t romantically beautiful all the time. It was quite rough at times. But the real romance is being young and writing with your friends.
ANSARI: Do you have any advice for young actors, such as myself?
SCHWARTZMAN: You don’t need any advice from me, man. You’re incredible! You’re like the funniest motherfucker in the world.
ANSARI: Aw, come on.
SCHWARTZMAN: I’m serious. But let’s see. I’m not really one for advice other than, if you can write, write. If you have the ability to write, then you should write. Be diligent about it.
ANSARI: That’s probably a good call. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about in particular? I’ve finished all of my questions.
SCHWARTZMAN: You ask good questions.
ANSARI: Oh good, thank you. You had very interesting answers. We did our jobs!
SCHWARTZMAN: We did our jobs.
Aziz Ansari is a Los Angeles–based actor and comedian who’s appearing in the new NBC series Parks and Recreation and was in last summer’s Judd Apatow film Funny People.
Photo: Coat: Opening Ceremony. Jeans and Shoes: Schwartzman’s own. Hair products: ION Studio. Fragrance: Bvlgari pour Homme. Styling: Vanessa Chow/Creative Exchange Agency. Hair: Leonardo Manetti/Community NYC. Special Thanks: Fast Ashleys.