BEN SCHWARTZ IN NEW YORK, JUNE 2014. COAT: BOTTEGA VENETA. SWEATER: HERMES. T-SHIRT: RAG & BONE. PANTS: PORSCHE DESIGN. GROOMING: KAYLA MICHELE FOR BUMBLE AND BUMBLE/ATELIER MANAGEMENT.
Ben Schwartz’s story seems like a comic creation in itself: The actor behind one of television’s most indelibly obnoxious sidekicks wins an Emmy for writing for the Academy Awards and lands in a movie with Jane Fonda. The sidekick in question is Jean-Ralphio, the goony, small-town playa who Schwartz goes ham on in NBC’s Parks and Recreation. “I wanted to make him be that guy who’s trying too hard, but you want to root for him,” says Schwartz. “He’s always positive. If he got an STD, he’d go up to someone and say, ‘I’m having sex! How cool is that?’ instead of, ‘I have a terrible disease.’ ”
The 32-year-old Schwartz is a veteran of New York and L.A.’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, the comedy hot spots that often serve as a training ground for sitcoms, late-night shows, and Saturday Night Live. In Schwartz’s case, it helped lead him to Parks, short films, screenwriting deals—he’s written three scripts that are wending their way toward production, including a remake of 1991’s cult comedy Soapdish called El Fuego Caliente—and the writing gig on the 2009 Academy Awards, where he was part of the team that scripted Hugh Jackman’s musical opening number. He’s also put in three seasons appearing on Showtime’s business-ethics dark comedy House of Lies, playing opposite Don Cheadle as part of a quartet of unscrupulous management consultants. “I feel so fortunate that I’m nervous,” says Schwartz of the role. “I don’t want it to stop. I’m scared.”
Schwartz grew up in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, the son of a schoolteacher mother and social-worker father. He spent sleepless years after college freelance-writing for the Late Show With David Letterman, doing improv, and making short films. A decade later, he’s playing a rabbi nicknamed Boner who presides over a funeral attended by Fonda, Tina Fey, and Jason Bateman in one of fall’s most anticipated big-screen comedies, This Is Where I Leave You. “Jane Fonda is amazing,” he gushes. “The most fun was in between scenes, when she would talk to you about anything. She has no filter. She’s had so many lives. You just want to hear her talk forever.”
Next up for Schwartz is Robert Zemeckis’s film about the man who tightrope walked between the Twin Towers in 1974, which is set to be released next year. For each one of his projects, Schwartz’s enthusiasm is boundless. “To be good at this, you have to love it so much, you have to be saturated by it,” says Schwartz. “As soon as you realize the people that you idolize love this so much, and are as excited about it as my stupid Muppet face is, that makes it easier.”
GROOMING PRODUCTS: BUMBLE AND BUMBLE, INCLUDING DRYSPUN FINISH. SPECIAL THANKS: GEORGE BROWN STUDIO.
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