No matter where Jason Schwartzman's movie career takes him, his place in film history is secure, thanks to his performance in 1998's Rushmore. Wes Anderson's bittersweet comedy performed modestly at the box office, but has already become a beloved cult classic. A scion of the Coppola clan and the son of actress Talia Shire and producer Jack Schwartzman, Jason Schwartzman kept a relatively low profile after Rushmore's release, but recently returned with a vengeance. In addition to appearing in Slackers and the forthcoming Simone, he's also been touring and recording with his heavily hyped band Phantom Planet, whose slick, accessible, enormously likable second album The Guest alternately recalls Travis, Squeeze, and Weezer. Just before the group departed for Europe, the actor-drummer spoke to The Onion A.V. Club about Rushmore, Phantom Planet, drum solos, P. Diddy, and why MTV wouldn't rent him a houseboat.
The Onion: How did the Jason Schwartzman episode of MTV's Cribs come about?
Jason Schwartzman: Basically, it was weird, because they called and said that they'd like to do a Jason Schwartzman Cribs. And I'm like, "All right, but just so that MTV is well aware, I don't have a place to live, because I'm on the road with the band. Everything I own is in storage. I don't have a 'crib' to show everybody." So I told MTV that, and I asked if maybe there was something we could work out. They said sure, so I approached them about renting a houseboat and letting me live there for a week, and then they could take a little boat out to meet me, and I'd be out in the middle of the ocean, like, "Hi, I'm Jason Schwartzman, welcome to my crib." But they said no. And then I said I could give a tour of our touring van, our Ford. They said no to that. And then I said, "Could I just give you a tour of my storage facility?" They said yes to that, but then I thought it was kind of unfortunate, since it was MTV's Cribs, and I wanted it to look good. So I said, "Gosh, what should I do? I'd like to do Cribs, but I don't have a residence right now." Then they were dumbfounded, so I approached them with one last idea, which was, "What if I live in a tent in my friend's garage?" They said, "Yeah, that'll be funny." I don't know why that's okay, when a houseboat isn't, but I just went with the tent idea. I brought a bunch of stuff, like my sequential-circuits drum machine and some records, a painting, which was like my art collection. I had a cell phone, which was like my little office.
O: Do you have any touring war stories?
JS: No, to be honest, I have no real war stories. It's been pretty low-key. Nothing too crazy has happened on the road, because normally we just split after the show, so we can get as much driving done as we can so we can get to the next city on time. We usually drive until three or four in the morning and then pull over and stay at a little roadside motel.
O: Would you say you guys are paying your dues?
JS: I hope so. I don't know. We've been together for eight years, so we've had much harder times, more confused times. We've had times when we didn't know what label we were on, when a lot of people didn't believe in the music. It's easy to be in a band when things are working out really well and you have a lot of positivity keeping you afloat in a sea of doubt. It's like that old thing where if you put a bunch of shit in a bag and it keeps spinning around, the centrifugal force keeps it together. But then, if it slows down, everything falls apart. That's kind of what being in a band is like sometimes.
O: It seems like things are starting to happen for Phantom Planet.
JS: Yeah, I wouldn't say that we're spinning super-fast, but it's definitely picking up heat in a really good way. As Jacques [Brautbar], our guitar player, put it, it's refreshing in every sense of the word. There have been times that have been really hard, so just to make the record was like, the best thing. My thing is, even if something super, super shitty happens on the road, at least it's happening on the road, and that makes it amazing. To get into a fight as a band while living in L.A., it's just another day in L.A. And it's like, "Oh, man, just another fight with these assholes, and I'm not going anywhere, and it sucks." But if you're like, "I hate you, you're an asshole. Hey, look at those mountains with the snow on top of them," it kind of makes things a little better, I suppose.
O: You're headed to Europe?
JS: Yeah, it's like a promo tour. So we go over there and we answer some questions. It's kind of like introducing us to Europe, but there are no shows there yet.
O: So it's going to be a little like The Beatles, only the other way around?
JS: You know it.
O: Are you thinking up witty quips for the European press as we speak?
JS: I just might use the ones The Beatles used. Those are clichéd, amazing answers for a reason.
O: Listening to the album, I was wondering, "Where are all the drum solos?"
JS: Where are all the drum solos? In my dreams. I'm not a fan of too many drum solos. To be honest with you, I'm not good enough to do drum solos, and I like it that way. I like how Alex [Greenwald] in the band put it. One day, we were walking over to the music store and they had a big sign that read, like, "The 19th Annual Drum-Off." And Alex quipped, "Where the winner is the loser." I kind of agree. I never want to win a drum-off.
O: When Wes Anderson was promoting Rushmore, you toured the country in a school bus, promoting it with him. What was that like?
JS: It was the best. It was so much fun. It's funny, of the top five most amazing experiences of my life, Wes Anderson is in, like, three of them. That was amazing, because it was just him and me and a guy from Disney making sure we didn't get into too much trouble, in this bus that's made for 12 to 14 people. We just kind of drove around and took ourselves around the country, rather than having people have to fly to us. We took ourselves to the masses, just basically visiting every college and big city in America. We met tons of really great people and saw the country. It was one of the few times I've lived in the lap of luxury and felt totally comfortable. It was really nice. It was one of those times where every day, you're excited. But by the end, I was a little burnt out. Looking back on it, it was really nice, but at all crazy times, you don't realize they're happening until they're over. I was nervous. It was my first movie and everything, and it all just seemed to happen so fast. The next thing I know, I'm being interviewed, and people are like, "What do you think about this and that?" And I'm like, "I think a couple things, but don't you want to ask somebody who counts?" I was like, "Why do you want to know anything about me?" I don't think the human body is designed to talk about itself for three weeks, or even two hours in a day. It kind of threw me out of touch, but overall it was really good. I have no complaints.
O: What was your first impression of the Rushmore script?
JS: It was bizarre, because it was the first script that I ever read. So it set the bar kind of high.
O: Had you even done any acting before that?
JS: Never. I was in a school play once, but I was in the background. When I read it, I remember thinking, "Is this a joke? Everything that I think is funny in the world is in this one script." All the clubs and stuff. I was like, "Wow, this is like something Peter Sellers would have done." Just to be involved in putting on all the costumes, I thought it was a dream come true. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe how right on the mark it was about everything I thought was funny.
O: Were you intimidated to be entering acting with such a giant role?
JS: Oh, are you kidding me? I was so freaked out. But from when I auditioned to when we started shooting the film was, like, three weeks, which is really fast. It all happened so fast that, to be honest, I couldn't really get panicked, because I didn't really have time to. But I totally was not looking forward to meeting Bill Murray, because, you know, he's a Ghostbuster. He's like a god to me. It was kind of like, "Hey, you're Jason. Okay, you look pretty good, let's get you out in a car and put you in the Daytona 500." It was kind of like, "Huh?" It happened so fast, kind of like, "Here's your things, here's your new tires, now go." But if I had been like, "I can't drive," I would have crashed. I had to stay alive. And plus, I had to keep doing school and stuff, so there were so many other crazy factors—being all alone out in Houston, and shooting a movie, and working with Bill Murray, and trying to do school—that they sort of canceled each other out.
O: Was it intimidating working with Bill Murray?
JS: Yeah. The first scene that we shot was the scene where I'm trying to get him back into shape, and we're running around with these kites in our hands. And Wes said, "Okay, Bill, just do whatever Jason does." I'm like, "Gosh, shouldn't it be the other way around? This guy's gonna follow my lead, that's not right." Initially it was very scary, but he's such a great actor. He's a genius. The whole time, in my head, I was like, "Does Bill think I'm okay? Does Bill think I'm okay?" I couldn't really relax, but Wes took me aside and said, "Look, you're here. Let's have a good time. Follow me and I'll get you through it."
O: Is it true that you shaved your body for Rushmore?
JS: I waxed my chest and shaved my legs, and stuff like that, but it was kind of pointless. I guess it was character-building.
O: In the movie Slackers, you make out with both Cameron Diaz and [Eisenhower-era sexpot] Mamie Van Doren. How would you compare the two experiences?
JS: Mmm. They're both dolls. That's all I can say. The Cameron thing was fun, because she's a friend, and we couldn't stop laughing and cracking each other up. It was funny, and just kind of pushing it, but I still felt comfortable. But with Mamie Van Doren, I'd never met her, let alone knew what she looked like. So when I got to the room and she was there, I wasn't nervous, but I just wanted to do whatever she wanted to do. She's the reason why the scene is so crazy. She kept pushing it.
O: How did Phantom Planet end up on Sabrina, The Teenage Witch?
JS: I have no idea. I think Melissa Joan Hart was a fan of the band. It was a good learning experience. I now know how to drum to playback.
O: Did you get to talk at all with [talking cat] Salem on the show?
JS: Yeah, we asked the cat to say dirty words. The cat was like, "Fuck this shit." Yeah, the best part was where the cat came in and swore.
O: And you were in the video for the "All About The Benjamins" rock remix.
JS: Yes, yes I was. I shot that the weekend before I did Rushmore, and my cousin-in-law Spike [Jonze] was directing it, so I was just coming to say goodbye to him before I shot the movie. And I guess the guy who was supposed to play their guitar player couldn't do it, so Spike said, "What are you doing today?" I'm like, "Nothing," so he says, "Do you want to be in this video?" He put me in a wig, and I just rocked out until the wee hours of the night.
O: Did you get to hang with P. Diddy?
JS: In my mind, I kind of hung with him, although he probably didn't realize I was there. He was kind of talking to all his people, but I was there with him, which is what mattered.