2005_10_Interview_Schwartzman.jpgBorn and raised in Los Angeles, 25-year old Jason Schwartzman won our hearts as the love-sick extracurricular-activities king in 1998's Rushmore. Since then, Schwartzman has starred in I Heart Huckabees, Bewitched, and his former band Phantom Planet provided the theme song “California” for The OC. In his latest film Shopgirl, based on the novella by Steve Martin, Schwartzman plays an awkward bachelor competing against a rich, older computer executive (Steve Martin) for a pensive and “plain jane” struggling artist (Claire Danes) who oversees the Saks Fifth Avenue glove counter in Beverly Hills. Jason spoke with Gothamist about his experience working with the famous comedian, his character's intentions, and why he's currently thinking of moving to Manhattan.

Your latest film has been described as "L.A. Story" meets "Lost in Translation." Would you say that's an accurate comparison?
That’s an interesting take, though I’d say its closer to Lost in Translation. I think this movie is about people trying to connect with other people in a big city and how hard it is to truly relate to someone these days. There’s all these ways to instantly communicate -- cars, computers, telephone and transportation - and even with all that, it’s so hard to find people and have an honest communication with them. And Claire [Danes’ character] is stuck floating around in the city, looking for someone and maybe something might not be the right thing but it's the necessary thing. I think that LA Story and Lost in Translation also deal with people wandering in search of something that’s real, and how funny and awkward that can be some times. Though I think it’s different too because Shopgirl has a lot of other things going on.

How was playing a semi-slacker vying for Claire Danes’ character’s affections?
I wouldn’t exactly call him a slacker. Basically, I play a guy named Jeremy who stencils amplifiers with his logo and I guess he’s a slacker in comparison to Steve [Martins'] character, who’s quite successful. But my character is really passionate, motivated and got some spark though might not be as successful as others. [Jeremy] meets Claire [Danes' character, Mirabelle] in a laundromat and instantly falls for her and tries to take her on dates in the beginning of the movie, but he’s just not what she wanted. She wants something really specific and he just can’t offer that to her because he’s in his own world.

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At the same time, he's such an amazing character to play because he doesn't over-think anything. He just speaks right from his heart and his gut and doesn’t get stuck worrying about what he said. You know how some times you can over-think yourself into not doing anything? This guy only knows what’s in front of him and that contrasts Claire [Danes' character], who is stuck when the film starts because she really does over-think stuff and in her own head. She’s kind of in this cocoon of thought, doubt and hope, and she can’t move. Whereas Jeremy is just the opposite: always moving because he’s never really thinking of anything and the kind of guy you’d worry inviting to a dinner party because he says what he thinks. He can be insulting at times but doesn’t mean to be. You know how a little can ask "why are you so short" and not mean to be offensive? He's kinda like that though doesn’t mean to be. He's super honest, super sincere, and means everything he says. He just lacks that one extra though before of "maybe I shouldn’t say this." Just a really, sweet caring guy who's trying to get Claire but doesn’t know how to do it [because] he can’t figure her out. He goes through a really huge change in the movie so he was an amazing character to play.

It seems that in several of your films you tend to play a loveable oddball who has trouble getting the girl .
I'm just trying to play characters that are after something. It just happened to be girls or love, and I can relate to that. The difference between the character of Jeremy and the other ones I played is that their whole point is that they're really in their own head, definitely over-strategizing life and they know what they want and they go after it obsessively -- and that’s kind of what’s funny about them. Whereas I think this guy isn’t over-analyzing anything. He’s just totally in the moment and it's almost his journey to get to a place with a little more thought and awareness of the people around them.

How was working with Steve Martin, who wrote the script and played Claire Danes’ other love interest?
Incredible. It was really a dream come true for me. When I was little, one of the ways my family would bond was to see movies together. And since we were kids in the 80's my parents could only take us to see comedies, and basically Martin was the star of the majority of those films. So he makes up a large part of my consciousness, oddly enough, just from growing up with him. As I got older, I discovered his comedy records and then later his writing. He's a great inspiration to me on every level.

It's weird because I got to work with him yet never act with him. I only know him as a writer since we never share the screen together because we both want the same girl. But he's so amazing to work with. As a writer, he's always searching for how to do everything differently, to try things and experiment. He's like a scientist or an investigator -- searching, searching, searching. He's after something and never tied down to one specific thing. I think that's a beautiful trait.

He wrote [the script] and put a lot of time and effort into making sure all the words were correct yet still wanted to play with it and he gave me tremendous permission. So without him and the blueprint for his character and this beautiful story, I would be lost. There were no scandalous set stories, but I just know it would be awesome when he came on set to watch the takes and I would go talk to him. It would be great to see his eyes searching; looking how to do [scenes] differently and I just learned a lot from being around him.

Do you still dream of being on the cover of Modern Drummer with a mullet or is the film industry it for you?
You know, it’s funny. At this point, I think I would garner a lot of hate mail if I was now on the cover of Modern Drummer seeing as I’m not a modern drummer anymore. But as a kid, I did aspire to being on the cover - actually, I didn't necessarily want to be on cover but I wanted in the back [of the magazine] where they feature different songs and wanted the song I play drums on to be there and have kids try to learn it with their drum teacher. That was what I wanted that more than anything. I also remember when I was little there was a contest where you could send in postcards from Modern Drummer to win Rod Morgenstein's giant drumset, which was spray-painted purple and had dragons on it. I bought more than ten issues and sent in all these postcards. I lost, obviously, but I still look at Modern Drummer.

How often do fans and Rushmore fanatics approach you and begin reciting some of your memorable lines?
No too often, but it's awesome when they do; it really makes my day. I'm proud of that movie and that movie is why I am here: I was playing drums when I got that movie role and it changed the course of my life for the best, I think, and it's given me so many great adventures. So for me to hate the very thing that brought me here would be ridiculous. I had a great time making it and I love Wes [Anderson] and Bill [Murray] and it was just a dream come true. So it means a lot when people say they like it because we worked really hard on it.

People come up to me all the time and say 'I know you don't care, but' and I'm always like 'how could I not care?'

The soundtrack to the movie of your life would consist primarily of:
The Ramones, Beatles, Beach Boys, some classical music, some Raymond Scott, Elvis Costello, Weezer, some Built to Spill, Guided By Voices, Superdrag, and the first OMD record.

Do you have a favorite movie you like to watch over and over again?
I go on spurts. I'll watch one movie over and over again and I usually try to watch comedy before I go to bed so that I have pleasant dreams. But I'd have to say Young Frankenstein, which I can watch forever. The Producers, Stripes, What About Bob, Groundhog Day, and I can watch both The Graduate and Stolen Kisses any time. But I go in spurts, and lately I've been Watching School of Rock every night and I’ve been watching Valley Girl a lot. It just depends on the mood.

How’s living and working in LA? Rumor has it you intend to head out to the East Coast.
To be honest, I'm happy in LA because my family is there and I think that's a great reason to live in a city - to be near the ones you love. But actually, I'm planning on moving to New York this year and I can tell you one reason why I think New York is incredible: I think things happen to you that you don't expect have happen to you. In a city where you walk around, it's impossible to plan your day and your life as accidents will happen, you'll overhear things, bump into people, and take unexpected turns. But in a city where you drive a lot, you know your destination and you try to get there as quickly as possible unless there's a roadblock or a detour. Whereas I think in New York every step is a detour in every direction.

Any advice for struggling actors?
Yeah - you'll make it. I just find that the harder you work and the more effort you put into yourself, the better you'll be. Also, the more you're not focused on showbiz and instead focused on life, learning about other people, and keeping your eyes open and trying to be aware of the world.

Shopgirl opens in NYC on Friday, October 21st.