Since his debut as an eccentric teenage oddball in Wes Anderson’s breakthrough 1998 film Rushmore, Jason Schwartzman has shined as slackers and square pegs in offbeat films such as Shopgirl, Marie Antoinette, and The Darjeeling Limited. Now starring as an awkwardly amateur private dick in HBO’s noirish comedy series Bored to Death, the 29-year-old Coppola kinsman also voices a peculiar pubescent fox in Anderson’s stop-motion animated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s book Fantastic Mr. Fox, which opens November 13 in limited release. Because his art imitates his life, Schwartzman, who moonlights as the indie pop-rock act Coconut Records, shares his self-deprecating views on sexuality, style, and surviving high school.
By Brandon Voss
Advocate.com: I can’t believe I’m talking to one of the “10 Most Stylish Men in America,” according to GQ.
Jason Schwartzman: [Laughs] That was very flattering and awesome, but it’s also hysterical. When you felt like I felt in high school, the whole thing that’s occurring right now — GQ, getting my picture taken, talking to you — is bizarre. It feels weird to do interviews because I don’t understand why anyone wants to talk to me. There were all these other guys in high school that were bigger, funnier, and more handsome than I was, so why do you care about what I have to say? You should ask them.
I’ll get their contact info later, but let’s explore this low self-esteem of yours. I was going to draw parallels between your misfit characters like Rushmore’s Max Fischer to gay people who grew up feeling like outcasts, but it sounds like you have similar outsider insecurities.
I had friends growing up, but I struggled to feel like I really fit in. If I was invited to a party, I would just end up sitting on a couch or standing in a corner by myself. But it wasn’t like I was getting beat up or anything. I wish I had gotten beaten up, because at least that would’ve justified why I felt so homesick all the time, even though I was home.
Did movies and music make you feel at home?
Music was big for me when I was growing up because bands were singing about things I could relate to, so I became the stereotypical kid walking around with headphones, coming home, putting on music, and being alone. Finally, when I was 16, I saw Harold and Maude and The Graduate, and they spoke to what I was feeling as a teenager in a way that music had for years. I decided then that I hoped whatever I did in my life would somehow stay close to the warmth I felt from these movies. I still don’t do or know much else other than movies and music, though I’m told that getting into espresso is a wonderful way to go — with the different beans, the machines, and the frothing.
Though he’s ultimately heroic, Ash, the cape-wearing young fox you voice in Fantastic Mr. Fox, is frequently labeled as being “different.” Is Ash a good role model for struggling gay youth?
I hope it makes any kid who feels different feel happy. Ash feels like he’s so little, but it’s his size that enables him to save people in the end. We’re all born with something we’re maybe embarrassed about, but the movie’s about how that’s the thing that makes you beautiful, interesting, and unique. So fuck yes, you should be different.
Bored to Death was created by Jonathan Ames, who once called himself “the gayest straight writer in America.” Ames’s protagonists often explore their homosexual impulses, and his novels The Extra Man and I Pass Like Night as well as his graphic novel The Alcoholic all feature liquor-fueled same-sex affairs. Since his girlfriend left him, will your Bored to Death character eventually wander down the bisexual path?
Who knows? We wait for Jonathan Ames to lead us. But his mind goes where it may, and HBO seems to be behind him doing whatever it is he wants to do. He’s just the right combination of innocence and perversion.
Well, there’s a great story arc for Ted Danson’s character, a magazine editor, where he feels he’s losing all his female readers. His therapist tells him to do something shocking with his life, so he decides to call a male escort to get in touch with the other side of his sexuality. He and the male escort have this amazing night, and Ted’s character quotes Klaus Kinski’s autobiography: “I can either fuck or get fucked — it’s all the same.” I love that line.
Ames also edited Sexual Metamorphosis: An Anthology of Transsexual Memoirs, so I wasn’t surprised to see I Want to Work for Diddy contestant Laverne Cox pop up in the first episode as a prostitute.
Isn’t she amazing? Laverne! She’s the best — and so smart.
Have you ever been offered a gay role?
No, they always skip over me and go right to the other guys.
You starred opposite Molly Shannon on the criminally short-lived 2004 sitcom Cracking Up, which was created by Mike White, who's bisexual. How was that experience?
Mike is actually one of my best friends. We talk all the time and have breakfast together weekly. I did the show because of how wonderful Mike is, so the saddest thing about it ending is that I couldn’t spend more time working with him. If I could, I would just live with Mike, but I think he likes to have his own space. He’s always welcome to come live with me, though.
A couple of years ago, White criticized Judd Apatow, with whom you recently worked in Funny People, for the bullying homophobic humor in his films. Can you see where White’s coming from?
I love both of those guys so much, so I don’t really want to comment on that.
For what it’s worth, I actually detected more homoeroticism than homophobia in Funny People. Do straight guys really talk about their penises that much?
Good question, but I don’t know. I spend a lot of time with my wife and my dog, so I don’t go to a lot of cock-talking parties.
Yes, congrats on your summer marriage to clothing designer Brady Cunningham. More and more celebrities have come out in support of marriage equality by declaring that they won’t marry until everyone can legally marry, but I guess you didn’t get that memo.
See? I feel like I don’t know a lot of what’s happening in the world, so I have to get better about that. But you know who married me? Jonathan Ames. He got ordained through the Universal Life Church.
Has there been any amusing confusion over the fact that your wife’s name, Brady, is traditionally a boy’s name?
[Laughs] No, not yet, but I’m always up for confusion. The last thing I want is for everything to be normal.
Then you must not mind gay rumors.
Oh, are there really rumors about me? That’s fine if there are. What can I do about it? Like I said, I enjoy confusion and fear normalcy.
What are your thoughts on the Hollywood closet?
First of all, I’ve never worked with anyone I knew to be in the closet. I have a lot of gay friends, but no one’s ever hidden it from me. Listen, I don’t know the point of life, but I do know it feels best in those moments you’re really living. I’ve been the unhappiest when I feel closed off out of fear. Everyone — gay, not gay, closet, or walk-in closet — should have the life they deserve. Don’t make your life any smaller than it should be.
If nothing else, Jason, I hope our little chat has bolstered your self-esteem and made you better aware of your gay fans.
Thanks, because I’m not aware of any fans. I do nothing to live in secrecy, but I really don’t get recognized anywhere. Though I was walking my dog recently when someone yelled, “Hey, Jason!” They said it so sweetly that I turned around and said, “Hey!” Then they said, “Fuck you, you asshole!” and drove away.
Advocate.com, November 2009.