Mr. Schwartzman, is it weird to watch your own mother in films?
The ’70s section of my mom’s career and of my family’s career I am able to enjoy and I think maybe it’s because I know it’s all before I was born. I can watch The Godfather, for instance. I am thankful for that because it’s such a great film and it would be a shame if I were uncomfortable watching it. I don’t watch that movie and think, “Oh there is my mom, this is awkward.” Or, “My uncle made this film!” I really just think about how it is a great movie with great performances.
So it’s the films that were shot after your birth that you have problems with?
It’s a little more uncomfortable. I tried to watch Rocky III when I was younger and I couldn’t do it.
You are from one of the most prestigious Hollywood families, the Coppolas. What was that like for you growing up?
When I was born my mom didn’t work as much and she really was just focused on raising us. She is a cinephile and an audiophile but she is not too interested in the whole schmooze and the more business side of things. We were kept away from a lot of the vultures. She was protective in that way; we didn’t really grow up on a film set. I have no memories of being on film sets, I have memories of playing baseball. Also I wouldn’t remember those things because I was much more interested in music and stuff.
How is it now, do you feel at home on film sets?
Even now that I’ve worked for a while, every time that I go to a shoot it still just feels so weird and so bizarre to me. Maybe I can’t get over certain high school situations that happened like I was pushed or I was laughed at by a big group of girls, but I still carry a certain “I can’t believe it” attitude. Sometimes I am just like, “I can’t believe that that’s Bill Murray.” It’s the truth. It’s a real feeling, which is totally out of the ordinary for me.
You would think that would go away after a while.
Yesterday George Clooney had his arm on me and we were getting a picture taken and I was having a Jean-Paul Sartre moment where all I could feel was his hand on my shoulder. There were no cameras, there was no line, there was just the hand of George Clooney on my shoulder. I was like, “This is incredible, that’s George Clooney’s arm on my shoulder.” It’s a bizarre feeling. You know what I mean though. I enter a weird mode.
How do you feel right now?
Right now I feel I am talking to you but I am thinking: this is right out of Don’t Look Back. You know, the Bob Dylan movie. Wow, when he is being interviewed. And I am like, “Really? Wow, I am being interviewed, too.”
What is your relation to your childhood love – music – these days?
I just really get a joy out of being around instruments. Even aesthetically, just looking at instruments makes my brain feel much more positive and happy. Especially holding them. It’s just nice. I need to do this, I like to play music and listen to music. If I go too long without any type of music in my life I can feel it.
With such an interest in music, how did you end up being an actor?
Music was everything to me, but I think the reason I never thought I would be an actor was because in the ’80s when I was growing up the big stars were all very muscular. There were these really big movies, which I enjoyed so much, but I never thought I was going to be in the film industry.
Because of the way you’re built?
I never thought I was going to be a muscular action hero type of person. I realized recently that there was no gradation from action movie to comedy in the ’80s. There were just big comedies and big action. There was also Jim Jarmusch and stuff but I didn’t know about that. So I just loved Bill Murray, I loved those movies but I never thought I was going to be a Ghostbuster. I never saw Commando and never thought that was going to be me either. They weren’t speaking the things that I was feeling – but music was. So when I met Wes Anderson…
It’s one of the most beautiful conceptions of my life. It was just, on a grander level, I think very important for me to have met Wes Anderson at that age. That was an age where I was really struggling to find anyone who would take me seriously and really ask me what I was feeling or thinking about who wasn’t my mother. It was tough. I wasn’t really being engaged, no one was talking to me about anything that I was interested in or wanted to learn about. So this great guy comes into my life and says, “What do you think?” I was literally shocked when he asked me what I thought about something. I was like, “Really?” He was my instructor and he’s still my mentor.
What makes Wes Anderson, the man who gave you your first part, so special?
The process in which he makes his movies is so unique and unorthodox. It’s not the normal way to make films. It’s interesting that not only is Wes writing a movie when he’s writing a movie, but he’s also writing in his mind and envisioning the way he wants to make the movie.
Can you give me an example?
For instance when he made The Darjeeling Limited he said, “I would like to write a movie about three brothers in India on a train and let’s begin to write that.” But also he said, “I would also like to really make it on a moving train with no hair and make up departments; the actors should do all their own hair and make up and the suits should already have microphones in them. I would like no trailers, all the actors if possible should stay on set.” He already had a way that he wanted to make it, the experience he wanted to have.