Jason Schwartzman tells the unbelievable story of how he nabbed his first role – and bonded with the indie director over shoes
Rushmore Academy was where Wes Anderson went to school. Well, not exactly – it was called St John's School, and it was only after he scoured private schools as far as the UK that he realised his alma mater was the perfect setting for his semi-autobiographical movie about a precocious turd who forms extracurricular clubs and falls head over heels for a hot school teacher. In a very Anderson-y way, he banked his private school experience for Rushmore. Like Rushmore's main skeeze Max Fisher, Anderson, too, was academically underachieving and had a throbbing crush on an older woman. Released in cinemas 16 years ago this year, Anderson's sophomore effort was Jason Schwartzman's big screen debut. Here, Schwartzman – who plays an entitled, snobby writer in Listen Up Philip, out this Friday – gives us the untold story of the making of Rushmore.
JASON SCHWARTZMAN BUMPED INTO THE CASTING DIRECTOR AT A PARTY
“I was 17 and I lived in LA and there was a party. My grandfather was a composer and he had done the score for the movie Napoleon. In Northern California, there was an event where they played the movie and had a live orchestra play his score. At the last minute, I went. I rented a tuxedo with tails and I had a cane because I was kind of a clown. This woman named Davia Nelson was doing the Northern California casting for Rushmore. Davia was talking to my cousin, Sofia (Coppola), and she said, ‘I’m trying to I’m casting this movie called Rushmore and we are looking for a 15-year-old teenager who is a playwright and in love with this older woman.’ Just the summer before, I had written a play and directed it and I was in love with my nanny, like deeply. And Sofia said, ‘Oh, that's funny. That sounds like my cousin, Jason.’ She pointed to me and I’m wearing a tuxedo and tails it was just a fortuitous type of weird lucky moment.
I went over and she said I’m a casting director. I was thinking, casting director? You got the wrong guy. I play drums and I’m not an actor. Then, while I was talking to her, the clown in me was like this could just be a crazy experience that I can like talk about – it could be fun. I’m not gonna get it so I should just try it! I wrote down my address in LA and she sent the script to my home in LA and it was the first script I’d ever read.”
SCHWARTZMAN AND ANDERSON BONDED OVER FOOTWEAR
“When I read the script for Rushmore, that was the first time I really feel like I locked into a movie. I had an appointment on a Friday. I skipped school and made my own outfit to wear to the audition. I just remember meeting Wes and immediately feeling not as nervous as I was because he was younger than I thought he was gonna be. He also had these Converse sandals and I had green New Balances with bright red reflectors and I remember there being instant admiration for each others' footwear – maybe that was on purpose on his part to kind of settle me.
THEY BOTH VIBED OFF A MUTUAL LOVE OF WEEZER'S PINKERTON
Then we talked about Pinkerton, the Weezer album, a lot and we talked about lyrics from it, and before I knew it, I had been in the room for 15 minutes and then he’s like, ‘Should we read it?’ I remember thinking and maybe even saying, ‘I don't know if we should because this has gone so well. I don't want to. This is enough. You’re so awesome. Let’s not ruin it.’ Anyway we end up doing it and then we did it a bunch of times and then we started improvising. He asked me if I would stick around for a few hours while he auditioned other kids. Then he said that he had kids coming in to play Bill Murray’s kid part in the movie would I want to audition those kids, so I (read the part of) Bill Murray and then I got a call back and they just kept whittling it down. That's how it happened.”
HE HAD TO WAX HIS CHEST AND HANDS TO PASS FOR A TEENAGER
“I had to get my chest and hands waxed regularly to pass as a high school student. My chest was only one time and it was a mistake, let's just put it that way. It was was because there was a scene in the movie where I wrestled and Wes was a concerned that I looked like I was 17 playing a 15-year-old. Even at 15, I could grow a beard. They were nervous that I looked too adult and so they waxed my chest for this wrestling scene and it was a disaster. I mean it was a disaster like the scene in 40 Year Old Virgin – minus my friends. Yeah and the hands, they would just do that regularly. But, as I say, anything for the craft.”
WES ANDERSON'S BROTHER MADE A MAKING-OF DOCUMENTARY
During production of Rushmore, Wes Anderson commissioned his trusty bro, Eric Chase Anderson, to make a "digital press kit". He also appeared as the aquarium architect in the film, but his legacy lies in this insightful, 19-minute two-part documentary. In it, there are side-by-side comparisons of the storyboard with the finished product – a welcome visual trove for insatiable film nerds. Funnily enough, Jason Schwartzman hasn't seen it. “It's on YouTube?” he says. “I didn't know that.” Awkward…
A SMALL BOY NAMED RYAN APPEARS IN ALMOST EVERY SCENE
For reasons unknown, someone known only as Ryan appears in almost every scene of Rushmore and clocks more screen time than Bill Murray. Keep your eyes open for his cameos. Shame he didn't win Best Supporting Actor. Next time, Ryan, next time.
Listen Up Philip is out in cinemas this Friday