“I don’t like this whole Skype-speaker thing,” a friend told me, when I asked if they wanted to accompany me to see the IFF Q&A with Jason Schwartzman. “Like, it’d be better if they just got someone less famous, but in person, you know?”
I’m not personally a huge fan of Skype, so it surprises me that I actually strongly disagree. The quirky nature of these Skype presentations has worked almost perfectly for the speakers IFF has brought us via video chat. Last year’s Wes Anderson Skype Q&A, which was broadcast to two auditoriums because ticketing for the first sold out so quickly, was among the more memorable events I’ve been to on campus. Friday night’s chat with Schwartzman, who wore Beats by Dr Dre headphones and a scruffy black beard, followed suit.
Listening to Schwartzman felt very familiar because his manner of speaking is so distinctive, and so similar to that of the characters he has portrayed (think: HBO’s Bored to Death). He integrates self-effacing humor, or just bizarrely specific details, into articulate and intellectual sentences. When asked for his favorite works, or those he draws the greatest inspiration from, he replied “Hmm, that’s a great question, like one I’d maybe liked to have in an email an hour ago…” and then proceeded to rattle off Paul Shrader’s Mishima, Francois Truffaut’s work (in particular Stolen Kisses), and Al Pacino as favorites. “I’m trying to think of books, but I’m so embarrassed to even talk about books because you guys have read so many more books,” said Schwartzman, with stacks and stacks of books piled around his office in the background.
Schwartzman is probably best known for his many appearances in Wes Anderson films; his first was Rushmore, about an over-ambitious high school student, which IFF screened before the conversation. Since then, he’s played roles of various sizes in The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. The collaboration really began long after Rushmore, when Schwartzman was filming Marie Antoinette (he played the titular character’s weirdo husband). “Wes happened to be in Paris when his tour ended, and he ended up living with me for a while, and that’s when we came up with the idea for The Darjeeling Limited.” Don’t get the wrong idea — a blossoming artistic friendship being founded in Paris “sounds very romantic but it wasn’t. It was frustrating and horrible, and a lot of long nights and very exhausting.”
Part of the cult of Wes Anderson is that enjoyable feeling of seeing familiar faces from film to film; one can sense the chemistry between the cast, the fun that must have been had in making the movie. Schwartzman spoke to this sensation, saying that Anderson strives to make everyone on set a community — there are no trailers for actors, just one big green room to hang out in together. While filming Grand Budapest, he rented out a small hotel for cast and art directors, so “the movie wouldn’t stop when we wrapped filming.” Schwartzman mentioned that one day when he wasn’t filming, “Jeff Goldblum also wasn’t working and he asked me to get some soup with him, and we ended up spending the day together… So I won in that situation.”
Perhaps what makes these Skyped-in speakers so successful is the casualness of the format; it’s a strikingly intimate way for an audience to interact with a speaker. The first question by an audience member, and by far the best, was “I’m just a huge fan of your work and I just wanted to know a bit more about what you’ve done today.” Note that this isn’t even a question you can really ask an in-person speaker, because the answer would be something like, “I took the train to Providence…”
Schwartzman replied that he’d been working with writers on the new season of Mozart of Jungle, the Amazon series of which he is a writer and producer. Again, the perfect balance of his intellect and humor was pervasive in his response; he mentioned the wonderfulness of having a job where you get to argue and fight about things that aren’t even real, and then noted that he “mistimed some meals, so then I wasn’t hungry when everyone else ate lunch.” He then asked said student how her day was going, to which she replied that this was probably the highlight. “Also, follow up question: what are you doing for the rest of the day?”
Even with IFF moderator, Schwartzman was friendly, rather than professional — he began by mentioning that he’d known the given student “since he was small, now he’s a lot taller,” and ended the conversation, in reply to the moderator’s thanks for his visit, with a “Thanks for emailing me!” For me, the acknowledgement of his relationship with the moderator seemed to make us all friends — we were all just having a relaxed conversation with our friend of a friend, Jason Schwartzman, on Skype.
“What’s so fun is talking to you guys right now, because you guys are all so interested, and it’s the worst when you feel like people aren’t interested anymore. It’s probably the most excited I’ve felt all day,” my friend Jason said when we had to hang up. And in response to the audience applause, his giant floating face winked.