Jason Schwartzman - The Darjeeling Limited
Working with director Wes Anderson on The Darjeeling Limited was a laugh a minute adventure for Jason Schwartzman. He tells Miles Fielder why
‘I felt like we were kids making a movie,’ says Jason Schwartzman. ‘Every day we set out to work was an adventure. We never knew what was going to happen.’
The 27-year-old American actor might well be reminiscing about his big screen debut in 1998 in Wes Anderson’s brilliant high school comedy Rushmore. Instead, Schwartzman, who over the course of the following nine years has fashioned himself a cool career making hip, offbeat films, is describing the experience of working with Anderson once again on his new movie, The Darjeeling Limited.
‘When Wes first brought it up I was so excited,’ Schwartzman says, his face radiating genuine enthusiasm. ‘We met on Rushmore, and although we’ve been really good friends since then we hadn’t worked together again. So when Wes said I’d like to make a film about three brothers on a train in India and I’d like you to be a part of it, I was so excited. I knew it would be different because now we are friends, whereas on Rushmore we were only just getting to know each other.’
The Darjeeling Limited follows a trio of estranged siblings with arrested development issues (played by Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody), who in the wake of their father’s death, reunite to undertake a train trip across India that’s intended to bond them together once again. The brothers’ spiritual quest, however, is quite literally derailed when circumstances – some originating from the vagaries of travel in the Indian continent, others from the boys’ adolescent behaviour – conspire to maroon them in the middle of the desert with a cumbersome 11 suitcases and an unwieldy laminating machine, setting in motion a new and unforeseen course of events.
The film’s a three-hander in more ways than one. While it bears Anderson’s unmistakable idiosyncratic comic tone and his carefully designed visual and aural styling, The Darjeeling Limited was co-written with Schwartzman and his cousin Roman Coppola (the son of Hollywood legend Francis Ford, Jason’s uncle). The three writers began work on the script in Paris – where, coincidentally, all three were living thanks to various filmmaking commitments – before taking a trip to India to finish it. The idea was that the co-writers would have an adventure abroad and use their experiences to flesh out the bare bones scenario – brothers, train, India – which Anderson had dreamed up. For Schwartzman, making The Darjeeling Limited was an unexpected delight from start to finish. ‘I was working on Marie Antoinette,’ Schwartzman says, referring to the funky history romp made by his other cousin, Sofia Coppola, ‘and Wes was on a press tour for The Life Aquatic and it ended in Paris. I said, “If you want to stay and sightsee I’ve got a room you can stay in.” And he ended up living with me for three months.
‘Every night after I got home from work Wes would come walk my dog with me,’ continues Schwartzman, beginning an anecdote that swiftly starts to sound like a scene from one of Anderson’s films. ‘Our conversations would eventually turn to telling stories and advice giving, and Wes would whip out this little notepad and start writing it down. After about three weeks of walking the dog he said to me, “I think we should bring Roman in on this.” I had no idea what “this” was. I thought Wes meant walking the dog. I wasn’t sure why he wanted Roman to come walk the dog as well. So I said, “In on what?” And Wes said, “In on this movie we’re writing.” I said, “Really? We’re writing a movie together? I didn’t know that.” And Wes said, “I want to write a movie with you and Roman and I want it to be about these three brothers on a train in India and I want it to be the most personal script we can write. I want to base it only on real things that have happened in our lives. And I want the writing to be an adventure for us. I want us to go to India and get into trouble and make a movie about it.”’
Schwartzman quickly embraced the spirit of the enterprise. He says, ‘It was decided that all three of us would go to India to complete the script and not come back until we had finished it. We all got open-ended tickets and went to India, and there we not only researched and wrote our script but also acted out what we had written. For example, if we were walking down a street and we came to a temple we would take out our scripts and act out a scene and see what worked and what didn’t.’
‘Now, in India you get stared at a lot, whether you’re acting out a scene from a film or not,’ continues Schwartzman with a grin. ‘Often we’d look up and find we were surrounded by ten Indian men who were all looking at the script with us and trying to make sense of it all and put in their two cents about it. It was very friendly. Anyway, a lot of these impromptu writing/rehearsal sessions actually became some of the locations we used in the finished film. We also found a lot of the people who appear in the movie on our trip. So the trip, which was five weeks long in the end, solidified a lot of the things we were unsure of in our script and contributed to the making of the film in ways we could never have conceived.
He adds: ‘It was a real culture shock, but it was very exciting. So, yes, we felt like big kids and everyday was an adventure.’
Schwartzman says making The Darjeeling Limited has changed his attitude towards making films in general. He’s got a couple of typically offbeat films in the works – Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, a mock music biopic written by Knocked Up’s Judd Apatow in which Schwartzman plays Ringo Starr; and The Marc Pease Experience which takes Schwartzman back to the classroom for the first time since Rushmore in a comedy about a former high school musical star who can’t move on from his youth. And having also made a short film with Anderson, Hotel Chevalier (which is related to and precedes screenings of Darjeeling), Schwartzman has signed up to work with his friend and collaborator for a fourth time which will see him providing a voice for the stop-motion animated Roald Dahl adaptation The Fantastic Mr Fox.
‘It’s always changing,’ Schwartzman says of his attitude towards making films, ‘but right now my favourite thing is being part of a movie. I love developing a character with a director, but more than anything I love the process of making movies. I like the feeling that we’re a little army coming together to do their best to make one perfect thing. That’s the spirit of it I love.’
The Darjeeling Limited is on general release from Fri 23 Nov.