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Jason Schwartzman can't let go of 'Listen Up Philip' character

Jason Schwartzman in

Jason Schwartzman in "Listen Up Philip" distributed by Tribeca Film. Photo Credit: Tribeca Film

Jason Schwartzman has come a long way since his 1998 debut in Wes Anderson's "Rushmore," but one theme has remained a constant over the ensuing 16 years: The 34-year-old has never made a movie that's anything less than interesting.

"Listen Up Philip" stars Schwartzman as a misanthropic New York author opposite Elisabeth Moss and Jonathan Pryce. The actor seems to love the movie, telling amNewYork that he's still learning about the character and gaining new revelations today. The film, directed by Brooklynite Alex Ross Perry, opens Friday.


Philip is a pretty unlikable guy and he stays that way. Was that an obstacle for you?


My experience of reading it was exactly probably what it would be like for someone to watch the movie. Just a side note, which you don't get from watching it, it was really well written. A tremendous amount of care had been put into the composition of the thing. I really admired that. Things that an audience will never see -- you can tell a great deal of care had been put into the construction of the sentences. So that was nice, but I will say, the character was abrasive. As you see in the movie, right out of the gate he really lays into his ex-girlfriend. It was difficult to hear/read it.


So what convinced you to do it?


After about 15 to 20 pages of this kind of behavior, just this way of being, I felt claustrophobic in it. And I needed a break. And I put it down. And I spent like 45 minutes trying to do other things. But even though I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about it. I was thinking, 'Wow, that's just crazy that he would say that,' or whatever. And I was saying, 'Well, I wonder what is going on?' So go back to it, another 10 pages, just reading these 10 pages very slowly, 10 excruciating pages of well-written relentless cruelty, sometimes, and again just put it down.


What was your ultimate reaction to it?


When it's over, I was asking myself questions like, 'Well, can you have a guy that's this abrasive for that long? Can an audience watch that? He doesn't really change all that much and if anything he changes for the worse. What am I meant to make of this? And I was excited about it.


Was there any temptation to lighten things up?


Even when I got the part, and I wasn't talking about it from [the perspective of] "I want people to like this person," I didn't ever say that to Alex. But part of me, in the beginning we would talk about, if you have a distorted guitar, you're playing it for the whole record, isn't it going to not sound distorted? How much can someone take of this kind of person saying these things? We would experiment, and I don't mean in a grand way, but walk down that road for a little bit of 'Let's see, what it's like if we take this out, or we add a story about this, or we make him do this?' And it was so immediately apparent that because the script is what it is and it's so clearly about a guy with this venom that if you try to last minute put on a bunch of little happy faces it's gonna make him seem passive aggressive.


Is it rare for a part to stick with you to this extent?


It's twofold. One is, this movie, Alex shot it and got it out so quickly. To be honest with you, I just had so much fun during the movie. Alex is one of my closest friends now and hopefully someone I'll work with a lot in my life, and I think it's all part of it. This is a bigger character for me in that, a lot of it, this idea of really going at people and stuff is so not my way of life it was just different and fun to do. So it stays with you. As I go around now, I'm just an [expletive].

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