The cool dude
Jason Schwartzman is a cousin of the Coppolas and one of the actors being credited with the rebirth of Jewish hip in Hollywood. No big deal, he tells Stephen Applebaum
IT IS useful to have connections in Hollywood, and Jason Schwartzman’s are better than most. His mother is the actress Talia Shire, the sister of Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola. His cousins include Sofia Coppola, the Lost in Translation director, and Nicolas Cage. Such a lineage can, of course, be a burden as well as a boon, but the laidback Schwartzman takes it in his stride. “I feel like it’s more of a big deal for other people,” he says. “I feel weird at how not weird I feel. I just I grew up with them, they’re my family.” He laughs. “I don’t know what to do about it.”
At 27, Schwartzman is the youngest member of the showbusiness clan, which he says puts him in a unique position.
“There’s a distance, and because of that I’m a fan. We’re a family when we’re together and discussing things, and then when it’s about work I think, oddly enough, I can just shut it off and admire.”
When he played Louis XVI in Sofia Coppola’s stylish but insubstantial film Marie Antoinette, he was just like any other cast member, he insists.
“I never felt if there were three actors around Sofia I could just walk over and go: ‘Excuse me, she’s my cousin, I can cut the line.’”
Schwartzman admits that having a different surname has probably helped ease the weight of the Coppola connection. His Jewish father, Jack Schwartzman, who was a film producer, died in 1994, and, although his mother is Roman Catholic, the actor says he was raised with a “good sense” of both faiths.
“At times I’m everything. My father wasn’t, like, super Orthodox or anything like that, but” — he smiles — “he was enough to not be too modern.”
Last year, the influential cultural website Salon, wistful for the days of Dustin Hoffman, James Caan, Lou Reed and their ilk, included Schwartzman in a list of 10 young men it believed “might just inspire the rebirth of Jewish male cool”. Schwartzman was placed fourth, behind Oscar-winner Adrien Brody, Jake Gyllenhaal and Liev Schreiber.
Today, the rankings might need revising. Schwartzman’s latest film project, The Darjeeling Limited, which he co-wrote with Roman Coppola and the director Wes Anderson (who launched Schwartzman in 1998’s Rushmore), oozes cool.
Moreover, if posts on the internet are anything to go by, his appearance opposite a naked Natalie Portman in a short prologue to Darjeeling called Hotel Chevalier is already making him the envy of redblooded males everywhere.
“I have always been a fan of Natalie Portman’s work,” says Schwartzman. “It was how it looked. It was fun.”
When they filmed the intimate two-hander, he was actually worried that he would make Portman sick.
“I flew to Paris and when I got off the plane I was really ill,” he recalls. “I had a sore throat, I had lost my voice, and I had the kind of fever where you’re shaking in the shower even though the hot water’s completely on and the cold’s completely off. So I felt bad kissing her because I thought I’m going to get her sick.”
And did he? “Well she never called me to say she had got sick,” Schwartzman laughs.
A year later, he was in India with Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody playing estranged brothers who embark on a “spiritual” journey together in The Darjeeling Limited. For Schwartzman, an erstwhile musi- cian and Beatles obsessive (“I think they’re the best band ever”), it was a dream come true. He could not wait to visit the place where the Fab Four met the Mahirishi.
“The minute I landed I was, like: ‘How far is Rishikesh from here?’ and the others were saying, ‘What do you mean?’ I’m, like: ‘Well, that is where the Beatles were. C’mon!’ I was excited to get to India.”
For the three actors, the making of the movie turned into a bonding experience. There was no make-up, no trailers, no getting away from one an- other. “Being in India really helped create the appearance of us as brothers,” explains Schwartzman, “because, had we shot the film in LA, we’d have had places to escape to after work. In India, there is nowhere to go. It was a case of sticking together or being really apart — which would have been a completely miserable and lonely experience.”
At the weekends, Schwartzman went shopping for musical instruments. He bought sitars and tanpuras, although he admits that he cannot really play them. “They are probably the hardest instruments in the world. But I can definitely make noise on them,” he grins.
Music is more than just a hobby for Schwartzman. He enjoyed a hit with his former band, Phantom Planet, when its song California featured on US TV drama series The O.C., and he recently released a new album, Nighttiming, under the name Coconut Records. “Go to iTunes,” he enthuses. “It’s pretty cool.”
Meanwhile, the film work keeps coming. He will soon be seen as Ringo Starr in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and then playing opposite Ben Stiller in The Marc Pease Experience. Whether these projects will enhance his coolness remains to be seen. The Darjeeling Limited goes on general release on November 23
Jason Schwartzman: his appearance next to the naked Natalie Portman in a Darjeeling prologue is making him the envy of the web
Schwartzman, Adrian Brody ( centre), and Owen Wilson in The Darjeeling Limited