David Schwimmer is an enigma to me. So much so, that I called him one during our recent interview. Since "Friends" ended in 2004, Schwimmer -- part actor, part director, part "Xanth" fan who really wants to be in the movie adaptation (we'll get to that) -- is the hardest former cast member to label. And, as I found out, that's the way he likes it.
Schwimmer is promoting "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," where he reprises the role of Melman, a neurotic giraffe, who -- along with his friends -- is trying to return to the Central Park Zoo in New York City. When I met Schwimmer in his Manhattan hotel room -- a room that featured a quite illustrious buffet; Schwimmer swears it wasn't all his -- he was very polite but, well, much nerdier than I expected. For instance, Schwimmer is such a huge fan of the "John Carter of Mars" book series that he pulled some strings in an effort to get a role in the film version. Along those lines, he also has a message for Peter Jackson, should the "Hobbit" director decide to adapt the "Xanth" series...
That's a lot of food.
I did not eat all of this. This was for several people.
That will be me lede, "David Schwimmer has quite the appetite."
[Laughs] "Schwimmer has four entrees at once."
This is always so weird. "Hello, stranger. I'm going to ask you questions now."
Totally cool. As if we're having an interview.
"As if," yes. You've played Melman three times now. Can you get as attached to an character that you do voice work for as much as a one that you're physically playing? Like, would you ever say, "C'mon, Melman would never do that"?
Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I think there's a little more freedom -- I guess -- or a little more leeway with where these characters go, because it's animated. But, yeah, I'm very protective of the characters and I would be as protective of Melman. In fact, I kind of feel that even in the final film that is "Madagascar 3" -- you know, they had to make some cuts. OK, fine -- given. But, I feel like some of his fears were not as evident as I would like. I feel like they are serving so many stories and so many new characters in this third installment, that I kind of watched it very selfishly. I'm protecting my guy. And I'm like, I feel that some of his phobias are not as present. And that's part of who he is. So, if there's a fourth, I'm going to make sure.
Melman makes a Triborough Bridge reference. He's going to be sad when he finds out it's been renamed.
Oh no! I know. It was funny, actually, we watched the film in Cannes a week ago and I don't think that joke landed [laughs].
I'm guessing the Duane Reade jokes didn't go over as well, either, as they do in New York.
No! It's crazy.
Your voice work is interesting because it's your voice. Is that flattering?
I mean, I guess it's ... well, I don't know. That's a good question.
If you told a director, "I want to do a crazy character," I feel they might say, "Well, we just want David Schwimmer's voice."
Yeah, yeah. Maybe. Maybe that's why Jeffery [Katzenberg] had me in mind for Melman. Because I think there's a venerability there and kind of an awkwardness. My read on Melman is, also, there's a sweetness there. And while, as you can see, that's so not me. I'm really not sweet at all.
You should throw something against the wall right now to prove your point.
I know, I should break a glass right now. "See!" I don't know, man. I haven't done a lot of voice work -- I've done this character. And then when I heard that "John Carter of Mars" was being made, I literally knew the makeup guy on it, Bill Corso. I was working with him on something else and he told that he had just come from "John Carter of Mars." I was like, "OK, please tell the director that I will do anything." I just wanted to come visit the set, but then he said, "Well, we already shot everything." And I was like, "Well, if anything comes up..." And, lo and behold, there's one line from a Thark warrior that I got to go in and do. It was really just doing it as a lark.
I love that you're calling it "John Carter of Mars," which is what it should have been titled.
Oh, yeah, well I go from the book series. It was one of my all-time favorite series growing up. So, I really just wanted to be a part of that. That and -- do you know the Piers Anthony series, the "Xanth"?
I'm aware of it.
I heard a rumor that Peter Jackson might be tackling the Xanth world. It's a world all of magic. It's incredible, "A Spell for Chameleon."
And you want to be a part of that?
I would love to be a part of that.
Maybe that will get back to someone. Luckily, this conversation will be made public.
You know, I love that series -- the world of Xanth. That was another one that I think I got into when I was 12 or 13. They are an amazing series of books.
You are an enigma to me. From the fact you want to be in Xanth, to directing "Trust," to starring in movies like "Duane Hopwood." Of the former cast members of "Friends," you're the hardest one to define. Is this by design?
It's not by design, so much as that's who I am. I grew up that way. I like to challenge myself. I like to learn -- so I like to try new things and try to keep growing. Whether it's as an actor or director. You know, I grew up watching all kinds of films. So, as an adult, I wanted to be involved in all kinds of plays and television and film. So, I don't know. I don't have a plan, really. That's the biggest thing: I don't have "the Five-Year Plan" -- like, "I'll do this movie, then that." I have never done that; I've just gone where my gut tells me to at the moment and what I'm drawn to at the moment -- whatever story that is. Sometimes that serves me well professionally and other times it hasn't, to be honest. But, I'm happy [laughs]. I'm just doing what I want, really.
When "Trust" came out you seemed really excited about directing. I assume that's something that you want to continue to pursue?
Yeah, I love directing. And people couldn't understand how I went from directing "Run, Fatboy, Run," this kind of broad romantic comedy set in the UK...
You know, I'm well aware that you directed that movie. But I always forget that you directed that movie. The public perception of your personality is hard to associate with that film. I mean that as a compliment.
I don't take it any other way. I mean, even if it's not a compliment and it's just an observation, that's totally cool with me. Yeah, I had to ask or field a lot of questions about why this movie, "Trust," after "Run, Fatboy, Run." And I was like, "Why not?" Why one day do you feel like a hamburger and then the next day I feel like sushi? I mean, why can't you like all kinds of film, and want to try your hand at different kinds of film? And, again, I'm the first one to say that I'm not going be successful at everything. But if I have the opportunity and it means a lot to me -- and I'm putting all of myself into everything that I do. I look at this as a very long career. If I'm lucky, I'll be doing this another 30 or 40 years -- even if it's stuff that very few people see. Or, I'm going to go do a play and no one sees it. If I'm getting something out of it and I'm growing as an actor, or I'm growing as a director and it's meaningful to me, that's enough.
Ross Geller is a hard guy not to like and we spent a lot of time with that character. But I thought when you played Captain Sobel in "Band of Brothers," that was a really interesting decision. I mean, he's a very hard guy to like.
That was a fantastic experience, on so many levels. Creatively, the challenge as an actor. But, also because many of my uncles and great uncles served in World War II. So, a way to honor them and do more history about their lives and the history of all men and women that served was really ... I don't know, I was just feeling like I was a small part of something important. I remember the premiere was at the beaches at Normandy and so many of the veterans from Easy Company showed up for the premiere and I got to meet some of these guys for the first time. And they [laughs], you know, they ribbed me pretty good because of portraying Sobel, who they admired and despised at the same time.
I feel that "The Pallbearer" is better received now than it was when it was released.
I do know quite a few people who really like that movie.
That's nice to hear. I don't hear that a lot. Well, first of all, very few people saw it. It was considered a box office failure. To be honest with you, I was drawn to that script -- you know, it was Matt Reeves and J.J. Abrams and Jason Katims. The original script that I was drawn to was the quintessential black comedy. It was a really dark comedy. And I love Joe Orton, Pinter and other dark comedies. And I was like, "I'm in!" I fought for that role. I really wanted to play that guy and be a part of that film. And then, somewhere along the line in the making of it and the reshoots, I think Miramax really was trying to push Matt into making it more of a romantic comedy. So the film, I think, ended up not being exactly what Matt envisioned. And, you know, that's the industry. That's how it is. But, I think that's why it didn't work. I think it was trying to be two films.
That's interesting. I didn't know that push back from the studio was there.
Or, "work as well." Because I think there are parts of it that are quite wonderful, but, I don't think it worked as well as it could have.
The first thing I remember seeing you in was "NYPD Blue" as 4B, the pain in the ass of Detective Kelly.
Oh, man! I love that show. Those were the first four episodes of "NYPD Blue" -- with Bochco and Milch and David Caruso.
I make the argument often that the first season of "NYPD Blue" ranks as one of the best seasons of television ever.
I loved that experience. I was sorry they had to kill me off [laughs].
I feel you have more pull now.
No, but that was always there. That arc of that character: the subway vigilante taking justice into his own hands. I loved that. I would love to play more characters like that.
IMDB says that you were in an episode of Police Squad. Something tells me that might be an error, but I have to ask. Is that true?
No. There's a bunch of fictional things on IMDB. That's one of them, another was that I was an extra in "Biloxi Blues"?
Yeah, that's on there, too. "Police Squad" would have been great.
Yeah. No, I wasn't on it.
Well, you should have been.
[Laughs] I know! Right?
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.
PHOTOS: Summer Movie Preview 2012
Release Date: May 4 Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson Why You're Excited: Because it's The Avengers! Following five movies of set-up ("Iron Man," "Iron Man 2," "The Incredible Hulk," "Thor" and "Captain America: First Avenger"), Marvel combines its superheroes into one blockbuster. Early word on "The Avengers" has been strong, and the film is already an international hit. You should probably get your tickets now, if you haven't already. [Photo: Disney]
Release Date: May 11 Cast: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloe Moretz, Helena Bonham Carter Why You're Excited: "Dark Shadows" looks like director Tim Burton's first actual "Tim Burton Movie" (and not, y'know, "Alice In Wonderland") in quite some time. The Gothic horror-comedy (based on the cult television series of the same name) stars Depp as an undead vampire living in the 1970s. Funny! Dark! Weird! Just what audiences want from their summer entertainment? [Photo: Warner Bros.]
Release Date: May 16 Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, John C. Reilly, Anna Faris, Megan Fox Why You're Excited: Cohen tries to rebound from the "Bruno" disaster with "The Dictator," a bit of scripted comedy that finds the merry prankster playing a deposed North African tyrant. The comedy is the first big laugher of the summer, but online reactions to the trailer -- and Cohen's pervasive self-promotion -- have been mixed. This feels like Cohen's make-or-break moment, for better or worse. [Photo: Paramount]
Release Date: May 18 Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Brooklyn Decker, Alexander Skarsgard, Liam Neeson, Rihanna Why You're Excited: With Michael Bay sitting on the sidelines this summer, Peter Berg steps into the blockbuster action arena to take his place with "Battleship." This thing looks like wall-to-wall madness, with space aliens arriving on Earth with eyes on destroying humanity by using a board game advanced weaponry. Only Tim Riggins and RiRi can save us! (Battleship pun goes here.) [Photo: Universal]
Release Date: May 25 Cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jermaine Clement, Bill Hader Why You're Excited: Will Smith makes this look good, even if the last film in the "Men In Black" series came out ten years ago. "Men In Black 3" had a tumultuous production -- the $200-plus million film didn't have a finished script when it started filming -- but considering Smith's star power, here's guessing that won't matter to the bottom line. Or your enjoyment? After all, the trailer is kinda great. [Photo: Sony]
Release Date: May 25 Cast: Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Jared Gillman, Kara Hayward Why You're Excited: While it's not "The Avengers," director Wes Anderson has assembled a pretty impressive cast of stars for "Moonrise Kingdom," his first live-action film since 2007's "The Darjeeling Limited." It's a new Wes Anderson movie, so, duh: of course you're excited. [Photo: Focus]
Release Date: June 1 Cast: Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth Why You're Excited: This isn't your spring's Snow White movie. Unlike "Mirror Mirror," "Snow White and the Huntsman" is an action blockbuster that envisions Snow White as a warrior. Having Bella Swan and Thor in the same movie is great, but the draw here could be Theron, doing over-the-top villainy as the evil queen. [Photo: Universal]
Release Date: June 8 Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall Green, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba Why You're Excited: Ridley Scott's first science-fiction film in three decades is one of the most anticipated blockbusters of the sumer -- something the ubiquitous marketing campaign won't let you soon forget. "Prometheus" -- which appears to mix scares and sci-fi action in equal measure -- is not a prequel to "Alien," but is of the same universe. All of which means, it's pretty much a prequel to "Alien." [Photo: Fox]
Release Date: June 8 Cast: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen Why You're Excited: The first two "Madagascar" films have pleased family audiences to the tune of over $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales. Considering the third entry is opening against "Prometheus" and its potential R-rating, expect a similar windfall to follow [Photo: Paramount]
Release Date: June 15 Cast: Tom Cruise, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Akerman Why You're Excited: The best jukebox musical ever comes to the big-screen with the help of an all-star cast, an awesome soundtrack and "Hairspray" director Adam Shankman. This year's "Mammia Mia"? For the accountants at Warner Bros., here's hoping. [Photo: Warner Bros.]
Release Date: June 15 Cast: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Leighton Meester, Vanilla Ice Why You're Excited: Everyone rightly piles on Adam Sandler for his lack of trying (see: "Jack and Jill," "Just Go With It"), so let's look to "That's My Boy" as progress. It's an R-rated comedy that stars Sandler as a ne'er-do-well dad trying to get back into his son's life. The trailer is riotous (not kidding), so maybe this will be the first Adam Sandler movie you've liked since "Funny People"? "50 First Dates"? When was the last time you liked an Adam Sandler movie? [Photo: Sony]
Release Date: June 22 Cast: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson Why You're Excited: The newest Pixar feature is the first to focus on a female protagonist. And she shoots arrows! So, if you liked "The Hunger Games," this one is for you. Just remember: it's Pixar, so bring the Kleenex. [Photo: Disney]
Release Date: June 29 Cast: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Bruce Willis, Adrianne Palicki, Channing Tatum Why You're Excited: Because judging from the trailer, this sequel-cum-reboot of "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" actually has a sense of humor about itself. That's good! Also good: The Rock and Bruce Willis cracking wise and blasting massive machine guns. [Photo: Paramount]
Release Date: June 29 Cast: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Olivia Munn, Cody Horn Why You're Excited: Channing Tatum plays a male stripper who's secret desire is to make furniture. Steven Soderbergh directs. The trailer featured extensive use of "We Found Love." Yes, this is your favorite movie of the summer. [Photo: Warner Bros.]
Release Date: June 22 Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page, Greta Gerwig, Penelope Cruz, Roberto Benigni, Woody Allen Why You're Excited: Last summer, Woody Allen released his most successful film yet with "Midnight In Paris." Can "To Rome With Love" be even bigger? Well, the cast is certainly bigger, thanks -- in part -- to the fact that Allen himself makes an appearance, the first time he's done so since "Scoop" in 2006. Couple him with Baldwin, Cruz and a youngster like Eisenberg, and "Rome" could be like "Marvel's The Avengers" for the parental set. [Photo: Sony Classics]
Release Date: July 3 Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary Why You're Excited: Though "Spider-Man 3" came out in 2007, Sony decided to reboot your friendly neighborhood webslinger with a fresh feel: Indie director Marc Webb ("500 Days Of Summer") and Andrew Garfield replace Sami Raimi and Tobey Maguire, and the trailers have a bit more snark than the earnest earlier Spidey films. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey, Peter Parker's lady love, is a genius bit of casting, if only because Emma Stone makes everything better. [Photo: Sony]
Release Date: July 4 Cast: Katy Perry Why You're Excited: Do you ever feel like a plastic bag? If so, see Katy Perry's concert documentary (in 3D) over the Fourth of July. Baby, you're a firework, etc. [Photo: Paramount]
Release Date: July 6 Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, Benicio Del Toro, John Travolta, Salma Hayek, Uma Thurman Why You're Excited: Director Oliver Stone brings Don Winslow's violent bit of pulp fiction to the big screen with an all-star cast of people you mostly like. About a pair of SoCal drug dealers (Kitsch and Johnson) who try to save the woman they both love (Lively) from the hands of a powerful cartel, "Savages" could be the action choice of the summer. We hope Stone changed the book's mediocre ending, though. [Photo: Universal]
Release Date: July 13 Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane Why You're Excited: For his first feature film, "Family Guy" impresario Seth MacFarlane didn't bring "Family Guy" to the screen. Instead he wrote and directed "Ted," an R-rated comedy about a man (Wahlberg) and his talking teddy bear (voiced by MacFarlane). Ever want to see a teddy bear rip a bong hit? Here's your movie. [Photo: Universal]
Release Date: July 20 Cast: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Morgan Freeman, Marion Cotillard, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt Why You're Excited: If you aren't excited to see Christopher Nolan's final Batman film, you're probably dead. [Photo: Warner Bros.]
Release Date: July 27 Cast: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill Why You're Excited: Despite being surrounded by controversy in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, "The Watch" feels like a hit lying in wait. After all, it features an all-star cast and is about space aliens. With a friendly release date, don't be surprised if this is a sleeper summer hit. [Photo: Fox]
Release Date: July 25 Cast: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas Why You're Excited: The last time Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris released a movie over the summer, it was "Little Miss Sunshine," an indie hit that earned a Best Picture nomination. No pressure on their follow-up, though! Starring "Sunshine's" Paul Dano, "Ruby Sparks" is a quirky dramedy about an author who writes a female character that comes to life (Zoe Kazan, Dano's real life girlfriend). Quirky! [Photo: Fox Searchlight]
Release Date: Aug. 3 Cast: Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton, Joan Allen, Albert Finney Why You're Excited: Since you probably won't have gotten your fill watching Jeremy Renner play a mindless assassin in "Marvel's The Avengers," he's picking up the "Bourne" franchise from Matt Damon. The twist? He's not playing Jason Bourne, but Aaron Cross, a new brain-washed killer. If Renner isn't a big A-list star by the time Labor Day rolls around, something really went wrong. [Photo: Universal]
Release Date: Aug. 3 Cast: Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, John Cho Why You're Excited: No Arnold, no Mars, no problem? That's the hope for director Len Wiseman, who has remade the 1990 Schwarzenegger classic ("classic") with Colin Farrell in the lead role. Because putting Farrell in a remake of a cult movie ("Fright Night") worked so well last summer... [Photo: Sony]
Release Date: Aug. 10 Cast: Meryl Streep, Steve Carell, Tommy Lee Jones Why You're Excited: If it's August, it's time for a sleeper Meryl Streep comedy. Like "Julie & Julia," "Mamma Mia!" and "The Devil Wears Prada" before it, "Hope Springs" hopes (ding!) to capitalize on summer's perpetually ignored adult audience. Steve Carell tapped into that group last year with "Crazy, Stupid, Love," so obviously he's the perfect co-star. [Photo: Sony]
Release Date: Aug. 10 Cast: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis Why You're Excited: Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis were so funny together at the dour 2012 Academy Awards that the chance to see them pair up onscreen feels too good to pass up. "The Campaign" comes out in a crowded early August corridor, but it's timely subject matter -- political elections -- could allow it to have some substantial box-office legs. Jay Roach ("Game Change") directs. [Photo: Warner Bros.]
Release Date: Aug. 17 Cast: Whitney Houston, Jordin Sparks, Derek Luke Why You're Excited: "Sparkle" features the last ever film appearance by Whitney Houston. The curiosity factor alone will get you into the theater for this one, a remake of the 1976 film about a girl group fraying under the pressures of fame. [Photo: Sony]
Release Date: Aug. 17 Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Randy Couture, Jason Statham, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Liam Hemsworth Why You're Excited: See "the cast." [Photo: Lionsgate]
Release Date: Aug. 24 Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez Why You're Excited: Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a bike messenger who gets wrapped up in a dirty cop's shady dealings. Considering the dirty cop is played by Michael Shannon, expect much scenery-chewing. [Photo: Sony]
Release Date: Aug. 31 Cast: Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Jason Clarke, Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce Why You're Excited: Previously titled "The Wettest County," "Lawless" is a red-blooded Prohibition-era drama from director John Hillcoat ("The Proposition"). With a beefy cast of budding A-listers (Hardy, off "The Dark Knight Rises," in particular), expect this to be the thinking person's choice for Labor Day viewing. It's either "Lawless" or some two-bit horror movie, y'all! [Photo: TWC]