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
Also on HuffPost:
HuffPost Entertainment is your one-stop shop for celebrity news, hilarious late-night bits, industry and awards coverage and more — sent right to your inbox six days a week. Learn more