Jason Schwartzman has just accused me of having a crush on Terry Gilliam. Sitting in a small room of movie writers, the frequent Wes Anderson actor and perhaps one of Anderson’s most iconic characters (he was Max Fischer, after all), talked about a lot of things: working with Anderson, his love for various children's movies and the classic book by Roald Dahl, the unique way they recorded, and you know, my apparent crush on Terry Gilliam. Schwartzman is now the voice in Anderson’s beautifully crafted, charming, nostalgic, touching and very specifically Anderson-esque (right down to the paintings, to the retro cell phones, to Mr. Fox's natty suits) Fantastic Mr. Fox.
After talking to Jason (I can call him that now) about how much more tangible the old school, stop motion animation appears, and how I had just discussed this very subject with the great auteur Terry Gilliam the day before, Schwartzman looked at me all sly and said: “You’ve got a crush on Terry Gilliam.” After I protested something like, “No…I just think he’s so unique and funny and sometimes genius and I really admire him and…” Schwartzman wouldn’t let up, looking directly at me while nodding his head up and down to say: “Oh, you're blushing! Yes you do!”
OK. Very funny Max…I mean, Jason. But when a female writer sniffed “Gross,” I whipped around proclaiming, “What’s wrong with Terry Gilliam?!” She answered, “He’s like four times your age.” To this, I say: “Who cares? So what? Age is just a number.” Enthusiastically Schwartzman replies “Exactly! That’s what I’m talking about!” He reveres Gilliam too: “He’s a powerful brain.” He then adds, with a wink, all overly sensually, but humorously: “I’m just saying, enjoy your body, enjoy your mind, and la, la, la!”
Alright. I’m officially charmed. Especially when he then admits to having a crush on co-star Meryl Streep.
Yes, I know we’re in the seventh grade. Or rather, the seventh grade class drinking coffee in the posh SLS hotel in Beverly Hills. But after I saw him in the reception area and he made a point to high five me, in the name of Gilliam, well, aw...forget it. Jason Schwartzman can accuse me of a crush any day.
But the actor seems to truly love his work on this movie and especially the actors he was surrounded by: Streep, George Clooney, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray. The cast all recorded together, live, like a radio show (which is unusual for animated pictures), giving the picture a more intimate feel. And getting back to crushes, we all start to wonder if Schwartzman has one on Clooney as well:
“He’s a great actor. Just how incredible his voice is. When we were working together, because we were doing it all live and together, there would be scenes I wasn’t in. And Wes and Bill and George would be doing a scene together and I would just sit and watch, and I would close my eyes, and just sitting so close to George Clooney…I know it sounds funny, but I was like, ‘He’s got an incredible voice.’ So many nooks and scratches and cuts on that voice, it’s pretty amazing.”
As for his character, Clooney’s Mr. Fox’s frustrated little son Ash, Jason attributes a lot of the characterization to Anderson: “I struggle to talk too much about it, because I really felt like Wes wrote it so well. And that’s been my experience working with Wes. It’s just right there. You could see the whole thing, how it works, how to perform it, and if you don’t, he’s so articulate in helping you. But [also] the animators did so much of it, because he’s so cute and the way he moves and spits, the way he just stands…everything about him. I felt like, I didn’t do that. That’s Wes and the animators.”
And yet, Schwartzman does understand his character, angry Ash who really just wants to impress his dad. And he understands the complexity of children. When I ask him if he thinks studios underestimate what children can handle on screen, he answers: “I know there’s so many brilliant people that work at the studios whose job it is to like, dissect society and try to ask people questions and do polls and all kinds of stuff, so I think people know something. But I will say, a couple things: One is I do feel that what’s great about Pixar [is that] those movies smuggle in so much. I’m laughing and getting so much out of it, and then I’m looking around and there’s little kids around me and I’m thinking, ‘Well what are they laughing at?’ But somewhere it’s soaking into their bodies, like other messages and death and whatever. Like in ‘Up.’ That’s a heavy movie in the beginning.”
He continues by talking about other movies, and most impressively, Francois Truffaut’s masterpiece “The 400 Blows”: “I think that movie is incredible because it’s from the kid’s point of view, and he perceives that his mom is with someone else, and he’s lonely and he’s angry and he’s an outsider. He’s so little…I feel like we’re all just like little people and we have so many emotions, and can be so angry and confused…Did you see that movie, ‘Jesus Camp’? I was like watching it and thinking about these emotions. I almost felt like, in a weird way, this was religious molestation. I almost felt like their little bodies were too little to contain the guilt and emotions they were meant to feel."
He says: "But when I was little, [I watched movies like] 'The Neverending Story,' or like 'Labyrinth,' or 'The Secret of Nimh' -- that’s a dark movie. But my favorite was 'The Last Unicorn,' and that’s a weird ass movie.”
Extending Truffaut’s “400” to Anderson’s “Fox” and finally relating to his character Ash, Jason says, “I feel like a movie like this, had I seen it when I was little, it would have helped me. I felt little. And I felt like girls didn’t like me back. I felt different. I was totally different. And I was made fun of all the time. I was never as good as an athlete as I wanted to be, and I did want to be one. So I totally support filmmakers making movies where they realize kids are complex.”
As for Roald Dahl and the fact that he too understood that children were complex, sometimes dark, and filled with emotions, the actor states, first that he never imagined he'd star in one of his favorite children's books: “I didn’t expect to do what I was doing for a living. I didn’t expect to be a little kid one day, saying: 'Yeah I’m going to be in that book one day, animated.' The whole thing is an out of body experience, and then when I pull out of that body, and out of that body and then out of that body, it’s like a Russian doll of out of body experiences and it’s just very bizarre... [But] what I would also attribute to Roald Dahl’s longevity and generations continue to love him and why he remains to be so popular is because there’s something about all of his work that is a bit mysterious. And left in the dark. And that’s the thing that makes people want to know more.”
He’s right. And OK, maybe I have a little crush on Terry Gilliam…Actually it was Werner Herzog but that discussion was the following day.
Read more Kim Morgan at her site, Sunset Gun.