Jonathan Ames Is 'Bored To Death'

When the HBO series Bored to Death begins its second season on Sunday, creator, writer and performer Jonathan Ames will watch his main character, also named Jonathan Ames, continue to solve crimes on the cheap.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

If you need a detective but don't have cash to spare, there's only one man for the job: Jonathan Ames.

(Soundbite of HBO series, "Bored to Death")

Unidentified Man: Your ad said that your rates were reasonable. All the other detectives are way out of my league.

Mr. JASON SCHWARTZMAN (Actor): (as Jonathan Amendments) I charge $100 a day, but I'm good. I'm one of the - well, I'm good.

HANSEN: Ames, played by Jason Schwartzman, is a private detective and the main character in the HBO comedy series "Bored to Death," which begins its second season tonight.

By day, Ames is a Brooklyn writer who's down on his luck. He has a bad case of writer's block with his second novel. His longtime girlfriend dumped him. Ames consoles himself by reading a Raymond Chandler classic crime novel, and gets a crazy idea. He posts an ad on Craigslist, offering his services as an unlicensed private detective.

As I mentioned, the character, Jonathan Ames, is played by actor Jason Schwartzman. What I failed to mention is that the creator of "Bored to Death" is the real writer, Jonathan Ames, and he's in the studio at NPR West in Culver City, California. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JONATHAN AMES (Creator-Writer, "Bored to Death"): Well, thank you for having me.

HANSEN: You've been described as a man of many talents - I mean, you write, you perform, you're dealing with this TV show now - and you've also been described as someone with a rather kaleidoscopic personality. What side of you are we seeing in your character Jonathan Ames?

Mr. AMES: Well, I do think I've based a lot of characters on myself in my books, and even my essays were a version of a persona. And it was a form of low self-esteem meets narcissism, because it's like all these versions of myself, yet they're all flawed and somewhat perverted and strange. But their hearts are usually in the right place.

But with this version of Jonathan Ames on the TV show, I was able to create a character who speaks to my own wishes to be a hero and to help people. And he comes up with the idea of being an unlicensed private detective.

HANSEN: Jonathan Ames, you mentioned creating this character that's based on yourself being heroic. How often have you've attempted to do something crazy or heroic because it makes a good story?

Mr. AMES: Well, crazy - definitely. I've done many things because it would make a good story. I used to write a column for a newspaper, the New York Press, and I used to do many strange things to help fill my column. I once attended an animal sacrifice, which was very upsetting to me. I don't even like to get a paper cut. But, you know, it made for a good column.

HANSEN: So you make a cameo appearance in the second season of "Bored to Death." It's a very revealing cameo, at that?

Mr. AMES: Yes.

HANSEN: Yeah?

Mr. AMES: I play a character named Irwin, and I guess in a moment of insanity, I wrote that my character is completely naked. Now, normally this is called full frontal nudity, but I was so intimidated and the air conditioning was very high -that I am now calling it faux frontal nudity. I've been saying lately, though, as kind of a claim to fame, I'm probably the first creator of a television show in history to do full frontal nudity. Matthew Weiner, despite his name, has not done it - the creator of "Mad Men." Alan Ball, the creator of "Six Feet Under" - anyway, I did it. It was fun but very upsetting.

HANSEN: I want to play a clip from season one. It's actually the pilot episode. And Ames is working on his first case. A woman's contacted him because her sister is missing. And she suspects Vincent, the sister's boyfriend, is behind it.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Bored to Death")

Unidentified Woman (Actor): (as character) I think Vincent's a meth head. And she wanted to break up with him, and maybe he went homicidal on her.

Mr. ZACH GALIFIANAKIS (Actor): (as Jonathan Ames) Breakups can be hard on a guy.

Unidentified Woman: What?

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS: My girlfriend moved out today. It's actually kind of upsetting.

Unidentified Woman: Are you really a private detective?

HANSEN: Wearing his emotions on his sleeve. And you say he mans up a little bit more in the second season of "Bored to Death"?

Mr. AMES: Oh, very much so. The first few episodes, he really gets knocked down. But then he begins to have a turnaround about mid-season. And he mans up but still, you know, his heart is always sweet, I would hope.

HANSEN: Yeah. How involved are you in the production? I mean, can you stay somewhat detached even though this is basically your stuff?

Mr. AMES: I'm not detached at all. I'm very involved. When we're shooting, working about 14 hours a day - and it's kind of wonderful. It's sort of - you know, I was a novelist most of my life. But a TV show is kind of like the page is in three-dimension. So, whereas normally I would write what the light is like and what a building looked like, now I have a locations department and lighting people. And so it's beautifully collaborative that way. And it's kind of like writing a novel but in a serialized fashion.

HANSEN: Jonathan Ames is a writer, performer and the creator of the HBO comedy series "Bored to Death," which begins season two tonight. He joined us from NPR West in Culver City, California. Thank you. Good luck.

Mr. AMES: Oh, thank you. And thank you for your interest in the show.

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