TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Jason Schwartzman, is the star of the HBO comedy series "Bored to Death." He got his first leading role while he was still in high school, playing a prep school student in "Rushmore," which also starred Bill Murray. He worked with the director, Wes Anderson, on two subsequent films, "The Darjeeling Limited" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox." He also co-starred in "I Heart Huckabees," "Funny People" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World."

Although Schwartzman didn't plan to become an actor, he thought of himself as a musician, he's from a movie family. His mother, Talia Shire, played Adrian in the "Rocky" movies and Michael Corleone's sister Connie in "The Godfather" films, which were directed by Schwartzman's uncle, Francis Ford Coppola.

In the HBO series "Bored to Death," Schwartzman plays a pretty unsuccessful writer whose love life isn't any better. In pursuit of some adventure and money, he takes out an ad offering his services as a private eye, unlicensed. He gets a lot more adventure than money out of it. In this scene from the opening episode of the current season, season two, he's starting a new job teaching a writer's workshop.

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

Mr. JASON SCHWARTZMAN (Actor): (As Jonathan Ames) So here are my three rules of writing: One, it's difficult; two, there will always be more rejection than acceptance; and three, try to give pleasure with every sentence.

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): (As character) But it's easy for you to say there will always be more rejection than acceptance. You're a published writer. You've already made it.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Well, actually, my second novel was just rejected. I have to pay back my advance to my publisher. It's pretty demoralizing.

GROSS: The character Jason Schwartzman plays in "Bored to Death" is named Jonathan Ames, the same name as the writer who created the series. Schwartzman was already a fan of Ames's work when they first met a few years ago about a movie project Ames was developing. But when Ames brought up another project, which turned out to be "Bored to Death," Schwartzman knew that was the one for him.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Three weeks before meeting him, I was talking with a friend of mine about how I felt a little bit adrift creatively. I had just come home from working on a film and, you know, there are some actors, and I describe it as like they can just get a part like one could order a pizza. They just say I want this, I want that with that on it, and then two days later, they're shooting it. Other actors, you know, it is a bit harder of a process, and there's many different stages of it.

So I was talking to my friend about how I just felt a little bit antsy and, you know, what does the future hold? And we were talking about stuff, and he said, well, if you could just have, like, your dream part, what would it be?

And I said hmm, my dream part. I guess it would be to play a private detective of some kind because I love "Stolen Kisses," which is this movie by Francois Truffaut, and I love "The Long Goodbye." And so now flash back to the present with Jonathan Ames.

I say, so what is the story that you wrote about? What is this possible HBO show about? And he said oh, it's about a writer who becomes a private detective. And I said wow, that sounds great. And I said, wow, I'd love to read the short story of that. How is that possible? He said, well, it's in you know, I'll e-mail it to you.

So I read it. I loved it. He e-mailed me the script. I read that, and I immediately just put it kind of all out there in an e-mail to him, basically saying if there's any way I could try to convince you or anybody that I would like to be a part of this, please let me because I think that this is a part that I must play.

And then I go, and I met with everyone at HBO, where I kind of described my take on the character and how I thought that I would portray it.

GROSS: So how did you describe your take on the character of the writer and unlicensed private eye that you play on "Bored to Death?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Well, there were a couple points that I felt pretty strongly about, the main one being that I didn't think it should be a spoof. You know, I'm playing a character who is emulating a private detective. You know, it's kind of acting like one because he wants to.

You know, I said of course, it will be tricky, but if I'm overtly too old school, noir private detective, the clients who are hiring me won't believe me. You know, I said basically, I shouldn't be a bumbling private detective - and nor was it written that way, by the way. But I wanted to really reinforce that yes, it's a comedy, but I should try be the best private detective I could be, especially when I'm meeting with clients about a case because they need to believe that I can get the job done.

So I said yes, I won't be a great private detective, or I will solve things in an unorthodox way, but I will always try to be the best private detective possible. So that was sort of the main thing.

And the other thing I just said was I don't want him to be judgmental as a character because what I love about Philip Marlowe is though he's a good guy, he kind of is respected by the bad guys. He's kind of like one of them.

He drinks a lot. He's got troubles with women. He can be violent. And I like that he is moral but also kind of tough. And so though my character wouldn't be to that extreme, I did want to have the character be, you know, not judgmental and like a goody-two-shoes type of person.

GROSS: So even though you didn't want this to be a spoof, it's still funny. And you want your private detective to be trying hard, but he's still often inept, and he's certainly not two-fisted and not hard-boiled and not very good at handling pain.

And to prove that point, I'm going to play a scene from this season of "Bored to Death." And this is a really funny scene. This is you go to an S and M dungeon to steal the hard drive of a dominatrix for a client who's a cop. And the cop's afraid that he's on her list, and he's going to be blackmailed.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Yes.

GROSS: So in a subsequent episode, two tough guys who used to own this S and M dungeon demand the hard drive back because there's all kinds of incriminating stuff on there, but you tell him you can't give it back because it was for a client. You don't have it anymore. You have no idea where it is.

So you say you can't give it back. They basically kidnap you and demand that you give it back to them and then decide to basically hold you for ransom.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Yes.

GROSS: So here are the tough guys trying to get the information out of you.

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

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) So who hired you?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (As Ames) I can't tell you. I won't tell you.

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) Let me make this simple for you. We're on the lam. We need money. That hard drive was our IRA, our retirement fund.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Yeah, jerk-off, we had pictures, we had videos. We could've made a fortune. It was a blackmail goldmine.

Unidentified Man #2: (As character) Now all we have is you and whoever hired you. So you have a choice: Give us your client's name, or we hurt you.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (As Ames) That's a terrible choice. Ow. Charlie horse. That is so cheap.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) One more. Name.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (As Ames) Okay. His name's not going to do you any good. He's a cop. He knew there was going to be a raid. You guys were laundering drug money. You're not going to blackmail a cop.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) He's right. I guess we kill him.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (As Ames) What? Kill? No, no killing. No killing. I'll pay you. How much do you want?

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Now you're talking. We want to open up a new dungeon in Boston. That's about 20 grand. We only use the best equipment.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (As Ames) $20,000? That's impossible. You see, I'm also a writer. My second novel was just rejected. I have to pay back my advance. I teach at night to make ends meet.

Unidentified Man #2: (As character) I can't take this (BEEP). Let's just kill him and get out of here.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) No, shut up. Do you have any rich friends?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (As Ames) Yes, I have one, but I don't think we should involve my friends. Ow, oh, ow.

Unidentified Man #2: I really like hitting you. Are you going to call your rich friend?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (As Ames) No. Okay, okay, but I just want you guys to acknowledge that I probably could've taken a few more punches, but because we're in a rush, I'll make the call now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's my guest, Jason Schwartzman, in a scene from "Bored to Death," along with Domenick Lombardozzi, who used to be in "The Wire," and Jim Norton as the tough guys from the S and M dungeon.

So did it hurt when they were hitting you? How did you do that?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: They were faking it on a lot of those hits, but there was there's a scene that precedes that scene, where they're hanging me over a bridge, and they pull me back over a railing, and they slap me, and because of the camera angle, it was impossible to fake it. And so they were really hitting me hard. And that hurt.

GROSS: Your screams are very funny. I mean, I hate to laugh at somebody's pain...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...but your screams are so funny in that.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Oh, no, that's okay. It's funny because when they first, like, when Jonathan and I, you know, he's, like, first telling me about the show, and yeah, you know, you can be breaking down doors and beating people up. And yes, I get to do that, but I do find more than not, I feel like I'm getting beat up, and I'm getting chased more than I thought I would.

GROSS: That is true. What's the funniest scrape that your character has gotten in?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Physically?

GROSS: Yeah, or otherwise, romantically, a splitting of those two.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Gosh, there's so many. That episode right there is an example of what I like about the second season of the show, which is that the stakes kind of get higher.

In the first season, I'm just starting out, and a lot of my cases are strange and kind of non-threatening, and as I'm going on, especially in this season, the stakes do get higher, and, you know, this is an example of where I really could die.

And I like that about the show, that it's kind of the troubles are getting a bit more harsh.

GROSS: Now, in addition to starring in "Bored to Death," you wrote and performed the theme song.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: So how did you decide what kind of theme to write, like what it should sound like, what the lyrics should be?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: This is an embarrassing story.

GROSS: Great.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: And one that I feel terrible about because it will expose me as a kind of low-key liar. But I was talking to Jonathan about doing the theme song to the show, and I was totally flattered by the opportunity to try that, and I did tell HBO that I would like to submit the song with other songs and, you know, have it try to win the slot fair and square.

And I was in Los Angeles, and I was finishing a film called "Funny People" that I was acting in, and it was taking up all of my days on the set. And I was supposed to be writing the song, and every week I would get an e-mail from people at HBO saying: How's the song coming? And I would just kind of say everything is great. Even though I had nothing written, I would say everything is great. And I would quickly, like, invent something that I had written and describe it, like, it's great. I've come up with this walking bass line. I think it's very right for the song. And they'd write back: Great. Can't wait to hear it. Then a week later: How's it going? Very good. I've got some horn parts that I think are going to be really good. Another week: How's it going? Wonderful. I've got this piano thing.

And basically, I lied for a month on the fly about what was in this song, musically. Then it came time really for me to submit a demo, and to not seem like a liar, I went back through all of my sent e-mails and saw all of the things that I had said were in the song. I wrote them down and then basically to fulfill the lie, I just wrote the song based on every fib I had e-mailed. And I wrote it in 10 minutes.

GROSS: Okay, Mr. Liar.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: We will now listen to the theme song and go down the checklist of things...

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Oh boy. I'll send you the e-mail...

GROSS: That were in the song, and then you ended up having to put in. So we're listening for horns.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Walking bass line.

GROSS: Walking bass line, piano. Anything else?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Yes, oh, sort of like noir-ish, kind of obscure lyrics. And that's it.

GROSS: Okay, we've got our checklist. Let's take a listen. This is the theme from "Bored to Death," written and performed by my guest, Jason Schwartzman.

(Soundbite of theme to "Bored to Death")

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (Singing) All the shadows in the city, (unintelligible) missed the questions you need to ask me. Bored to death, cut, mad and lonely. Bored and death, cut, mad and lonely. Bored to death, cut, mad and lonely.

GROSS: Wow, check, check, check and check. You got all of them in.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Also, it should be noted that I wrote the lyrics with Jonathan Ames. We got to collaborate together, and it always makes me happy at the end of the show, a little credit appears that says written by Jason Schwartzman and Jonathan Ames, and it was cool to collaborate with him on the lyrics.

GROSS: You mentioned the reason why you were so distracted when you were supposed to be writing the theme for "Bored to Death" was because you were working on the movie "Funny People," which is a movie directed and written by Judd Apatow.

And I want to play a scene from that film because in this film, you play -you're living in a house with several comics Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen and you're the one who suddenly starts to make money because you're in this really terrible sitcom called "Yo Teach!" And you're trying to be like the real hip teacher.

And I want to play a scene from the film in which you are sitting on the couch with a girl who's your neighbor, and you are really admiring yourself on TV. So this scene begins with the actual TV show. You're in front of the class, and you're all talking about rappers.

(Soundbite of film, "Funny People")

Unidentified Woman (Actor): (As character) Kanye.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (As Mark Taylor Jackson) (As character) Kanye.

Unidentified People (Actors): (Unintelligible).

Unidentified Woman #2: It's all about Kanye.

Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (As character) Eminem.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (As Jackson) (As character) Do you guys know who the greatest rapper of all time is? William Sh-Sh-Sh-Shakespeare.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (As Jackson) I know it's silly, but it's fun. You know, people like it, you know.

Ms. AUBREY PLAZA (Actor): (As Daisy) Yeah, it's just cool that you're on TV, I mean...

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (As Jackson) I can't believe you haven't seen this before.

Ms. PLAZA: (As Daisy) Yeah, I can't believe it's gotten by me.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: She is great, Aubrey Plaza.

GROSS: My guest is Jason Schwartzman. He stars in the HBO series "Bored to Death," which is in its second season. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Jason Schwartzman, and he stars in the HBO series "Bored to Death."

Now, you made this movie, "Funny People," with Judd Apatow writing and directing. You've made several films with Wes Anderson: your first film, "Rushmore," in which you were a prep school student; "The Darjeeling Limited," which one of several brothers on the way to India to see your mother; and "Fantastic Mr. Fox," the animated film, in which you were the son of foxes George Clooney and Meryl Streep.

And it seems like by starting your career in "Rushmore" with Wes Anderson that you managed to start your career with a young director who was probably a little older than you, but you were both getting started. I'm wondering if that was good for you. Do you know what I mean? If that really worked for you to start with somebody who was closer to being a peer. You were still in high school, right?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Yes.

GROSS: But he was still closer to being a peer than if you'd started with, say, Clint Eastwood in a movie.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Absolutely. I mean, you know, it's so strange because I did not think that I was going to be an actor or in film. At the time, I was a senior in high school. I was making an album with my band that I had been in since eighth grade.

And I was so nervous when I went to audition for that film. I had never auditioned for anything before. I wasn't an actor. And I went into a room full of little professional actors, literally 20 kids, you know, and their moms are next to them. And they looked like they have been doing this for a long time, and they feel very confident.

And I was suffering from low self-esteem, as a lot of people just do in high school, and I just didn't think I should be there. I didn't know why I was there. And I was really nervous.

And yes, I will say that when the door opened, when it was my turn to go in and audition, when I saw that Wes was young, there was something that just was released into my blood that felt like: Who knows if I get the part, but this guy is nice, and I could be friends with this guy.

We talked for almost 20 minutes about a band called Weezer, about an album called "Pinkerton." Then we talked about my shoes that I was wearing and where I got them. And he was not what I was expecting when I walked into the room.

And then on set, I mean, he felt older than me. He was only 27, but I was 17, and, you know, that gap is pretty big, you know, those years. And we were friends. He really was the first person who treated me like an adult.

GROSS: Did it help that he wasn't part of the circle that your family was in? In other words, he wasn't connected to "The Godfather," which your mother co-starred in, your mother Talia Shire. He wasn't part of, like, the "Rocky" contingent, which your mother co-starred in as Rocky's wife. It wasn't somebody who knew you well as Talia Shire's kid or Francis Ford Coppola's nephew, even though I will say that the person who got you the audition against your will because it's not like you wanted it was, you know, Davia Nelson, who our listeners might know as one of the Kitchen Sisters, who does know the Coppola family.

But anyways, when you were in there with you and Wes Anderson, there was no previous existing big connection.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: It's funny because, like, even when you say like Talia Shire's son, that only kind of becomes part of the conversation - once I became an actor and people were writing, like, you know, an article or something about me, it becomes something to, you know, put in the article.

But as a teenager, just going to high school, I mean, it's not really part of the conversation. And my mom...

GROSS: It wasn't - your fellow classmates didn't know that your mother was Talia Shire, or is it that they didn't care?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Who knows? I mean, it just wasn't part of the...

GROSS: Were they the sons and daughters of people more famous?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: No, absolutely not. But and I'm not at all passing judgment on other actors, but there are other actors whose children did grow up on film sets because they were working a lot, probably, in the '80s and stuff, and, you know, their kids were around, and that's great.

When my mom had us, it just so happened she didn't work as much. She wanted to be with us more, and so she did work there were a couple of the "Rocky" films and a "Godfather" film that was made, you know, after we were born, but we weren't set kids by any means.

And my mom loves movies so much, but she really doesn't like Hollywood or the system or the business of it. And she keeps a huge distance from it. I wasn't really raised in a Hollywood-type way. We were just at home a lot, hanging out and doing normal stuff.

GROSS: My guest, Jason Schwartzman, will be back in the second half of the show. He stars in the HBO comedy series "Bored to Death." Here's some of his music from the soundtrack of "Funny People." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (Singing) Had a lot of things to say. Had a lot of points to make. Put me down a (unintelligible) before you go away. (Unintelligible) today's the day. And I can't believe it's already...

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Im Terry Gross back with Jason Schwartzman. He stars as a writer and unlicensed private eye in the HBO comedy series "Bored to Death." His movies include "Rushmore," "I Heart Huckabees," "The Darjeeling Limited" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox." Schwartzman's mother, Talia Shire, played Adrian, Rocky's wife in the "Rocky" movies and Connie Corleone in "The Godfather," films, which were directed by Schwartzman's uncle, Francis Ford Coppola.

How old were you when you first saw "The Godfather" and saw your mother as Al Pacino's sister?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Sixteen.

GROSS: And that would have been what year? How long was the movie out by then?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: It was 1996.

GROSS: It was out of while.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: It's was out a while. What took you so long to see it?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: I'm not sure, really. I don't - I dont know. That's a good question. I don't have an answer, but the first time I saw it there was an anniversary celebration for it, and I'm not sure if it was a new updated print of the film but it was screened in San Francisco and I was able to go to the screening with my mom. I didn't really think oh, there is my mom or what; I was able to just see it as a film and really, I was just so locked in on Pacino's performance.

GROSS: So did you have a lot of questions for your mother after seeing the film?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: No, not really.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: How could you not?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: I don't know. I guess I just, I don't really talk about her work with her, too much. You know, once I started to act more, I think that's when I became more inquisitive. And it wasn't even really about her. It was - I feel terrible saying this, but it was stuff like what John Cazale like? You know, who's the actor in the "Godfather."

GROSS: He plays Fredo.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah. And well, you know, what was he like? And as I began to learn more about acting and study and stuff, you know, you ask questions like, you know, how did Al Pacino work or what was it like to be with Marlon Brando? And she would recount stories to me and - but no, after I first saw it the first time there on the big screen, I was just kind of blown away by it as a film.

GROSS: Was your mother surprised that you went into acting because she more or less gave up acting except to continue the "Rocky" and "The Godfather" series. And you didn't intend to go into acting until you were spotted and asked to audition, and you felt insecure going in, but you ended up getting the part in "Rushmore." So when you, at the age of 17, ended up starring in a very successful film...

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...who was more surprised, you or your mother?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Well, probably me. But when you're raised in LA, and there are a lot of kid actors around, and no fault to them or whatever. But, you know, for instance, I would get my haircut in this barbershop in the Valley, and the woman who cut my hair had pictures of all the kids hair she cut kind of like rimming her mirror in front of me and they were head shots of like little kids dressed up as cowboys or astronauts, you know, like showing what they could do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Like the looks they could - and I would look at those kids while I would get my haircut and just kind of stare at them and I would think to myself, they just are different than me. They have something that I don't have. It's like a killer instinct or a confidence. So, when I auditioned for "Rushmore" and then I got called back three times, and there were less and less other kids to go up against in the room - and yeah, when I got it I was shocked, because I felt like wow, these other kids are like pros at this and how, you know, how did this happen? And then when the film came out and people saw it, I was definitely shocked, but I was thrilled because in that time, I had fallen in love with movies in a way that I hadn't known before. And that really is because of two things: when I read the script of "Rushmore" I loved it. It was everything I had ever found funny and I could totally relate to the character. And I gave the script to my mom. I said mom, I've never auditioned. Can you - do you have any pointers? Can you help me memorize lines?

And she read the script and she said I'll be right back and she went out and she rented three films. They were the "Graduate," "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Harold and Maude," and I watched them all for the first time. They were films I had heard of but never seen. And it was in that moment, watching the films, I felt this like warm insane feeling inside of my body, which was a feeling that only up until then, music had given me. And it was in that moment where I said gosh, you know, I don't know if I'll ever get this part. I don't know if my band will ever make it, but I've got to try to live my life, somehow staying as close to this weird feeling as possible. Then meeting Wes, who is a film fanatic and lover of films, when we were making "Rushmore," at night in his hotel room, he was showing me all these great movies. And it was turning me on, it was a thrill to see all these performances and I did fall in love with movies during the making of "Rushmore." So it was really nice.

GROSS: What did he show you?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Oh, we watched all of the Francois Truffaut films, Jean-Luc Godard movies, you know, Martin Scorsese movies, lots of '70s American movies and a lot of the French New Wave movies. And it really was like - I mean just imagine your mind just like exploding like bam, bam. I was just so - it was an exciting time for me.

GROSS: So we talked a little bit about the first time you saw your mother in "The Godfather."

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What about Rocky? How old were you when you first saw "Rocky?"

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Much, much younger. I don't know the exact age but I saw "Rocky 3" first and it was weird. It was not a comfortable experience for me to see my mom, especially in that one, because Mr. T, such a weird like thing to be saying, like Mr. T. Mr. T says something kind of sexual towards my mother, like let me take you home. I'll show you a real man or something. And I was young and it made me feel very weird and I did not like that Mr. T. said that to my mom. Then in that same movie, I think like my mom's character and Rocky get in a fight on the beach and he was, they were yelling and I didn't like that. It just was a highly uncomfortable experience any time she was on the screen. But I loved the movie. I mean I loved "Rocky" and I love the character of Rocky.

And I will say too, yeah, like my mom didn't work a lot when we were growing up. But I was always taken aback by, you know, if we'd go see a movie or something and someone would walk up to her and say hey, you're Adrian. And she'd say, yes and they would smile. And they seemed so happy, and as a little kid I observed that. And she was always very like shy about it, yes, you know, yeah and she would kind of walk on or - I don't think she liked the attention. But for me, I was kind of like wow, it's amazing that my mom did something that made all these people so happy because when they see her they smile and they're so excited to see her. And I didn't understand why she was so embarrassed. But I think that that had an effect on me, like how your work could maybe make people happy.

GROSS: So how has that experience affected how you react when someone comes up to you on the street and they mention a movie or your TV show and tell you how much they like you?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah. First off, I'll note that I don't really get stopped or recognized that often. I walk everywhere and do everything and no one ever really says anything. But when someone does, I can't tell you how much it really does mean to me. You know, with a band you make a record but then you go out and you perform it and you are with an audience live and youre experiencing it together. But with film acting, you make a movie and then a year later it comes out and so you're not really - a lot of actors don't really interact, ever, with people who might have seen their work and you never really know what the response is. And so, to me if someone comes up and says that movie really - I like that movie or that was really funny, it's a nice feeling because you feel like oh, good, like someone out there saw it and, you know, it entertained them or amused them. And so it really does mean a lot to me. But I will say when, right after "Rushmore" came out, you know, I'd never been like recognized and this person came up and said hey, you're from "Rushmore," I love that movie. And I was so flattered and blown away by it that I went to hug her and she recoiled.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: And she walked away, and I guess like I had overshot it a little bit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's funny.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: So now you mentioned your mother screened films for you that Wes Anderson, when you are making "Rushmore" with him, screened films for you.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Did your uncle, Francis Ford Coppola, screen movies for you?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah. Well, my mom I'll just say really quickly, I love her because, you know, people will ask me like did your mom encouraged you to be an actor? Were you forced into it? And the truth is no. But, at a young age, what I really did witness, because she never forced it upon us, but I witnessed how movies and music can be nutritional, I guess, to a person. I would come home from school; she would always be downstairs with an old movie on. Every room in our house had a different book open, face down. There would be music on in one room, even though she wouldn't be in it, and she would kind of just go from room to room and pick up and read and go and listen and go downstairs and watch. She needs that. It's still the same way. If you go to my house, the same house I grew up in, she's there with movies on, music playing and books everywhere. And so I witnessed how important these things can be to you.

My uncle, Francis, I never really talked to him a lot about movies and stuff until I like, you know, became involved in the industry myself I would ask him. But I guess it is strange the more I talk, I hear myself saying that I never asked them anything and it's strange but it is true. I really ask my mom, my uncle or my cousins about any of their own work, maybe just because I don't want to be, like, annoying. I mean it is on my mind, because I love the movie "The Conversation," that he made, and I do have lots of questions for him about that film. But I don't ask him because I suppose I just kind of think nah, he gets probably asked about it all the time, so, you know, we're here together, this is his personal time and its maybe the last thing he wants to talk about. So I don't take advantage of his knowledge or my mom's, or my cousins' knowledge unless they bring it up.

And so my uncle would show movies at his house and I was there for some of them. They would be, that I remember, "Yellow Submarine," "Prick Up Your Ears," and I remember he showed a film called "Vampire's Kiss" that my cousin Nicholas was in. I saw that at a young age. That was a big thing for me. I loved his performance. And even though, like I say, I wasn't an actor, once we got the film on VHS I would watch it over and over again and I would rewind it and I would just like I would rewind certain scenes and I would play them, pause them, and then try to mimic him; and then rewind it, play it again and try to mimic him until I could do is voice and knew the lines by heart.

GROSS: How old were you?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: I don't know what year that film came out.

GROSS: It was before you started acting?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Seven or eight?

GROSS: Oh yes. It was, yeah.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah, like seven or eight.

GROSS: He plays a vampire and his performance is very much inspired by like the drama of silent films like of the silent "Nosferatu."

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Totally. Totally.

GROSS: He eats a cockroach in it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah. I know. It's so - I mean I was like wow, who is this person that I'm supposedly related to? He was very scary...

GROSS: Right. Unrecognizable in the movie.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah. Just a really wild person. And, you know, I'll just say something else that just occurred to me. I recently found a bunch of home movies that my dad had shot and in one of them he is filming the house kind of saying this is where Jason sleeps and this is - and he walks into the room and I'm sitting there watching the movie "Amadeus" by myself. And I'm so little or maybe my T-shirt is so big but I'm completely like inside of the T-shirt, two feet from the screen watching "Amadeus."

And I do remember that movie being a big one for me, because Tom Holtz plays "Amadeus" and I remember thinking wow, Mozart was just like us. He was fun, he laughed. I was - really love that movie. And, of course, I got to work this season in "Bored to Death" with F. Murray Abraham, he shows up later in the season, and that was a big one for me.

GROSS: My guest is Jason Schwartzman. He stars in the HBO series "Bored to Death," which is in its second season. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Jason Schwartzman. He stars in the HBO comedy series "Bored to Death," as a writer and unlicensed private eye. His films include "Rushmore," "The Darjeeling Limited" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox," which were all directed by Wes Anderson and "I Heart Huckabees," which was directed by David O. Russell.

GROSS: How do you like being in a regular TV series? You know, being the star of a TV series?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah. I love it because if you think about it, doing eight shows, you really are doing two movies or two and a half movies and, so you have kind of more freedom. And in a lot of ways, I think our show is cool because it's kind of the stuff that would be like cut out of other shows or be omitted from films. It's almost like the spaces between the spaces, our show, and I love that about it. I love that we can just kind of go make it strange absurd movies, mini movies, as opposed to one big movie.

And the other great thing I love about doing television is I've never worked before on anything where you come back and you are playing the same character with the same crew and the same group of other actors.

I've worked with directors repeatedly and I've worked with different crew members, but never the exact same arrangement of elements. And I've got to say it's so fun, I didn't know. I have never done this season two of anything and when I showed up the first day of season two it was so fun because, in a sense terrible, but acting for me is extremely embarrassing and especially when you're doing it in front of all of these strangers, you know, and, you know, it's just like, oh God, they are going to judge me, they're going to think I'm terrible. Well, now they've judged me, they've seen me at my worst and now we've come back for season two, you have nothing to be ashamed of. And it's like a family, and you can just get going with no fear.

GROSS: Why is acting embarrassing for you?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: It's scary, I think. There is always something maybe in the back of my mind that says I'm going to walk onto the set for the first couple of days and people are going to be thinking we made a mistake, we should find someone else.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: And, you know, and...

GROSS: Well, can I stop you right there because...

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Sure.

GROSS: I can see one of the reasons why it might have. I mean I read this, that when you are making "Rushmore," your first movie, early on in the filming Bill Murray, your co-star said to you, they promised me you'd be good and you're not.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah. That's true.

GROSS: So maybe youre always waiting for the person to tell you that...

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: ...because that's how it started.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Perhaps. And I think also if you did have a high school experience, I mean there were many scarring encounters with girls and stuff where it was just like - or big groups of people laughing at me because I fell and tripped in front of 40 people, you know what I mean, like those typical experiences. But I'll say something that I love about acting in film, and it's something that a lot of actors maybe don't like but I love it, which is that it is a medium where we are going to like microscopically focus on this scene or this moment and you can go back and get that one line just right or that word sounded - you know what I mean, like...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: And that's what I like about acting is I guess that I have a lot of ideas when I'm on the set and it's fun for me and I feel like why not just try it and mess around. But when you're messing around the only way to know if it's going to work is to try.

And I did this movie, "I Heart Huckabees" with Dustin Hoffman, who was, of course, an icon and an idol to me, and on the first day of work David O. Russell came up to me, I had a scene with Dustin Hoffman, and David O. Russell came up to me and whispered in my ear: say this line to him, you know, surprise him. And I did it and he reacted and they ended up using his reaction. But, later that day I felt so strange, you know, springing that on this guy that I admire and I walked up to his trailer, I knocked and I went in, and I said Mr. Hoffman, I just want to apologize if I was unprofessional or if I shocked you in any way. I didn't want it to come across like I was messing with you. And he said are you kidding me. A take is the one place in life you can fail.

GROSS: So what did David O. Russell tell you to whisper in Dustin Hoffman's ear?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: I dont even remember. It was some line where I think I said you're lying. Like he says something to me and I say I don't believe you, which is such a complicated thing to say to a hero of yours on so many levels. Your character saying it to someone, is pretty, you know, is interesting. But to just and even though it's line, just like the energy of like challenging someone who is like this guy I admire and he's not...

GROSS: It's not scripted. He's not prepared for it.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah. It's totally, like it was scary. But I loved being a part of that film and David O. Russell is one of the best filmmakers alive and there's just some people you go with. Yeah.

GROSS: So I understand you have a baby who is due in December?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Yes. It's crazy.

GROSS: And are you excited?

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: I'm excited. It's totally amazing to me because when I grew up, my dad was a little bit older when he had me and so he had like a big white beard and was a lawyer and, I don't know, he was just like a man, you know what I mean? It felt like I had a man father. He was like, the circuit's blown. I'm going down with the flashlight to fix it. You know what I mean, like just kind of could get things done.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: And I still feel like very much kind of like still asking a lot of questions. And so, but I'm excited to see how that plays out as I become a father because I hope to just be honest. And I might not know where the circuit breaker is but maybe the kid and I will find out together, you know?

GROSS: Congratulations.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Thank you.

GROSS: Good luck with fatherhood.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: And it's a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: Thank you for having me and thanks for the questions.

GROSS: Jason Schwartzman stars in the HBO comedy series "Bored to Death," which is shown Sunday nights. He co-stars in the movie "Scott Pilgrim Versus the World," which is coming out on DVD November 9th.

This is FRESH AIR.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.