THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Actor hits his stride in ‘Bored to Death’

In a new HBO series, Jason Schwartzman plays a writer turned private eye. In a new HBO series, Jason Schwartzman plays a writer turned private eye. (Barry Brecheisen/Getty Images)
By Jake Coyle
Associated Press / September 26, 2009

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NEW YORK - Jason Schwartzman’s storytelling is vibrant, abstract, and often not chronological. And at this particular moment, chatting over coffee in a Manhattan hotel lobby, everything seems to relate to the past.

Eleven years ago he made his film debut in Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore’’ as Max Fisher, the spectacled, love-crazed, eminently intrepid teenage misfit - easily one of the most remarkable first stabs at movie acting.

“I can’t express enough to you how bizarre that experience was,’’ Schwartzman, now 29, recalls. “It was like a drive-by shooting, but a positive one.’’

Playing such a particular part at a young age seemed just the kind of role that might be difficult to grow out of. But since then, Schwartzman has given strong performances in “I (Heart) Huckabees,’’ “The Darjeeling Limited,’’ and “Marie Antoinette,’’ the latter directed by his cousin, Sofia Coppola.

His highest profile work, though, is starring in the new HBO series, “Bored to Death.’’ He plays a Brooklyn writer, Jonathan Ames, who after splitting up with his girlfriend (and reading a Raymond Chandler novel) decides to post a message on Craigslist offering his services as a private detective. The series airs Sundays.

Named after the series’ writer and creator, Ames may fall asleep on a stakeout or fall too easily for a femme fatale, but with earnestness and a strident belief in love, he somehow seems to solve cases.

“The characters that I’ve been lucky enough to play I would say all want something really badly. I typically find that they’re at make-or-break moments,’’ said Schwartzman. “I’ve been in that situation a lot personally, so I’m very attracted to it.’’

Schwartzman is the son of Jack Schwartzman and Talia Shire, the sister of Francis Ford Coppola and an actress most famous for her role as Adrian in the “Rocky’’ movies.

But Schwartzman grew up watching action movies he didn’t relate to and never thought of himself as an actor - even though his cousin Sofia often cast him in school plays. Instead, he gravitated toward music, which, he said, “affected me on a deep, deep level - made me feel a part of something.’’

He played drums in Phantom Planet, a band formed during high school and which found some renown after having its song “California’’ chosen as the theme to the TV series “The O.C.’’

But after Sofia Coppola’s recommendation - and a number of auditions - Schwartzman was cast in “Rushmore.’’ Shortly beforehand, his mom rented him “Dog Day Afternoon,’’ “Harold and Maude,’’ and “The Graduate.’’ He said that was the first time movies ever made him feel like music did.

“My mom is a real lover of the arts,’’ said Schwartzman. “There is a book open in every room in our house. There is music playing in different rooms in our house. She even leaves on Turner Classic Movies for the dogs.’’

Schwartzman had been wanting to play a detective - an archetype he gravitates to because of a love of Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye’’ and Francois Truffaut’s “Stolen Kisses.’’ He also considers Ames his “favorite living writer’’ and now counts him as a close friend.

Ames describes their first meeting - at an old deli in Los Angeles - as a “great first heterosexual date.’’

“Someone who screws up and gets the job done is very human - and Jason is very human,’’ said Ames. “He’s got a lot of wisdom in him.’’

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