Jason Schwartzman wasn't sure what his immediate future held when he got an out-of-the-blue email from filmmaker Andrew Bujalski. Schwartzman had been preparing to go off and shoot Wes Anderson's new movie, but the production was delayed. It was during this limbo period that Bujalski reached out to Schwartzman with what seemed like a ludicrous pitch. "It was the first time I'd ever seen the word 'cockamamie' written in an email," Schwartzman recalls.
Bujalski's pitch went a little like this: He wanted to shoot a movie in lockdown with "zero crews and absent scene partners." That meant Schwartzman and the rest of the ensemble cast would not only film their respective scenes in different locations, effectively acting opposite no one, but they would also handle all audio and visual responsibilities for their scenes themselves. Schwartzman, to his credit, wasn't put off by the unconventional shooting style. "It just seemed like a new adventure," he says. "I try to make each project feel like the first time I've ever done something like it, and this was the ultimate version of that."
The "this" Schwartzman is referring to is There There, which had its world premiere during this year's Tribeca Film Festival. For Schwartzman, the film represented more than a new kind of filmmaking adventure, but the fulfillment of a dream he'd long harbored. "I love Andrew and I love his movies," he says. "My dream was always to one day be able to work with him, so when he sent me an email with the word 'cockamamie' in the subject line, I couldn't wait to open it."
More than anything, Schwartzman says that making There There reminded him how much joy he gets from collaborating with other artists. "Andrew's email came out of nowhere, and it was just what I needed. I don't think I realized how much I needed it until I got it," admits the actor. "It made me feel good to go to work and help someone make something. That's really where I'm happiest."
There There came at just the right time too, because Schwartzman's dance card quickly filled up thereafter: He eventually did reunite with Wes Anderson for the upcoming Asteroid City, along with signing on to star in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and Francis Ford Coppola's longtime passion project, Megalopolis. Next year will also see the actor lend his voice to Spider-Man foe The Spot in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.
Below, Schwartzman shares with A.frame six of his most beloved films that have each served as an inspiration throughout his career. "I also love Modern Romance, for the record. Picking only six films that I love is just impossible."
MORE: Andrew Bujalski on the 'Insanity Exercise' of Making a Movie During Lockdown (Exclusive)
Written and Directed by: James Szalapski
I love Heartworn Highways. It's a country music documentary, and I just love the style of it. The way it’s made lets it give you a snapshot of what country music was like at the time — from the super-slick recording studios to a bunch of incredible people hanging out around a table at 3 in the morning. I really like how all those different layers are shown in the film. I’ve always been a fan of this type of music documentary, but Heartworn Highways is a particularly big one for me.
Directed by: Shirley Clarke
Another documentary, I love. It's truly a portrait of one person, and it shows them just kind of unraveling themselves. I saw it at a repertory screening years ago in New York, and I remember I went and watched it three times in the theater. It was just very engrossing. Because it’s one person talking to Shirley Clarke and other off-camera people, and the camera roves with him, but you never see who’s on the other side of it. It's really just him stopping and starting in a way that's like There There, which is odd because I hadn't really thought about that until now.
Directed by: Rob Reiner Written by: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer
I love This is Spinal Tap. I usually keep it on my iPad, downloaded at all times, in case of emergencies. Like an EpiPen. It kind of stands on its own. It's like, 'How did that happen?' By all accounts, it shouldn't have worked. There must have been hundreds of hours of film that they had to get through. I remember being a kid when I saw it and not knowing that it was fake too. I just remember loving it and thinking it was amazing! I like to rewatch things too. I love letting a film continue revealing itself to me, and getting to find new things in it, and This is Spinal Tap is the epitome of that. You know, I can watch it one time and it'll be so funny, but then I can watch it another time and it won't seem funny at all. I've seen it in so many different ways. It has so much going on. I can honestly watch it and just focus on one actor at a time. Sometimes, I'll watch it and just focus on Michael McKean, you know?
Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel
Directed by: François Truffaut | Written by: François Truffaut, Claude de Givray, and Bernard Revon
I haven't watched Stolen Kisses recently, but I remember when I went to work with Wes Anderson for the first time when I was 17, I hadn't seen a lot of movies. I loved movies, but my preference was films like the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie and Xanadu and big comedies that I could go see with my father on the weekends. But when I went to go shoot Rushmore with Wes, he turned out to be the right person to come into my life at that moment. He showed me all these other types of films and people in a way that a mentor or a really cool sibling can. That was the first time in my life that I was watching, in particular, foreign films like Contempt.
We watched all of the Truffaut films together, and Jean-Pierre Léaud, the actor who plays the Antoine Doinel character that shows up in The 400 Blows, Stolen Kisses, and Love on the Run, quickly became someone that I wasn't obsessed with necessarily, but who I focused very intensely on. I don't speak French — if I did, I might have had a different reaction to his performance — but there’s something about the way he moves, and the way that he is that made me think, 'That’s what you can do with acting.' There’s just something about the way he moves through space in those films, especially in Stolen Kisses, that allows him to capture a feeling, and make something feel so true and so crazy at the same time. From an acting perspective, it was just so different. And I really love it. I appreciate it so, so deeply.
Written and Directed by: John Cassavetes
Husbands is a good example of what I was talking about earlier when I mentioned how the way movies are made can make them feel like adventures. I watched a great documentary about the making of Husbands and I remember thinking, 'This is why we work. This is wonderful.' I don't know exactly what I was latching onto because making that movie was, obviously, a crazy experience. But I liked the feeling of watching those actors all together and the sense they gave that they were just a tight-knight group that was experimenting together. They decided to do something a certain way and they found a way to push through life by following that mindset.
Directed by: Robert Altman | Written by: Leigh Brackett
I love Elliott Gould. I think he’s wonderful, and he has the ability to believably talk to himself on camera. That’s a very challenging thing, but he does it so well. To me, he is Philip Marlowe in a way that none of the other actors who have played that part could be — and they’ve all been great. There’s just something about how Gould is able to express himself. So much of Raymond Chandler's writing is the description of what Marlowe is thinking, and Gould's turn in The Long Goodbye feels like the perfect performance of a literary character. He's able to perform both dialogue and scene description. It's so amazing to watch. I love that performance, and the movie itself just changed my life when I saw it.