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Design By Humans
Published On: Mon, Oct 27th, 2014

Jason Schwartzman discusses his new film Listen Up Philip

Listen Up PhilipFirst shown at the New York Film Festival this year to a packed house, Listen Up Philip is my favorite film of 2014. Directed by Alex Ross Perry, this movie stars the wonderful Jason Schwartzman, probably best known for his roles in Wes Anderson’s films. An anger rages in his character called Philip. This film is a literary look at failure and success. The anger builds in Schwartzman’s character as he awaits the publication of his second novel. Between the outrageous noise in Manhattan and the nagging noise of his uncontent girlfriend played by the amazing Elizabeth Moss and finally his lack of enthusiasm to promote his next book, he retreats to the country. He ends up sharing a house with the ridiculously talented Jonathan Pryce, a Brit of course who plays an author of huge success. He finds himself being offered the chance to share a house with essentially his literary idol, someone he’s worshiped and aspired to be for years. Done in a very Philip Roth like manner, the movie shows the painful and joyful moments of these various characters. To add an even heightened, more prolific spin on it, the director gets Eric Bogosian to narrate the entire movie, and we switch perspectives of the characters as seasons and attitudes change in this isolated environment in which Philip craves for peacefulness to write in. We spoke with Jason Schwartzman about his role in the film.

What an honest film about writers. What did you think when you first read it?

Early on I thought it was funny and whether or not it was completely true. So I said to the director so this script is about a writer? He said no it’s about an asshole. Right. The fact that he decided to put that after was a completely strange way of looking at it that was really interesting also and of course it was true. He’s a writer and someone who has probably dreamed of what he wanted his life to be when he was very young, he probably thought I’m going go to New York and become a novelist and that might or might not be lonely and that’s the price I’m going to pay and that’s why a lot of the narration that Alex did was done on set. It did not throw me off the narrator because that was what Philip would have loved, being the narrator. So I would not say I took the part because it was one of a writer, I took the part because it was an interesting character.

This was really like nobody you ever played, so that was challenging right?

I loved playing this character. There were certain philosophies with the movie that centered around certain characters and how they treat each other and were mishandling situations as well but basically how they were treating each other… When we first got together and started to talk about it, we said, well how abrasive can this guy be? How far to the red meter would we go and how long can you sustain that in a movie and we experimented and talked about it. We ate a lot of ice cream. The trick I guess to really doing it was to be direct with the person and that’s what he talks about, being a direct person so you know at all times where you stand with someone. A sub level of this behavior is passive aggressive. So he finds it likening to drinking vodka or gin. It’s a higher alcohol content when you are drinking it but you know something like red wine or beer, it has low alcohol content but sneaks up on you and so it’s like that with people and you think… it’s a very misleading experience, it tastes more delicious and it’s nice but it catches up with you… so as long as my character was direct that was the main thing.

The Director said that there were inherent liabilities in finding the actor to portray such a volatile character. What did you think?

For me, the director’s initial concept – removing Philip from the middle of the film – held much interest to me. What I was interested in was that the script was about all these different characters, and you learn a lot about them by the fact of their absence. Philip disappears and you see a lot of these characters living their lives without him and you learn about Philip in the scenes that he’s not even in. You learn a lot about my girlfriend Ashley and I was interested in the idea of, who is the protagonist and how much does he have to trust them or feel comfortable with them? So when I spoke with Alex, we had a really nice conversation about the character and it seemed like he knew what he was interested in making. During our dinner, though, through his confidence, I realized that it seemed like this was the guy who should make this movie.

Listen Up Philip, directed by Alex Ross Perry and starring Jason Schwartzman and Elizabeth Moss is now in select theaters nationwide.

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Jason Schwartzman discusses his new film Listen Up Philip