Jason Schwartzman has been a familiar face to filmgoers since 1998, when he starred in Wes Anderson’s breakthrough second feature, Rushmore. Since then, he’s worked steadily in film—including several subsequent Anderson projects—and on television, where he stars on HBO’s Bored To Death, soon to return for its second season. Anna Kendrick first drew viewers’ attention as the star of the 2003 film Camp, then drew additional praise for her work in Rocket Science. She’s played a high-profile role in the Twilight series, and last year earned raves and a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination for her work in Up In The Air. Kendrick and Schwartzman previously appeared together in the little-seen The Marc Pease Experience in 2009, and now have key supporting roles in the Edgar Wright-directed Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. In Chicago for the Scott Pilgrim press tour, Schwartzman and Kendrick spoke to The A.V. Club about Canada, acting, and transitioning from teen to grown-up roles.
The A.V. Club: How do you shape a believable character in a world that by design isn’t believable or realistic?
Anna Kendrick: Honestly, I think I’m not necessarily the right character to be asking about, because I feel like I’m more in the real world. Arguably, the film does take place in Scott’s mind, and he is the hero of his own world, even though sometimes he’s really passive-aggressive and doesn’t treat [his underage girlfriend] Knives very well. He’s the hero of this story, and it’s his story. I sort of pop up as a dose of reality.
AVC: You have a Jiminy Cricket part, in a way.
AK: I’ve been describing it that way; that’s interesting that you say that. Just to pop up as the voice of reason and reality that you know he’s going to wave away like a puff of smoke. I’m in some ways the glimmer of reality in this world, I guess. But I was so impressed with Jason’s performance and Brie Larson’s performance, the way they went for it and got to have so much fun with it.
Jason Schwartzman: Edgar Wright really had the whole thing in his head, how he saw it, what it sounded like, what the speed of it was. I think it’s interesting, because all the evil exes, we come in—I came in toward the end of shooting and stayed until the finish—but the other evil exes were coming in for 10 days or two weeks, and then they would leave. None of us were really together, so Edgar really had to have a cohesive way to describe this movie to all of us, to have us all be in harmony with each other. It was really like the ultimate case of trusting someone, and obviously he’s earned my trust with other work.
It’s interesting, I’ve been thinking about it as if Edgar was the producer of a record, and he had been recording it for a long time, and knew the whole record and how it should sound, and I was brought in as a musician to play just this one piece of sheet music. He’s played me little samples of the music that I’m joining, but I don’t really know the whole piece yet, because it’s still being worked on. There would be 10 different ways you could play the music: Do you want it loud and attacky, or subtle and muted? He’s the overall composer and conductor of the thing, and tells you where he wants you to come in tonally, and how loud he wants you to be. Edgar was so awesome to help me figure out where to be. That being said, who knows if it’s a good performance or not? If you like it, I had a lot to do with it. If you don’t like it, Edgar really led me there. I have a strange amount of responsibility in this equation. It’s variable and always changing, depending on the day. [Laughs.]
AVC: How important was it to absorb the character of Toronto for your work here?
JS: Well, my guy isn’t from Toronto.
AVC: He comes in condescendingly.
JS: Right, he comes from New York, and he’s really patronizing toward Scott and Canada and Toronto. He really thinks “I’m cool, I’m from New York, that’s where it’s all happening. You guys are a little second cousin.” So he’s really condescending to it. But Toronto is like another character in the film. I’ve heard Edgar talking about how awesome it was, because Bryan Lee O’Malley would take photos—I think that’s so cool, that we were using real locations and stuff. It’s kind of amazing.
AVC: You were playing a lifelong Canadian in this film, Anna.
AK: Yeah, I actually spoke to an accent coach. All the Canadian characters spoke to accent coaches. It wasn’t too strict, but we were basically all trying to sound like Michael [Cera], and he doesn’t have a thick Canadian accent, so the idea was to make sure that all our sounds were round, and we had decent diction, because Canadians speak more clearly than Americans. It was a pretty simple process, really, as long as I was saying “Scoht” and not “Scaht.” Actually, it was cool for me to arrive in Toronto and see Second Cup, which is where Stacey Pilgrim works in the comic books. I didn’t realize it was a real place and a huge chain there, so I embarrassed myself by going in there and saying that I found the Second Cup, and I tried the coffee, and was telling them how great it was, and that it was cool to be in the Second Cup. And that’s basically like walking into Starbucks and saying that. I made a fool of myself, as I often do.
AVC: What role did the comics play in preparing you for this film?
JS: For me, the character of Gideon Graves is referenced a lot, but he’s not really in these until the [most recent] one. The comics for me were just a real visual reference, because I knew Edgar was going to stick to it and incorporate a lot of it visually. It’s just nice to be in the world, visually. I’ve never really worked on anything that was based on a book. This is just pictures, so you really can be immersed in the world of it. It was really nice, because Bryan Lee O’Malley was writing the sixth one, and it was good to catch him at that time character-wise, because I could talk to him and say “Can you help me? I don’t want to fuck this whole thing up. Could you point me in a direction about Gideon Graves?” And he said, “I’m still figuring him out, I’m writing him right now. I have no idea.”
We talked about him together, and he was really open in hearing me out. Two things he said that really helped me out were “Don’t forget this whole thing is from Scott Pilgrim’s point of view, so you don’t have to be Gideon Graves, if there really was one—you can be Scott’s version of Gideon Graves.” And the other thing he said was, “I’m toying with this idea that maybe Gideon isn’t evil as much as he was just drunk and jealous, and sent out a mass e-mail to the evil exes saying, ‘Let’s put this thing together, no one should be with her.’” That was interesting. Maybe he’s not totally evil as much as he’s just having a really jealous night.
AVC: Did you draw on the worst experiences you had in the music industry?
JS: Not really. I’ve never met any music executives like that guy, but I have been in lots of battles of the bands and lost a lot of them, and I know, especially when we were first starting out, that if you can get a show, it means so much to see your name on a flyer with other bands. It means you’re “real,” and having someone say “Yes, you can play this night” is so awesome. I could relate to that in Scott’s band, how much it meant to get a show, and Gideon, because he has a label and owns a club, really has a lot of power, and that’s what Scott wants. He can give Scott a gig and a record deal. Knowing what Scott wants helped me fuck with him more.
AVC: Anna, you actually have more to draw on from the comics.
AK: Yeah, there was a panel from the first books where Scott and Stacey are on the phone, just the two of them side-by-side, and the artwork really sums up the relationship. Bryan’s artwork is so expressive—that was something we referenced a lot, because it was amazing the way two drawings could give you a sense of two characters and their relationship so quickly. This thing where Stacey is gleefully disapproving, and Scott knows there’s eventually going to be an “I told you so,” but he still has to make that mistake. All of that was somehow in this artwork, and that was really helpful. A lot of those phone calls, we really tried to visually do what the comics do, and a lot of our body language mirrored one another, which is easy enough to draw, but doing it on set was sort of choreography to dialogue, which was definitely challenging.
AVC: This was a film in which actors who really have no business fighting, fight. Was that part of the appeal to you?
JS: I have watched movies where people fight who are young—you see Tobey Maguire or whoever, and you see they had trainers, and they got to go to a gym every day and learn how to flip. On some level, it was like “Wow, that must be great, to have all these really skilled people around, and it’s paid for, and you can learn these unusual skills.” Part of me had always thought that sounds like so much fun. But the other part of me knows I’m lucky just to be talking in movies, so who am I to even think I can flip in a movie?
So when Edgar said I had the part of Gideon Graves, the next thing out of his mouth was that he wanted Michael and me to really train and get good at sword-fighting, because he ideally would like to shoot this in a more Hong Kong style of fight directing, where we are really doing it. He can’t fake it if it’s somebody else. I was just so excited—I was having the Tobey Maguire article highlights in my head. “Wow, maybe I’ll go to a gym every day and get to wear a harness and have a guy who’s going to teach me how to use a knife and a sword.” It really was like that. I wore sweatpants every morning for a lot of months, and that was nice. That’s the cool thing about this job—I never would’ve gotten a basic tutorial from a really skilled guy, I never would’ve thought I could get that. It was so awesome, and Michael and I were constantly laughing at how nuts it was. The other thing about it is, while you’re doing it, you think you look incredible, and then you watch it, and you look like a real idiot. You see the skill that the big guys have, the Tom Cruises, to look ice-cold.
AVC: Anna, do you think this is your last part as a teenager?
AK: I don’t know.
JS: How old are you in this one?
AK: I’m 18. I was originally 19.
JS: You’ve got two more years.
AVC: Is that how it works?
JS: It’s like dog years.
AK: I was originally 19, and I got downgraded somehow in the editing process. I don’t know how that happened. If it’s interesting, that’s the only thing that matters, I guess.
AVC: I guess the bigger question is, do you have a strategy for negotiating the world of adult roles now?
AK: I think it’s tricky, because most adult female roles are love-interest roles, and they seem to outgrow their female counterparts pretty quickly. Somebody that you once saw with Renée Zellweger, how old do I have to be that you would believe they would be with me? Unfortunately, it does rely on that, and non-romantic female parts are few and far between, unfortunately. I don’t know, I guess it’s if interesting, it doesn’t really matter, and I don’t really have the luxury of having that strategy, because there aren’t very many non-romantic roles.
AVC: Is that what you want to steer toward, non-romantic roles?
AK: No, I guess it’s that the romantic roles seem to be the kind of thing where as long as the girl is really pretty and of age, that’s all you need. I feel like I’m more the girl you need because you need somebody that can do something that not everybody else can. I’m more interesting when I’m talking, I think, than just having my hair blow in slow motion. I guess if it’s just a romantic role, there’s no reason why you should choose me over anybody else—
JS: That’s not true.
AK: I feel like generally the more interesting roles are the things that I fight for because it seems like I would be more valuable in that situation.
AVC: Jason, you made the transition from teen roles to grown-up roles. What experience could you draw on?
JS: I understand what she’s saying about not having the luxury of a strategy—I think that was a good way to put it. I think I’ve been really fortunate to keep working, but it really is hard to find stuff, and maybe you do like something, but they gave it to some other actor, and they don’t think you’re right. For the movie to get made, so many things have to come together, it’s almost unsettling. There are a handful of guys who can order a part like they’re ordering a pizza, “I want that. Can I have it?” But the rest of us have to fight and audition and try to get things. I don’t have any advice, because I’ve never had the luxury of a strategy either. I’ve always had to be fighting for things, and auditioning for things. It’s hard.
[Here, the interview was briefly interrupted by an exchange about the interview’s iPad, which led into a discussion of Apple applications. —ed.]
AVC: Let’s tie this together. How might apps help your acting?
JS: I want there to be an acting app where you just plug in the scene and it will give you—you can get the Lee Strasberg app, and you type it in and it will give you an acting class, how to do that scene. Knowing the circumstances, it will say, “What’s the spine?” Or you type in the Sanford Meisner app, and it just asks you the question back, and you type in the question again, and it asks it back, because his thing is all about repetition. You have a Stella Adler app, and it will be like, “In this scene, never lose sight of what your character really wants.”
AK: I think an acting app would be really frustrating, because it would just unveil how bad most of the writing is out there. It’s a lot easier to act when the writing is good. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to figure out “Well, why did I say this next?” When it’s a shitty guest spot on a TV show, and you realize the writer didn’t even re-read this after he printed it out.
AVC: Is your obligation then to create something from the material, or find something the writer didn’t even know was there?
AK: I think it’s both. I definitely think it exercises an interesting muscle, auditioning for bad parts and trying to figure out how to make it real. I don’t know what I’m talking about now.
JS: I do.
AK: You know what I mean, right? Don’t you find that when it’s bad writing, it’s like, “Why would I say this?” Is it my job to find out why I would say this as an actor or is it the writer’s job? I’ve gone into auditions and tried to ask questions and they were immediately like, “Well, don’t you have a decision that you’ve come in with? Haven’t you made your choices?” And it’s like, “Well, I can try but if you wanted to let me in on the big secret that would be great too.” It’s very strange, there are no clean lines of when my job stops and your job begins.