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  (Sebastian Kim)

TÊTE-à-TÊTE: JASON SCHWARTZMAN

Jason Schwartzman started young. At 14, he was a cofounder and drummer with the L.A. rock band Phantom Planet. At 17, he jumped into acting with an impressive debut in Wes Anderson's 1998 art-house favorite Rushmore. He followed up with acclaimed performances in I Heart Huckabees, Marie Antoinette and The Darjeeling Limited. But music is Schwartzman's first love, and to that end, this son of Talia Shire, nephew of Francis Ford Coppola and cousin of Nicolas Cage has released two solo discs under the name Coconut Records. The first, Nighttiming, dropped in 2007, and the second, Davy, hit in January of this year. The indie aesthetic of his acting is paralleled in his music—but with a pop inventiveness that spills pure California sunshine. His latest role is in Judd Apatow's Funny People, due out this summer, for which he also composed the score. I caught up with him as he was finishing the music for the film.

Nic Harcourt: Music and acting—you've obviously done both, but we know you started with music. What got you interested in movies?
Jason Schwartzman: I always loved movies. I would recite scenes on the way to see them. In the '80s, it was Mel Gibson, Arnold Schwarzenegger—movies were larger than life to me, like something I experienced from a distance. I just didn't think I could be one of those guys, an actor.

NH: What about music?
JS: Music just felt like something I could do. You know, you can go see a movie with your family, and it's on these big screens with big stars. But with music, you can just make the noise yourself. We always had a little piano at home, so it was easy. In those days, it didn't seem like you could make your own movie, really.

NH: So you started with piano?
JS: Actually, drums were the first instrument I played. I started a fictional band when I was, like, in fourth grade. We were called Newborn Babies. We would go to my friend's house and talk about what kind of band we would be. Everyone chose an instrument, and drums were the last one. None of us actually had the instruments, but from that moment on I was the drummer. On my 10th birthday I got this drum set, and I'd put on headphones, come home from school and play for as long as I could.

NH: Did you stick with the drums?
JS: When I was 14, I was in a new band, Phantom Planet. I learned how to play the guitar and was very hard on myself—like really spent a lot of time playing because I enjoyed it. It's not that drums are a bad thing—they're incredible. But I had so many ideas and felt like I couldn't communicate them all with the drums. If I say something to someone and they don't understand it, I feel like I miscommunicated, and that makes me feel bad.

NH: There's nothing worse than feeling misunderstood.
JS: Absolutely—so then at 16, I was only into music and making records. I hadn't found my movie nirvana—like when you hear the Beach Boys or the Beatles and it makes you feel crazy. Like you want to rip your skin off. I hadn't found the movie that made me feel that way.

NH: When did you?
JS: When I was 17—and it's to my mother's credit. I auditioned for Rushmore.

NH: Did she suggest you do that?
JS: No, I was at a party, and a casting director approached me with, "Are you an actor?" I said, "No, I'm a drummer," and she said, "You look like you could be in this film I'm casting called Rushmore. It was 1997, and I was making the Phantom Planet record. When I heard, "You should audition," my gut reaction was, Someone else could do that better. I didn't have a ton of self-confidence. But I got the part. Then my mom rented The Graduate, Harold and Maude and Dog Day Afternoon—I had never seen them before, and that was the moment a movie made me feel like a song did.

NH: You got a lot of attention for Rushmore. Clearly, acting began to overtake music from a career point of view.
JS: Well, Rushmore came out, and then a few months later the Phantom Planet record was released, and people said, "Oh, here's this actor with a band." I felt misrepresented, so I was, like, "No, I really do both." I actually felt bad for my band. I don't know if it was hard on them, but I imagine it was.

NH: Kind of like negative attention?