In this exclusive interview, he talks about playing a 12 year old fox, working with Bill Murray, George Clooney and Meryl Streep and his favorite scene in the film (which totally make me want to see it even more).
If you get a chance, you should listen to the audio interview. There is so much more he said that I haven’t included in the transcript. Just for the way he talks and goes off the cuff is worth the listen.
Jason Schwartzman: This is really exciting. This is really exciting for me. You know, in this industry, you get to experience so many amazing things that you would never get to do otherwise. Like just 20 minutes ago I was sitting in a chair in another room with an earwig in my ear, and I was staring into a camera, and they were patching me in live to all these different morning talk shows all around America. And it was such a weird thing, because I would literally be sitting there and then someone would come through my ear saying, “Hello Jason! This is Jen and Danny from Detroit!” or something. I can’t see them, but they can see me, and I’m literally live on television in Detroit. It’s such an amazing, such a bizarre thing. But it’s so cool because it’s so unusual, you know?
Q: Can you relate to your character, Ash, from the film and if so, how?
JS: Absolutely. When I read the script, I completely related to this character. I mean, I literally like down to almost every aspect of it. I’m the son of George Clooney and Meryl Streep, of course in the movie. I’m an adolescent fox, about 12-13 years old, fox years. And I’m little, I haven’t hit my growth spurt yet, and I don’t have many friends. I get picked on a little bit, quite a bit actually. And I like a girl who doesn’t really like me back and likes my cousin actually who is living with us.
I mean I felt like when I was 12-13 years old, it’s an amazing time and it’s also you know, there’s lots of new things happening in one’s life. In my case, I don’t know about everyone, I was entering a new school, meeting new friends, and I hadn’t hit my growth spurt until later. I felt little. I wished I was a better athlete. And I, of course, liked lots of people and wanted to be friends with people that didn’t all the time want to be friends back with me. And it was very weird. I, myself, I did feel like it was very odd and such a bizarre time. And what’s so nice, is that in this movie my character who is little and he’s embarrassed about being little… in the end of this movie it’s actually his size that helps save his cousin’s life. And what he realizes is that the things that make him different are not things that he should be embarrassed about. They’re actually things that make him kind of incredible, and I think that’s really the positive message of the movie and one that I would have loved to have seen when I was a kid, which is basically it’s okay to be yourself and don’t worry if you feel different. Being different is what’s cool and what’s great.
And it’s so funny, and I think adults will be able to just kind of grasp the amount of work that went into it. This is over 3 years in the making, stop-motion movie. It’s 125,000 still images working in one movie. Hundreds of animators busting their hands and their brains to make this movie, and it’s such an arduous and long process, and you can’t deny when you see it how mesmerizingly beautiful it is. This is Wes’ finest moment of physical humor. This movie is so funny. What he does with these puppets, what you’re able to do with puppets is hysterical. Just some of these scenes are some of the funniest things I have ever seen in my life.
Q: What is your favorite part of the movie?
JS: I love this one part of the movie, but it’s in the end. What should I do in this situation? Can I tell it anyway?
Q: I think it’s okay.
JS: Well, okay. I’m just gonna say it. There’s a scene at the end of the movie when George Clooney’s character, myself, my cousin and the opossum, Kylie, are all on a little motorcycle driving back to our home. And we’ve just rescued my cousin. And we stop and we see a wolf on a distant hill, and it’s a really beautiful, beautiful scene. It’s like so heart-warming because it’s just a beautiful moment between these foxes and little animals and this really like mysterious wolf who we’ve heard about the entire movie and who doesn’t talk in this scene and he’s not wearing clothes. He’s kind of, he represents I guess, the wild. He’s a wild wolf and animal, and it’s a beautiful moment where they have this great connection, and in that moment, it really like to me the point of that scene is let’s keep on being free. Let’s keep on being animals. And it’s such an uplifting moment, and like when I’ve seen it with audiences, a bunch of people break into huge cheers and hooting. It’s such an awesome, awesome scene. It really just blows my mind.
And actually, when we did the movie, you know, we did the movie basically live together as a cast. We didn’t do the scenes, none of us really did it separately in recording booths, which is how typical animated movies are done. This one, Wes Andersen had us literally go and move onto a farm together and we all lived together. And we’d wake up in the morning, have breakfast and then if there was a scene, for instance, that took place underneath a tree, George Clooney and Bill Murray, everyone, would walk over to the tree that we’d find, we’d take our scripts out and we’d just start acting out the scenes. And it was basically like doing a movie just with no cameras. So there were actors, the director, Wes, and a sound man. And we were running around, growling and hooting and hollering, and if we had to eat a bunch of food like in the movie we always are eating like French toast or biscuits, we would literally be eating French toast and biscuits and toast, I mean it was so much fun.
Anyways, one day when we were doing this particular scene with this wolf, we were all about to shoot it and then Wes said, you know we should really get someone to play the wolf so that the guys have someone to act opposite, and we looked around and Bill Murray was standing there with his hands in his pockets. He took his hands out and said, “I can be the wolf.” And Bill Murray just took off running, or I guess trotting. And he ran, ran, ran, ran really far away until he was tiny. And he turned around and actually became the wolf, like he, it’s almost as if he embodied the wolf. And he acted it out for us, and it was so inspiring and so beautiful. And Wes actually took out his camera phone, filmed it, and then sent that footage to the animators to base the wolf off of Bill Murray, so Bill Murray is the uncredited wolf in this movie. And he actually, it was so good, it was as if he practiced it. I mean, it was incredible, his wolf performance. So, I think because of what the scene means, what it represents in the movie and the great warm message that it has in the scene, plus knowing the behind the scenes, what went into that scene, I think that’s my favorite scene in the movie.
But I’m really happy to see this stop-motion animation coming out in such a wide release and getting such a great response from critics and from families and kids who have seen it because it really is, it’s a beautiful art form. There’s something for the eye, I think it’s good for the brain, I think it’s good for the eye to see a movie that isn’t just computer driven, that isn’t full of computer effects. This is a movie that is made by hand with puppets, with little micro-sweaters that have all been knitted and little corduroy suits and all the sets have been built by hand. I think it’s good for the eye. I think it, literally, it feels good to watch the movie. I’ve seen it four times, and it keeps getting better. There’s so much detail in it, so much love and care went into the making of the movie. I mean, I love Wes, but it’s not a Wes Andersen movie in the typical sense that it’s maybe a movie that is geared to a certain demographic. This is a movie for everyone, and I mean that. I just think it’s incredible and like it’s the best movie that I think that I’ve ever been a part of. And it’s the one that I’m the most excited for people to see and Meryl Streep even said to me yesterday, she said, “In my 30 year career, this is the best-reviewed movie of my life.” Isn’t that crazy? I’m always like, whoa, Meryl Streep just spoke to me? (Laughter). Which is honestly how I feel, I’m like, what? You know my name?
I can’t get over the whole thing because like I’ll be sitting there like we were like on the ground digging, like me and George Clooney and Bill Murray are digging. And I’m like looking around and it’s kind of like an out of body experience. Like I popped outside for a second and had a view of it from above going, like, what? I’m on the ground digging with George Clooney and Meryl Streep (laughter) and Bill Murray? What is happening in my world? This is amazing. And I was thinking, if only my friends could see my now.
One last thing that just popped into my brain is, I think there’s a real sense of freedom in this movie and like adventure. That’s one thing that really sets us apart, too, from you know other Wes movies. This is like a real adventure movie, with lots of action and running and just like fun, fun freedom. I feel like it’s like going down a hill on a bicycle for the whole movie. It’s just fun and exhilarating. It’s just super uplifting and happy.
Q: So, [losing]the tail. I just love that plot device. It seems to give Ash a mission. It’s his rite of passion. You feel like that changes Ash’s character, his relationship or serves as a rite of passion in becoming a man/fox.
JS: Well, my character is struggling to get his father’s attention or approval in some way. You know, George Clooney’s character is a bit consumed with some other things that he’s going through. And there’s a scene, for instance, in the movie where I’m up on a high dive tree jumping into a pool, and I’m up there with my cousin. And I scream, “Hey dad, look!” And I just do a dive and it’s just awful. And it’s like a belly flop. And then my cousin does one and there’s no splash at all. My cousin just gets all the attention and love that I really want. And I am struggling to find a way to say, “Hey, I’m here. I’m your son. I love you.” And when he does lose his tail, my character realizes that the way he’s going to get his, you know, win his father’s love and have a rite of passage and try to grow up a little is to get this tail back. And he has a mission and he goes after it.
As a plot point it’s very interesting because it furthers the movie along because he actually gets in more trouble and he doesn’t get the tail back initially. And it sets up the whole finale of the movie. There’s a nice, very emotional scene towards the end of the movie where once my cousin has been caught and he’s in this little cage, George Clooney’s character, he’s asking me where my cousin is, and I’m saying, I lost him. We tried to get your tail back and my dad realizes, I think that he realizes then kind of just how badly I wanted that attention from him. And I think it begins to dawn on him that his son, you know, really went on quite a ride to try to get something back just for that love. And I think that changes – it’s the beginning of the change of their dynamic.