On Movies: Jason Schwartzman, starstruck in Philly

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Schwartzman as bad guy Gideon Graves and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as dream girl Ramona V. Flowers in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," with Michael Cera. Opening Friday.

Jason Schwartzman landed in Philadelphia last Sunday night ("9:03 p.m.," he reports), and soon thereafter found himself at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, whereupon he spied - well, let him tell it:

"Are you familiar with the band Spoon? They were in the lobby, and . . . I was scared. The way that my eyes saw the band was like out of a movie: With the angle of my eyesight, I happened to look right at a guitar case as it was being carried through the door and I scanned up and there was the lead singer, Britt [Daniel], and then a bunch of the guys walked by and then as each band member walked by I was saying to myself, 'I should say hello - I can't.' And finally, I said to the bass player at the end, 'Love your new album!'

"So that was cool."

Schwartzman is not putting on this fanboy act. A musician himself (ex-drummer in Phantom Planet, two solo albums with Coconut Records, composer for Judd Apatow's Funny People), he's clearly thrilled by his brush with Spoon.

Which is why, at age 30, with key roles in three Wes Anderson films (Rushmore, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox), and turns as King Louis XVI in his cousin Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette and as a swell-headed sitcom star in the aforementioned Funny People, the actor continues to charm: There's not a drop of smugness, of celebrity entitlement wafting off of him. In fact, while his conversation is breezy and earnest and funny, it is also riddled with self-deprecation, and maybe even a hint of low self-esteem.

In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, opening Friday, Schwartzman plays the principal villain. The film premiered two weeks ago at Comic-Con, the annual industry showcase for fantasy, superhero, horror, and genre pics attended by swarms of costumed fans. And it's right up their alley: Based on a set of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World mixes manga, anime, and gamer culture with angsty teen romance and rock-and-roll, conjuring up a world (Toronto) where the title character must engage in a series of epic fights with the exes of the girl he loves. It's been directed - nimbly, nuttily - by Edgar Wright, of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. And its star is Michael Cera, the hipster milquetoast of Superbad and Juno.

"Comic-Con was a scary moment," Schwartzman says, "because that's like the most concentrated group of people who have been following the books since they've come out, and have been following the progress of becoming a film. They've been keeping up with casting news, and really following every move in the making of it."

Does that mean there were blog posts and Twitter tweets back when it was announced that Schwartzman would be playing the arch-baddie, Gideon Graves? Scott Pilgrim zealots complaining, "Oh no, not Jason Schwartzman!"?

"I'm sure," he says. "But I don't need any more sentences like that. I already have enough in my own head - from me. Like when I see myself brushing my teeth. 'Oh no, it's Jason Schwartzman!'

"I don't need any bloggers to do it for me. I already feel - I'm already with them. So, I didn't look at any [posts], but I'm definitely positive they were there."

But, of course, Schwartzman - who's sporting a mustache on this swing through the Northeast - turns out to be perfect for the role: an imperious cad who heads the League of Evil Exes, and whose fateful face-off with Scott Pilgrim brings the movie to its explosive climax. Cera and Schwartzman - and most of the rest of the cast, including Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as the fought-over girl of Scott's dreams - did months (or at least weeks) of physical training for the movie's martial arts and weapon-laden battles.

For his part, and his battle - sword fighting - Schwartzman decided that Gideon was going to chew gum.

"I thought, what's the most insulting way to fight? You know, people say, 'Can you chew gum and pat your head?' - that was kind of the idea. . . . I can chew gum and think about other stuff and fight you.

"Chewing gum is, if you're doing another activity, it's almost like this sign of nonchalance."

Schwartzman also stars in the HBO series Bored to Death, the second season of which premieres in late September. The actor plays Jonathan Ames, the real-life Brooklyn writer. Or at least, a fictive incarnation: Ames as a slacker stoner scribe who has become an unlicensed private detective. Ted Danson and Zach Galifianakis are also regulars on the show. And Schwartzman is already hoping they all get to come back for a third season.

"It's a weird feeling, because, well, you always hope that things do well, but with a movie you hope it does well just because you want people to see it. And with a show, you want it to do well because you want people to see it, and because you want to come back. There's a weird feeling where it's still like alive. With a movie, like, I feel like I'm done with Scott Pilgrim. Gideon Graves is over. . . .

"Whereas like Bored to Death, Jonathan Ames is just hibernating inside of me, the character, and it could happen at any moment. . . . "

No more happy endings. Director Lars Von Trier held a news conference last month in Sweden to announce the start of his new, sci-fi-ish Melancholia, "a psychological disaster movie" shooting in English, and shooting now in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo land. "No more happy endings!" the controversial director declared, which suggests that he considered the Willem Dafoe castration scene at the end of his last pic, Antichrist, full of uplift and joy.

Set for release next spring, Melancholia stars his woebegone Antichrist heroine, Charlotte Gainsbourg, along with Kirsten Dunst, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, and Stellan Skarsgård.

And speaking of . . . The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Skarsgård, the Swedish character actor has been cast in David Fincher's English-language adaptation of the Stieg Larsson thriller. Variety reports that Skarsgård is onboard as Martin Vanger, one of the suspects in the 40-year-old disappearance and presumed murder of a teenage girl. Daniel Craig is all set as intrepid investigative journalist and coffee consumer Mikael Blomkvist, while the suspense, and rumors, mount as to who gets the plum role of punky cyberhacker Lisbeth Salander.

Last week, Deadline.com's Mike Fleming reported that Fincher had whittled his Lisbeth list down to six or seven, and that the actresses would be testing, in costume, with fake tattoos and pierces, opposite Craig. Apart from Juno's (and Inception's) Ellen Page (who filmed her own test) and Alice in Wonderland's (and The Kids Are All Right's) Mia Wasikowska, the actresses are quasi-knowns: Sophie Lowe and Sarah Snook, Aussies with Blame and Sleeping Beauty, respectively, set for release; American Rooney Mara, who appears in Fincher's Facebook film The Social Network; French actress Lea Seydoux, of Inglourious Basterds and Robin Hood; and Katie Jarvis, of the formidable but little-seen Brit pic Fish Tank.

Production on Fincher's Girl is expected to begin in Stockholm in September.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/