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The Fantastic Mr Fox – Jason Schwartzman

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The Fantastic Mr Fox - Jason Schwartzman and George Clooney
Ash (Jason Schwartzman), Mr Fox (George Clooney) and Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) © 20th Century Fox

Jason Schwartzman made his acting debut as Max Fischer, an eccentric high school sophomore, in Wes Anderson’s comedy Rushmore in 1999. He re-teamed with Anderson for The Darjeeling Limited, and now he’s voicing his first character in Anderson’s acclaimed stop-motion version of Roald Dahl’s children’s book, Fantastic Mr Fox.

Schwartzman plays Ash, who lives with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fox (George Clooney and Meryl Streep). But after twelve years of quiet domesticity, Mr Fox’s wild instincts are taking over, and soon he’s back to his old ways as a sneaky chicken thief – dragging his son into his endeavors.

I spoke with Jason Schwartzman about the movie and his admiration for Wes Anderson.

Did you read this book or any of the Roald Dahl books as a kid?

The Fantastic Mr Fox - George Clooney and Jason Schwartzman
Mr Fox (George Clooney) is helped up while his son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) keeps a look out © 20th Century Fox

Yeah, they were read to me when I was really little, especially Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Twits and Witches. Those were the ones that I loved.  I knew this one and I loved it.  I never in a million years thought I’d be doing this.  It’s weird now to think that I’m part of a Roald Dahl book. It’s pretty amazing.

Did you have a little model of Ash to look at when you were doing the movie?

Before I ever recorded anything Wes took me out to the Three Mills where they did all the animation so I saw my puppet, I saw the sets. Everything was still being built at that time but that was all I had seen.  When I started to record the voice, I never imagined the character animated when we were laying down the audio tracks, oddly.

Even though I’d seen it all, I honestly think if I’d had a more traditional animation experience, where you are all alone in the recording booth, perhaps I would have thought of the animated character.

If you weren’t alone in the booth, how did you record it?

When Wes told me about the movie, he told me how he wanted to do it. He said, ‘How I want to do it is get all the actors together, go away on location and record it all live like a radio play.’ And that’s how we did it. We all, except for Meryl Streep because I think she was busy, for the most part the majority of my performance was done with Bill Murray, Wally (Wolodarsky), George Clooney and Wes on different locations spread over the years, and we did do it holding the scripts in our hands.

If the scene called for us to be outside, we’d go outside and find a place that seemed like it was where the scene was actually taking place. If a scene required us to dig, we all got on our hands and knees and dug in the ground. It was all being recorded with a boom mic.  It was basically like a movie without any crew, just actors. I never imagined myself animated because I was literally working with George Clooney and Bill Murray and it felt like we were just making a movie, or rehearsing a scene.

There is a tone to this that is different from other animated films I’ve seen.  It’s almost like you’re throwing away a lot of the dialogue.  Did that come from rehearsal?

The Fantastic Mr Fox - Jason Schwartzman and George Clooney
Ash (Jason Schwartzman) and father Mr Fox (George Clooney) © 20th Century Fox

I always feel awkward talking about my part in Wes’s work because it’s just there. I feel like it’s just written so clearly, and what he wants just laid out so perfectly. I feel like I just try to get out of the way of the writing.  It’s so good, I just want to do as little as possible.

But, that said, when there is direction, I feel like there’s nobody better to be directed by. He just has a way with handling people and being articulate. Sometimes you work with people and you never quite understand what they’re trying to say to you. But, I feel like with Wes, you don’t go very long without getting it.  He won’t leave you hanging. He gives great direction but I feel like so much of the direction is in the writing. If there is any style or anything in this movie, I don’t think I did anything myself.  I just said the lines.

When you saw the movie done, how close was it from the movie you had in your mind?

I had no movie in my mind.  I had seen the sets. I had seen the puppets.  I knew the dialogue.  I kind of knew what it would be but still, it’s a very unusual animated movie, an unusual stop-motion movie just because a lot of the things you see in it are typically not done, like really long shots.

There are shots in this movie that go on for a very long period of time. That’s a very atypical thing when you think of stop motion.

Would you want to do animation voice/over work again?

Oh absolutely. I would do it in this style that we did it in or I would be interested in the more orthodox way of doing it in the recording booth. That also seems interesting too where you are basically working completely alone. I think it would be really interesting.