Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City Helped Me With Grief – IndieWire

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Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City Helped Me With Grief – IndieWire

Editor’s Note: In “Asteroid City,” Jason Schwartzman plays Auggie Steenbeck, a war photographer who must break the news to his children that their mother has died. He also plays Jones Hall, an actor portraying Auggie in a play. That elaborate gamble brought a new dimension to Schwartzman’s longtime relationship with Wes Anderson nearly 25 years after the director cast Schwartzman in “Rushmore” at age 19 and launched his career.

Here, Schwartzman explains the personal revelations that came from the experience. Asteroid City is now in theaters.

There’s a moment in Asteroid City when my character, Auggie, reveals to his kids that their mother is dead, that she’s been dead for three weeks, and they’re moving. It is almost exactly what happened to my father and uncle when they were children. They lost their mother to breast cancer and my grandfather gathered them up in Brooklyn and they drove across the country to California and didn’t find out their mother had died until a few weeks later after they were settled. It was a sad coincidence. So when I read that part, it was eerily like my father was part of the scene. It was very emotional.

ASTEROID CITY, adults, from left: Pere Mallen, Rupert Friend, Jean-Yves Lozac'h, Jarvis Cocker, Seu Jorge, Maya Hawke, 2023 © Focus Features / Courtesy Everett Collection

When my own father died, my mother said, “Remember, there’s no wrong way to feel.” I was 13 at the time and didn’t understand it, but Asteroid City helped me understand what she meant.

At one point, Margot Robbie’s character tells mine that I have to move on, and I realized that Wes was making this really intense observation about grief: It’s okay to feel bad, it’s okay to feel good, and it’s okay to feel good again. you feel bad It moves back and forth because that is the purpose of this emotion; you can’t keep judging him. Don’t feel bad for not being sad in a bad situation. You judge it so you don’t even experience it. If everyone else is crying and you don’t feel guilty for not being visibly upset… don’t ask yourself why you don’t feel sad enough… don’t judge your emotions. I think that’s what my mom meant when she told me there was no wrong way to feel after my dad died. That was the most personal aspect of it all, but I didn’t even realize it until I saw the movie.

Wes has seen me through a lot. Over the years, we’ve lost people, we’ve gained people, and we’ve seen all kinds of versions of ourselves. Working on these projects is just about sharing things. He called me in 2019 and said he was working on something with Roman Coppola with a part they were writing for me. I couldn’t believe it. The last few projects I had worked on with Wes and Roman were more in the “cooking story and character” phase. I hadn’t played with Wes in a while, but I didn’t realize it until he brought up this movie and the feeling of joy came through me. I had forgotten what it felt like because our friendship was based on enthusiasm for other people. As a child he showed me movies, music and books. No one had done this for me before; I didn’t have anyone in that role.

ASTEROID CITY, from left: Jason Schwartzman, Jake Ryan, 2023 © Focus Features / Courtesy Everett Collection
“Asteroid City”©Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection

Part of the fun of working with him is seeing how excited he is to write about this person and imagining what that person is going to say. I’ve watched his joy and excitement for the last few years: “Oh my God, Jeffrey Wright says this is going to be amazing!” So ​​all of a sudden it was like, “Wow—he’s thinking about me again.”

At first, Wes said, “All I can say right now is thinking about Kazan.” Oddly enough, I had this book about Kazan by my bed, so I sent him a picture of it. Then after Wes called, I went to Chicago to play Fargo. While I was there, I went to the Music Box Theater because one weekend they released 2001 on 70mm – which sent me down Kubrick’s little rabbit hole, watching clips and documentaries and reading books. Then Wes wrote me again out of the blue and said, “Stop Kazan, don’t think Kazan, think Kubrick!” This time it was Michael Herr’s book Kubrick. I also sent him this picture. I still had no idea what the movie was about; I thought maybe I would play a director. I just thought it was good to be in some way, some way, in a parallel game with the guys.

A year later, “Fargo” was suspended due to the pandemic. When we were doing it, there was a dialogue coach named Tanera Marshall who worked with actors Ben Whishaw and Jesse Buckley on specific accents. While I was on set, I said to Tanera, “Hey, I don’t have any lines that I can practice with you from the script or a lot of information, but if I were to say to you that I wanted to try a Kazan or Kubrick-era character, what would did that mean?’

She said, ‘You’re talking about an era of people – one is European and the other is New York.’ Then the script came and there was a line in it that said my character ‘speaks with a faint accent.’ The script is set in the 1950s, which would put me in a generation similar to my own father, who was from the East Coast. I had never played a role that suited my dad before, so I went over to Mom’s house on the weekend and dug through old videos of my family. There was no cable to watch these videos. I found the exact camera he used on eBay so I could play these videos on my TV. Since my dad was filming everything, I was just trying to get a clip of his voice. There was something special about the way he spoke.

I kept trying to figure out this character and Tanera said I had to learn how to move my face less, which was very difficult. Then, one day, I passed my wife sitting in the kitchen. I said something and she didn’t really respond to it; she just made a sound. I went and said, “What?” She pointed to her face and she had one of those rehydrating skin masks that hardens. I was like, “Wait a minute, this is how I want to feel!”

I applied all this hydrating facial clay on my face. It was probably too much. Before you know it, my face couldn’t move. Then I pulled out my script and tried to do all the lines with that mask on my face. I thought it was really fun and exciting, so I sent Wes a video. He answered me and said, “I think we’re on to something.”

“Asteroid City”Focus functions

Wes and I asked Julie Dartnell, head of hair and makeup, if there was any topical numbing face cream I could use or anything else that might constrict my facial movements. I was thinking something along the lines of numbing the actual muscles, but Julie had the great idea of ​​a denture. She knew an FX guy in the UK who basically made me a little mouth guard just for the molars that went over my teeth—just a square for your back molar that clicks both together so it basically locks your jaw shut . I put it in and couldn’t move my mouth. I decided to use it for a few weeks to help my process. Then Wes told me to lower my voice a bit; I was about B-flat and Tanera was doing these vocal exercises with me to get me to G. It was amazing.

Since the character was also at war, this whole experience made me think about how a man who has seen a lot of death and trauma learns to deal with it when it happens in his own family. Auggie literally doesn’t know how to move. It’s a physical demonstration of how uncomfortable it is, how difficult it is to talk about these things. I was left thinking about what life might be like for these children, as well as for my own children.

The best part about being around Wes is that he sees something in me that I don’t. That’s what friends do – push each other when there’s nowhere else to go. That’s the privilege and responsibility of someone you’ve known for a long time: they get to see you and see more of you.

As told to Eric Kohn.

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