Chicago Sun-Times: Schwartzman’s acting different

PROFILE | ‘Pilgrim’ is welcome switch
August 12, 2010
BY BILL ZWECKER Columnist/bzwecker@suntimes.com

‘I’m always amused when someone says, ‘This certainly is so different than any character you’ve ever played!’ ” said actor Jason Schwartzman.

”I mean, I understand about Hollywood typecasting and pigeonholing actors, but I think, ‘Isn’t playing new people in new projects the whole point of being an actor?’ ”

Yet even Schwartzman admits his Gideon Graves in the new film ”Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (opening Friday) is ”a lot different than any character I’ve even thought about playing.”

In the film, based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s “Scott Pilgrim” graphic novels, Michael Cera plays the title character, who is forced to vanquish mysterious Ramona Flowers’ seven evil ex-beaus before can win her.

Gideon is the final — and most diabolical — of the exes, and Schwarztman and director Edgar Wright spent a lot of time conceiving his onscreen persona.

The actor, in Chicago earlier this week to chat up the film, explained that he and Wright agreed that Gideon needed to be ”something of a surprise by the time you get to him in the film. We didn’t want him to be outwardly evil. … It was more of: Let’s kill ‘em with kindness. We were thinking what would be the ultimate evil, and we came up with this idea of a passive-aggressive personality. That’s why you see me initially smiling a lot, patronizing Scott a lot and touching him a lot.”

Something like Christoph Waltz’s chilling, Oscar-winning performance as the Nazi officer in ”Inglourious Basterds” last year?

”Yes! Exactly. That’s what we were going for,” Schwartzman said.

All of those nuances to passive-aggressive nastiness led Wright and Schwartzman to develop a “shorthand” while filming ”Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.”

They came up with a scale of one to 10, ”with 10 being overt, big jerk, total evil and aggressive, and one being almost untraceably evil — if not kind and sincere,” said Schwartzman.

”So when we’d shoot a scene, Edgar would go, ‘Let’s do seven,’ or ‘Let’s do five’ or ‘Give me a six.’

”It did make for an interesting way to reveal a character’s personality,” said the actor, whose HBO series “Bored to Death” begins its second season Sept. 26.

Schwartzman was joined in Chicago by co-star Anna Kendrick, who has found fame due both to her ”Twilight” films and her Oscar-nominated role as the uptight associate of George Clooney in ”Up in the Air.”

Though Kendrick’s Stacey Pilgrim is Scott’s younger sister, her whole persona is to act as the more mature sibling.

”Given that I have an older brother, and we have the exact same relationship as Stacey and Scott’s,” Kendrick said, “I had no problem falling into that aspect of the character.”

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