Glenn Lowson

Anna Kendrick, left, thinks that Jason Schwartzman’s refusal to surf with his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriends is well put.

Anna Kendrick, left, thinks that Jason Schwartzman’s refusal to surf with his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriends is well put.

Vanessa Farquharson, National Post · Monday, Aug. 9, 2010

Jason Schwartzman walks into a hotel room strumming a guitar, with a Cheeto affixed to his dress shirt. The publicist warns that, prior to this, he’s been conducting all interviews — and photo shoots — in a bathrobe, so anything could happen.

This isn’t so unexpected; after all, the 30-year-old actor is known for his roles in quirky indie films, from his debut as a young nebbish in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore to a love interest in Shopgirl, followed by more Anderson films — The Darjeeling Limited and Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Now, he’s playing evil ex-boyfriend Gideon Gordon Graves in Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, the much-hyped screen adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic series. One of his many co-stars is the Oscar-nominated Anna Kendrick (of Up in the Air and the Twilight films), who comes trailing into the room behind him, looking entirely normal.

“Are you married?” says Schwartzman. These are the first words out of his mouth, as he sits down and notices a ring on the reporter’s left hand.

“Best wishes,” says Kendrick. “You know, that’s an old-fashioned thing to say. You’re supposed to say ‘best wishes’ to the bride because it’s, like, of course she deserves a husband — you never say ‘congratulations’. And to the groom, you should say ‘You’re a lucky man,’ which of course you wouldn’t say to a woman because that’s weird.”

“I just say, ‘Oh, cool — call me when it’s over,’” says Schwartzman.

It sounds like something his character might say. Gideon, a music mogul who temporarily wins Ramona back from Scott, exudes a mix of pretentiousness, apathy and fake charm, which somehow come together to pose a romantic threat.

“[Director Edgar Wright’s] theory was that Gideon was the ultimate evil ex in passive-aggressive behaviour,” says Schwartzman. “He smiles a lot and he’s very patronizing. See, there are two types of passive-aggressive people: There are passive-aggressive people who are clearly passive aggressive when you meet them, then there are passive-aggressive people who seem kind, but then a little while later you find out they’ve been pulling some strings.

“We weren’t sure which one Gideon was,” he adds, “so we just did a lot of different takes and then let Edgar pick and choose which versions he wanted.”

Schwartzman was able to draw on real-life experience for this role — not because he’s a jerk, but because manipulative ex-lovers who pretend to be cool about their former partners moving on are ubiquitous.

“It’s actually quite a natural instinct,” he says. “I’ve met ex-boyfriends of girlfriends I’m dating at the time and they’re like, ‘Yeah, I’ll take you surfing, bro! I’ll take you surfing!’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t want to go surfing with you — what, you’re going to take me out there and watch me fall all over the place? I’m not going surfing!”

Kendrick, who plays Scott’s sister in the film — a character who loves gossip and has little time for her younger sibling — keeps quiet on the subject of evil exes.

“Jason does most of the talking in these interviews and I just say, ‘Well put, Jason,’” she says.

Well, that’s not entirely true. When asked about her career trajectory and award nomination, the 25-year-old actress jokes about crashing hard after losing the Oscar for best supporting actress this past March to Mo’Nique — in reality, she’s happy to be goofing around on a press tour.

“At no point do I have to take myself seriously,” she says, “and that was the tricky part of the Oscar season. I had to talk about my work in a way that I wouldn’t normally. I’d be interviewed by somebody like Elvis Mitchell and if he asked me a serious question, I wanted to give a serious answer.”

An attempt is made to ask how she trained herself to respond to these serious questions, at which point Schwartzman interjects with, “Yeah. Seriously.”

“I don’t know,” says Kendrick. “It took me a while to stop instinctively saying silly things. It’s kind of like slowly realizing the person you’re talking to has had a death in the family or something, so you change the way you’re talking to them. That’s a terrible example. But you basically have to try and respond to people’s energy.”

Responding to people’s energy is also something both actors did while rehearsing and performing their respective parts. The plethora of digital effects in Scott Pilgrim wouldn’t be added until the shooting was wrapped, so the cast relied upon each other to get the perfect mix of intensity, sarcasm and humour onto the screen.

Schwartzman attempts to elaborate on this artistic process, as well as his own method of preparing for a big role, but it’s not all that easy to describe.

“I don’t know what the words are,” he says, “but when I’m working on a movie, it’s definitely on my mind a lot. I’m just thinking about it all the time. But I would hate to define it because then someone who’s really great at acting will say, ‘What is that kid thinking?’ So I plead the fifth.”