In Bob Byington’s “7 Chinese Brothers,” which premiered at this year’s SXSW, Jason Schwartzman stars as Larry, a particular breed of aimless slacker coasting from dead-end job to dead-end job insulated by booze and pills — and finding himself on the wrong end of people’s fists fairly often. Schwartzman sits down with Metro to talk working onscreen alongside his own dog, trying to relate to people with zero ambition and having a face people seem to want to punch all the time.
Is this the most you’ve ever been punched in a film, as a character?
I’ve been punched a lot. I think this one, I got slapped and punched a few times. And I think in “Rushmore” I get punched a few times. “Scott Pilgrim” is just exceptional, of course. But yeah, a lot.
Do you ever worry about why you keep getting offered such punch-able roles?
No, I can understand why they would hit these people. It’s weird to be hit but not coming out of a fight. That’s a whole separate kind of punch, and I think that it’s very effective in a movie. A character just getting pushed or punched out of a frame can be funny and it’s also very shocking. I liked it. I understood why this character was getting hit.
He’s a bit eccentric, to be sure. Where did the randomly talking in different accents come from?
My dog in the movie is my dog in real life, and I said to Bob, “You know what’s weird? I’ve been thinking about this, I talk to me dog in accents probably because he can’t judge me.” So Bob just wanted to try things in accents, and there was a really fun, experimental way about doing this movie. A lot of things were modular. The story was written and the lines were written, but the ideas of these bits — like when I talk to my dog about keying a guy’s car, we tried that in so many different places in the movie, and it never worked. And the one day halfway through I started doing this English accent and all of a sudden it seemed to work.
I feel like if was a person with more ambition, he would actually be trying to pursue a career in comedy.
Who knows? I don’t know, yeah. But whenever I’ve worked on other movies, the character’s ambition is a big part of that character. You know you see some movie and the character is a banker — and just a banker. I’ve always struggled to relate to those characters because, like, what do they do? What someone does or what someone wants is a big part of the movie, for me. But this movie, I said to Bob, “What does Larry want? What is he doing, what’s his ambition?” If you asked Larry as a character what he wants, he would say, “Well, I want to keep my job and feed my dog.” For me, from the outside, that’s a very hard thing to portray. I don’t know if I’m ambitious, but I think it’s good to have goals. This character doesn’t seem to have goals that you could highlight. But Larry’s a good guy.
He’s not an asshole.
He’s not an asshole and he’s not super-depressed or an outwardly depressive person. He’s just … going to work.
How did you end up working with your own dog, Arrow, for this?
Oddly enough, originally in the script it was a German shepherd, and Larry’s dog originally was violent and would bite people. But we cast my dog, and he’s the opposite of violent. I don’t think he has teeth. He’s the laziest animal in the world. And most bigger dogs have more energy, and we would have these scenes where Larry would just start talking to his dog, and I think it was cool that we got to use my dog and capitalize on his lethargy because we probably would’ve had to cut a lot sooner because the dog would’ve just gotten up and left. But my dog, he’ll just watch you, but he won’t get up unless he thinks you’re leaving, so you can just pace around and talk to him.
So did you propose working with your own dog for this?
Bob says that I did. I thought that he came to my house, saw my dog and was like, “That’s the dog for my movie.” But Bob says that I was saying, “You should really consider my dog for this part.” Probably somewhere in the middle is the truth.
So you’re calling Bob a liar?
I’m calling the whole situation … strange. But it was nice and advantageous to me personally because I didn’t have to find someone to watch him. He was on set all the time with us. He was there even when he wasn’t in the scenes.
Did he have a lot of input on the editing?
Yeah, his cut has a lot more of him in it.
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter: @nedrick