Interview: Jason Schwartzman Talks Jonathan Ames, The Modern Day Hero

Jonathan Ames is a lot cooler than some may think. He’s a man who gets the job done, a smooth talker, and is also a ladies man. In season one of Bored to Death, Ames started out with a girlfriend played by Olivia Thirlby and ended up hooking up with a client played by Parker Posey; he’s a ladies’ man in all sense of the phrase. All women treat him kindly, including the femme fatales. He may not be the ‘ol hard-boiled detective we all know, but instead he’s the soft and cuddly kind.

Jason Schwartzman is someone that’s no stranger to the awkward and sometimes not-so-smooth side of humanity in terms of past roles, but Ames is different. On the outside, you’d say he’s just that. But he’s not. As stated above, he’s probably one of the coolest and most reliant heroes currently on the small screen. If it came down to picking Jack Bauer or Jonathan Ames to solve a case, it’d be best to go with the latter.

Bored to Death just started its second season and this time around it’s topping itself in nearly every category: the stakes are higher, it’s playing up its noir roots, and much, much more.

Here’s what Schwartzman had to say about Bored to Death, the style of the world, and playing a modern day hero:

Based on the first four new episodes, would you say this season is raising the stakes and consequences a bit more?

I would say that it’s true, hopefully. That was one thing Jonathan [Ames] was hoping to do, you know, advancing the level of danger or upping the ante. Basically, I think that’s the great thing about being able to have a second season is that in a lot of the first season you’re trying to, of course, make it standalone as its own work. Had we not gotten a second season the hope is that you made a first season that feels complete. The first season is a lot about laying groundwork; information, and saying this person is this person and that person is that person, and these two are friends. You’re trying to advance the story, but also give information and an introduction to people.

Now that we’ve done that, of course, the first couple of episodes in this season you must be reacquainted and have a certain amount of information being laid out, but lesser so. Hopefully, because of the first season, we’ll be able to get more quickly into the cases and get more into the action. It’s funny because, yes, it’s a year later from when the last season took place, but in our minds it’s really only three months after the last season ended. There’s not a whole lot that has to have changed, but three months as a private detective is a good amount of time. Therefore, I think I’m getting, not better, but a little bit more comfortable with it.

I am getting cases that are a little more dangerous physically and mentally a lot more threatening. It’s also more fun because the three of us have spent a lot more time together. It’s definitely fun to act and do, and I think it’s fun for maybe people to see Zach, Ted, and I acting together more with our plot lines interweaving.

How about playing up the idea that Jonathan is heroic?

Hopefully. The main thing that I love is that the show isn’t ironic. It’s not like, “Haha, he’s a writer and a terrible detective!” He is trying his best to help people. One thing that I love about Jonathan Ames, the real one, is that all of the characters in his books are not goody two shoes types of people. They’re morally ambiguous and are generally coming from a bad place and they say to themselves, “Okay, I’m going to do better now and that’s behind me,” and then they do their best but weaken and fuck up. In the process they hurt some people around them and make a mess of things, and that’s where a lot of the comedy comes from.

I find it to be the same in the show. I’m not morally Mr. Righteous. I smoke pot, drink wine, and I possibly could get involved in any sex or drugs if I felt like, “Why not?” You never know, I’m a good person, but I don’t think I’m like a principle. At the same time, I am trying to do better and trying to be a better man. When I’m a detective I am trying to help people and I do kind of mess it up, but I do alright. To me, that’s one of the fun things about the show: Jonathan wants to be more of a man of action. In the first season, his girlfriend doesn’t think he’s living life to the fullest or is doing anything. A part of his movie to become a detective or do something is to kind of give his whole system a shock and to become a man of action and heroic in some way, or at least try. He gets a great sense of pleasure and happiness being so psychical with running from people, beating people up, or banging on a door; it’s almost like a costume he wears.

It’s like how Don Quixote reads about Knights and sort of becomes one and enjoys it, so does my character. It’s funny because me as a person there is where my character and I sort of become fused when I’m in detective mode. I really have as much fun doing it as my character probably does. I love being so physical and when Jonathan says, “This is where you beat up some guys in the woods,” I say, “Fun, because I probably would never get to do that in my normal day life.” I’m enjoying it simultaneously with my character.

It was briefly said at one point that Jonathan is a fan of detective novels; do you think that’s where he possibly got this delusional feeling and detective outlook from?

I mean, I want to find another word to go on top of delusional. I think maybe because he’s a writer and has a tendency to daydream the voice in his head is probably sometimes very strong. I think he’s looking for help, and that’s why Ray and George are so important to him because they can give him advice. He’s looking for answers to help him become a man and to grow up a little bit. I think the whole idea of emulation or how he puts on this coat is somewhat, I don’t know about delusional, but it’s like he’s become a character. It’s like becoming a method actor in your real life. He’s kind of like a super dreamer and trying to force his body and mind to become someone else, so I guess he’s delusional. I keep saying the word delusional the more I try not to.

Could you possibly argue he also does this to feel manly in a sad way? He gets right into it right after being dumped.

Oh, yeah. You know all those lyrics of the song Beast of Burden? I think that all of those things he definitely thinks about. Initially in the pilot script his neighbor said to him, “You know what you need to do? You need to rebound fast,” and Jonathan responds how he’s disinterested and loves her and then the neighbor said, “Look, go on Craigslist. That’s where people are meeting. Go put up an ad and meet a girl.” He goes on Craigslist thinking maybe his neighbor is right, but he doesn’t have the heart to do it but just instead makes the decision to post himself up as a private detective and then he gets the hit.

All you really need to know about Jack is his favorite movies are: The Last Detail, Rumble Fish, Sunset Boulevard, The Truman Show, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, The Verdict, Closer, Shadow of a Doubt, The Long Goodbye, Spider-Man 2, Jaws, Adaptation, Get Carter, The Last Days of Disco, Carnal Knowledge, Almost Famous, Ed Wood, Ace in the Hole, Barton Fink, and L.A. Confidential.

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