Jason Schwartzman Imagines Secret Identity as Brylcream Stain-Leaving Tough Guy

"Bored" star might "walk into a bar and get looks like, 'Who's that guy?'"

Oct. 3, 2009— -- What do an eccentric high school sophomore, King Louis XVI, a fox and a struggling writer turned moonlighting detective have in common?

They are all Jason Schwartzman, the multifaceted star of HBO's new television series "Bored to Death," whose life is anything but boring.

"I play a young writer named Jonathan Ames and live in Brooklyn, N.Y.," said Schwartzman in an interview with ABC News Now's "Popcorn" with Peter Travers. "I'm a struggling writer. Well, I've written a novel and am struggling with the second one. My girlfriend breaks up with me because I've broken my promise to be sober and a great writer."

"Bored to Death" was created by the real Jonathan Ames, who has successfully written several books, including the graphic novel, "The Alcoholic."

In the HBO series, the character Jonathan Ames tries to escape from his harsh reality and turns to classic private detective novels.

"He responds to tough detectives who wouldn't get their hearts broken -- they just wouldn't stand for it! They have whiskey for breakfast," said Schwartzman.

Ames goes on Craigslist and, as a lark, offers his services as an unlicensed (untrained and unarmed) private detective for hire and, within hours, gets his first case to find a missing girl.

Schwartzman identifies with his character because they both yearn to have a tougher side and be stronger, very masculine heroes. They want to, as he put it, "walk into a bar and get looks like, 'Who's that guy?'"

Schwartzman's ideal other life would include a lot of leather and a coolness that only people like Cary Grant, independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch or musician Tom Waits effortlessly exude. His fantasy life would be driving "a car with bad mileage," wearing "a lot of leather," and leaving "a stain with all my Brylcreem and mousse," he confesses.

At the HBO premiere, the real Ames, sporting an "I heart Jason" button, described Schwartzman as a beautiful person who carried the entire show. He also praised co-stars Ted Danson, who plays George Christopher, a high-profile magazine editor and Ames' boss; and "The Hangover"'s Zach Galifianakis, who plays a comic book illustrator Ray Hueston and Ames' best friend.

Schwartzman's first acting gig was in 1999 as the star of Wes Anderson's "Rushmore," in which he played Max Fischer, a quirky 15-year-old high school sophomore caught in a love triangle with his widowed teacher and a depressed tycoon played by Bill Murray. Murray's much quoted line when speaking of his love is, "She's my Rushmore, Max."

Schwartzman's Rushmore, he said, is "the time I get to spend with my family. I just make the most of it. I love my wife. I love my dog (a French bulldog called Arrow). I love my mom and I love my brothers."

Schwartzman is the son of actress Talia Shire (nee Coppola) and the late producer Jack Schwartzman. His uncle is acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola and his cousins are Nicholas Cage and director Sofia Coppola, who cast him as King Louis XVI in her 2006 movie "Marie Antoinette," starring Kirsten Dunst.

Despite his prestigious pedigree, Schwartzman did not grow up in the business.

"I was never on a film set growing up. My mother does not gravitate to liking that world and, socially, she doesn't have friends in the business," he said.

Schwartzman did not have aspirations to be an actor because the movie stars of his youth were "larger than life" and seemed "so far away, unreachable and untouchable."

Instead he gravitated to music, and his icon was Nirvana's Kurt Cobain. It wasn't until he turned 16 that movies made an impact on his life. His mother rented "Dog Day Afternoon," "The Graduate" and "Harold & Maude." He watched them all night long and was hooked.

"I wanted to rip my skin off I was so happy. That was the moment!" he said.

So while Schwartzman was playing in a band in Los Angeles, he auditioned for Wes Anderson's "Rushmore." To this day, he doesn't know what Anderson saw in him, but he was enamored of the director from the start.

"'Rushmore' was the first script I read," Schwartzman said. "I told people in casting that I was wasting their time. When I sat down with Wes, I just thought, 'I want to be this guy's friend,' and was envious of who would get the part because he would spend time with Wes. I loved him -- instant love, but I was nervous to love him too much because I might never see him again."

He described the call from Anderson telling him he got the lead as "one of the most beautiful moments in my life." He was so taken aback that he could not tell anyone for 24 hours.

After "Rushmore," Schwartzman went back to high school, where fellow students attributed his three-month absence to illness. He did not rid them of their illusions simply because he did not believe the movie would actually come out. But that possibility did not worry him because he felt amply rewarded just by being on set with Murray.

"He was a super god to me," Schwartzman said.

Schwartzman's collaboration with Anderson did not stop there. In September 2007, he penned his first screenplay, "The Darjeeling Limited," which he co-wrote with his cousin Roman Coppola and Anderson. He also starred in the film, as "Peter," alongside Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody.

Anderson subsequently cast Schwartzman in his upcoming animated film, "The Fantastic Mr. Fox," which co-stars George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Murray. Schwartzman voiced the son of Clooney's Mr. Fox character.

Anderson utilized stop-motion animation because "he wanted the movie to feel human even though it's about animals," said Schwartzman.

Unlike typical animation movies where actors speak their lines while standing alone in sound booths, Anderson grouped the actors into a house and had them enact the script while they were being recorded by a soundman with a boom microphone.

"Wes wanted it to be naturalistic," Schwartzman said, adding that when he and Clooney had a digging scene, they literally dug together in dirt.

Apart from his family, Schwartzman's two loves remain movies and music. In addition to his acting career, he is active in the indie record music scene. In 2006, he created a musical rock solo project with Coconut Records. Their single "Bored to Death," written by Schwartzman and Ames, is the theme song of the HBO series.

As for his acting career, he still feels like it is a dream.

"I feel like I'm going to have a Wizard of Oz moment, where nothing is real. I love it, but I have a lot of stress because it's all I want to do and all I can do. I don't take it lightly. Every time I go to a movie set, I can't believe I'm part of this great thing," he said with amazement.

Then, misquoting Brian Wilson's song "'Til I Die," Schwartzman softly sang, "These things I'll feel until I die."

HBO's new television series, "Bored to Death," is set to premiere Sept. 20.