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No, You’re Prettier

Claire Danes and Jason Schwartzman Confirm What We Suspected All Along—Steve Martin Just Oozes Sex

I KNOW MY LINES LIKE THE BACK OF MY HAND: Claire Danes and Jason Schwartzman meet cute in Shopgirl.

By Wendy Ward | Posted 11/2/2005

Hottie Jason Schwartzman comes from a good family—but if it makes you feel any better, he’s on the shorter side. Cousin to Sofia Coppola and Nicholas Cage, and ex-drummer of Phantom Planet (which does the song “California” that opens teen-soap The O.C.), Schwartzman has grown up since his break-out role six years ago as Max Fischer in Rushmore, honing his chops in a bunch of movies you probably never saw—Slackers, S1m0ne, Just Like Mona—until his sensitive-guy turn in last year’s I Heart Huckabees. The guy melts you with his eyebrows—he does, after all, have a lot of them—but when it comes time to flesh out a character, Schwartzman gets Amish on its ass.

“[Director] Anand Tucker and I tried to build it and tried to take it and literally erect it off the page,” Schwartzman says of his Jeremy in Shopgirl, his hand gesturing like crazy after shooting a shorty of black coffee. Sitting in front of the Shopgirl poster in a 1980s college-professor tan corduroy suit, light blue button-down, and dope sneaks, Schwartzman speaks quickly but a little under his breath. Earnest to the nth degree, he takes this acting stuff very seriously.

“Make sure all the windows were right and the doors were right and everything,” he continues, running with his analogy. “And then part of the building process—like you know people building something on the ground? Like, you always see those images of people building a wall. I’m kinda like Amish when it comes to my process. That moment when you try to build it, I guess that’s when parts of yourself couple with what’s in the script.”

That script comes from his Shopgirl co-star Steve Martin, whose novella inspired the movie, with the luminous Claire Danes breathing life into the titular heroine. Both Danes and Schwartzman count themselves in Martin’s fan club, as well as card-carrying members of each other’s. And in talking to the two young leads about working on this movie about a love triangle between Jeremy, Danes’ Mirabelle, and Martin’s Ray Porter, you get the impression they can’t stop telling everybody how wonderful they are.

Jeremy is a man-child without borders or self-awareness, but with an energy that breaks through the movie’s stillness. It’s an energy that’s embedded in the book’s Jeremy but gets more play on screen—due in equal parts to the script’s blueprint and Schwartzman’s reading of it. It’s a character who is “kind of deadly and inspiring in a weird way,” Schwartzman says. “Jeremy was almost like invisible ink inside of me, and Claire was like the lemon juice that made him visible to me. And I swear to God, he came alive to me when I looked into her eyes. I couldn’t have done the character without her. I was afraid the days that I had to work without her. I was totally panicking that I couldn’t become this guy without her, that I needed her.”

Danes is equally enamored with her co-star. Schwartzman “was really inventive and would create new lines often that I wasn’t expecting,” she says, her limber body pretzeled gracefully into an armchair, camouflaging her full height, and wearing a cashmere vest and a wide brown leather belt over dark jeans. “This hurts”—she points to her chest—“after spending time with Jason. He is really one of the funnier people I’ve ever known.”

Also quite the method actress, Danes says she has an appreciation for depression, having had it yet never medicated it like Mirabelle. Growing up in New York, Danes also empathizes with Mirabelle’s outsider feelings in Los Angeles. And with her dancer’s posture and tiny waist—perfectly suited for Mirabelle’s old-fashioned dresses—Danes saw Mirabelle as a real lady on limited means, but with a sense of style bought in vintage shops.

Besides being members in the mutual-appreciation club, the two actors also dig Steve Martin. “[I’ve] consumed his various ways of expressing himself,” Schwartzman says in Hollywood-ese for watching all of Martin’s movies and reading all his writing, before putting it into plain English. “[He is] a gentleman that I’ve fucking looked up to since before I could even remember.”

Danes calls Martin “Cultured”—yes, with a capital “C”—recalling the dress rehearsal for the Mark Twain Prize for Humor that Martin was honored with last week. They were sitting in room full of 19th-century American art, and Martin “identified at least 40 paintings” in the room, Danes says. “And the curator was there, or the person from the museum that could verify that he was right, and he got all of them except for about one. And I just felt like an amoeba at that point.”

On-screen, though, Danes is the radiant object of both Schwartzman’s and Martin’s attentions. So with whom did she have the best sexual chemistry? “If I actually answered that, I would be in such trouble,” Danes demurs. “It really is impossible to say. They, obviously, are antithetical in their energies, but they are both inspired comics. Jason I’ve been friends with for a long time, and we were close before we started working together here, so I think that created an awkwardness because we were transgressing some boundary there—but it was fine in the end.”

Schwartzman doesn’t feel the need to be so diplomatic. “On-screen Claire, off-screen maybe Steve,” he says. Because they have so few scenes together? “Well, we have sex in the beginning of the movie,” he clarifies.

Um, we meant so few scenes with Martin. “That’s what I’m talking about,” he jokes. “Just kidding. [I have one scene] with Steve in the gallery, but in that one moment you can feel it, you can feel the tension. Sexual tension.”

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