“The premise is odd,” says actor Jason Schwartzman, summing up director Wes Anderson’s philosophy behind the relentlessly quirky comedy, Rushmore. “Now make it real, and it’ll be funny.”
In so many comedies with teenage protagonists — like Schwartzman’s Max Fischer — the broad humor comes from poking fun at characters who are already grotesques. But Rushmore takes a wholly different approach. True eccentrics are filmed with matter-of-fact clarity, and the humor grows from the ways they cope with the often bizarre hurdles placed in their path.
“We always wanted to make it real, like this kid really existed,” continues Schwartzman in Detroit. “When we did each scene, Wes’ main direction was ‘Make it like it’s a documentary.’ That’s the way we tried to act it.
“I mean, the movie’s a big play,” he adds. “It’s a fantasy, but the fantasy is as real as we could make it.”
Wes Anderson, 29, co-wrote the screenplay for his second film with longtime friend Owen Wilson — part of the creative team behind the off-kilter caper comedy, Bottle Rocket — then filmed on location at his own alma mater, St. John’s School, in Houston, Texas.
“We wanted to do a school movie,” says Anderson via cellular telephone while traveling cross-country — he refuses to fly — “and almost simultaneously, there came the character of the kid who loved the school and was a terrible student.”
He cast 18-year-old acting novice Jason Schwartzman — a musician whose mother is actress Talia Shire — in part because “the character does a lot of awful things, and I wanted someone that you’re going to stay with in spite of all that.”
Like other aspects of Rushmore, the British Invasion soundtrack Wes Anderson put together isn’t used in a conventional way.
“Max sees himself as an adult who has work to do,” Anderson explains, “but he’s a teenager, and he’s a rebel even though he doesn’t want to be. It’s just in his blood. So the music addresses the adolescent issues which he tries to gloss over, the stuff in him that he doesn’t want to express.”