On a sunny afternoon in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, writer-creator Jonathan Ames and lead actor Jason Schwartzman took BULLETT behind the scenes of HBO’s Bored to Death, where, together, they spend their days being Jonathan Ames.
JONATHAN AMES: It was February 2008, and we met at—what’s the name of that place?
JASON SCHWARTZMAN: Izzy’s.
JA: Izzy’s. Izzy’s Deli in Santa Monica. We met to discuss this movie I’d written based on one of my books, Wake Up, Sir! Then Jason asked me what else I was working on, and I mentioned that I was going to be writing a TV pilot about a writer who becomes a private detective. Jason became very intrigued, and he was like, “Can I be in that?” The idea was that he was going to be in the movie, which has kind of gone away for the time being…
JS: Yeah, that’s all true. There is a lot of driving in Los Angeles and you have to pay for parking, and I just remember going out to the parking meter a lot because it was such a nice time that we kept exceeding the time limit. It was like, two hours, put more quarters in, go in, talk some more, put more quarters in, have more coffee… I don’t want to get too sappy, but it was a really nice time.
JA: Yeah, we really hit it off. There was an immediate sense of like, “Oh, let’s be friends.”
JS: Yeah, that’s right.
JA: One funny thing is that Jason is a pretty strict vegetarian, and Izzy’s is more or less a meat place, and not even very good meat. [Laughter.] It’s not like its organic meat—we’re talking some nasty, fatty corn beef. I invited the strict vegetarian-vegan to meet me there. I think I had some chicken…
JS: I wasn’t hungry, anyway.
What did they think of each other? JA: I thought that he was sweet and kindly.
JS: That’s what I thought of him, too. JA: I came across as sweet? Not kind of pinched and ugly?
JS: No, far from it.
Jason pauses to reflect upon compartmentalizing friendships [those who talk only music, only sports…]. He notes that as he ages, he has begun to lament friendships with conversational limitations.
JS: But with Jonathan, there is so much that we can talk about and ask questions about. He’s a teacher, and that’s always nice for someone who is curious about stuff. He was recommending books. I walked away with a syllabus on a napkin—Stephen King’s On Writing and The Writer’s Chapbook.
JA: I didn’t say Stephen King’s On Writing! I didn’t suggest that.
JS: You didn’t? Oh, I’m pretty sure you did.
JA: No, no, I never read it. The Writer’s Chapbook I suggested. I think you did the Stephen King book on your own, but I may have told you detective novels to read.
Jonathan agrees that he is capable of discussing an array of subjects—except, perhaps, music. His specialty lies elsewhere:
JA: Sexual problems, relationship problems, mental problems, health problems, spiritual problems… Anything problems-related, you could discuss with me.
JS: Anything problematic.
II: BORED TO DEATH
The friends collaborate and communicate with ease, evading the clutches of diva disputes. Instead, they bask in cast chemistry.
JS: You know, a script is truly just a blueprint for how to make a house. When you go in there to do it, I ask him, “Well, it says wood, but it could be ash, mahogany… What did you have in mind?” “Oh, maybe a lighter wood.”
JA: “Should I play it angry here? Should I play it like I understand the joke?” Sometimes these things aren’t indicated in the script. It might just be “stop at exclamation mark,” then you would ask me, “Am I angry here?” and I’d be like, “Yes.” Once in a while he’ll be like, “I should play this angry here,” and I’ll be like, “No, no. Play it wounded, not angry.” Little things like that, but never major philosophical differences.
JS: We are very lucky. Creative people are just real bold, and they don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks. I’m just going to do it my way, and that’s it. Me, I believe in fitting in. I was in a band, so I believe all can be a unit.
III: COSMIC PONDERINGS
Do they believe that there is life outside the planet, or are we just alone in this universe?
JA: I think there are probably other forms of life out there, however you qualify life. The planet itself seems alive to me—the Earth seems alive, and I think other planets are like living organisms because they have things inside them that shape the outer core. I think planet Earth is alive in a sense, but I don’t know how you would define life. So, I would say there is life elsewhere, but I am not sure what life means.
JS: Just CC me on that one.
Do they believe that we have a predetermined path or that we make our own way?
JS: Have you ever been to Build-A-Bear? You can build your own bear with a matter of, like, 10 things that you can choose from. Making your own way is like that. You’re making your own way based on a limited amount of things.
JA: I don’t think my destiny was determined, but you can affect your destiny every day incrementally.
JS: Yeah. I grew up in Los Angeles, and I came of age when there was a lot of MTV, and I got into music. I wonder: If I’d grown up on the outskirts of some small place, would I still be interested in music? Would I be more interested in music? I don’t know.
JA: I like what you said about the Build-A- Bear, because the metaphor I was thinking of was like—you know when you go bowling, and they put those bumpers up for kids?
JS: Yeah, yeah. That’s exactly what I’m saying.
JA: I don’t know if my destiny can’t go outside certain bounds of a soft bowling alley.
JS: I will never be able to slam-dunk. So that would be an example.
JA: Yeah. Most humans can’t.
JS: So that’s not my destiny.