Message received: “Trust” director David Schwimmer doesn’t want to talk about “Friends.”
That became clear as I asked him by phone (after questions about his new movie, of course) what his character, Ross Gellar, is doing right now (“I don’t think about it”). I also told him that a sweater and a $2 inflatable monkey turned me into Ross for one Halloween.
He did not find this amusing.
“Honestly, Matt, I get frustrated,” said Schwimmer of talking about the TV comedy that made him a star. “I’m here talking about a film I spent a lot of my time and energy directing, and you’re asking me about a Halloween costume … It’s frustrating for me when [‘Friends’] keeps on surfacing. It was a great chapter of my life and I’m forever grateful for it, but we ended the show 6 years ago.”
I suppose I can’t blame him. I’m also glad the 44-year-old Northwestern grad, who was raised in Los Angeles and now lives in New York, has something new on the big screen worth talking about: His second directorial effort, “Trust,” opening April 1, is a huge step up from his previous work, 2007’s “Run Fatboy Run.”
In “Trust,” which is set in the Chicago suburbs but filmed in Ann Arbor, Mich., for budgetary reasons, a father (Clive Owen) confronts feelings of helplessness and rage after his 14-year-old daughter (Chicago International Film Festival Best Actress winner Liana Liberato) falls victim to an online predator who lies about his age.
Considering Schwimmer, the co-founder of Streeterville’s Lookingglass Theatre Company (where "Trust" appeared as a play in early 2010 while the film was being edited), has his first child with wife Zoe Buckman on the way, the issue of kids’ online safety has gotta be weighing on him pretty heavily.
On the subject of trust and deception, what’s the biggest lie you’ve ever told? Or most memorable?
The most memorable [laughs] is probably when I was [about 10 years old] and I just hated a certain meal that my mom had cooked, and at that time she wanted us to just finish everything on our plates and I refused to eat it. The whole family had finished the meal and left the table and my mom had said to me, “Do not leave the table until you’ve eaten your food.” And I surreptitiously wrapped my whole dinner in a paper towel and stuffed it in the bottom of a wastebasket and my mom later said, “Did you finish your meal?”
Did she ever find out the truth?
Oh, yeah, she knew. She was a lawyer so she then produced the evidence and then said, “I know you weren’t telling the truth.” [Laughs.]
Was there a punishment?
Of course, of course. I was grounded without TV privileges or something for a week.
I feel like the punishment should have been to eat the food you threw away.
No, no, that’s terrible. My mom wasn’t cruel. [Laughs.]
With a baby on the way, how much more do you look at your own film and say, “Oh, man, these are tough issues”?
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I mean, it’s on my mind all the time. And even more so now as a parent-to-be. There are definitely things to be aware of in terms of how kids are socializing. Socializing is so different now than when I was a kid. I’m really interested in what I and others call “screen time.” How much is the total screen time kids have a day? When I was growing up it was maybe a little TV during the week and maybe some computer screen at computer class or something and going to a movie once every week or two. But now the screen time for kids is almost all-consuming. It’s where they live, it’s where they work, it’s where they play. It’s just how they function. And I think a concern for me and other parents is, “How is this next generation going to really interact and socialize, and are they going to be able to have the same social skills that we all developed?”
Do you know if you’re having a son or daughter?
I do know, but my wife will not allow me to say. [Laughs.]
Is there extra pressure about online safety if you have a daughter?
I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s extra pressure. I’m equally concerned. Not only because of the specific issue the film raises, because I do think girls are more vulnerable online than young boys, but the truth is one out of every four girls and one out of every eight boys is sexually abused before the age of 18. That’s a staggering figure still, so I’m equally concerned for if I have a boy or a girl.
Could you choose between having more confidence in your acting skills or directing skills?
Um, no, not really. I feel equally confident and equally inexperienced in both. I feel like I have a lot to learn in both areas. And at the same time I feel fairly equally confident. I have so much to learn, as I said, but I try to push myself with each new thing I take on.
You’ve spent a lot of time in L.A., New York and Chicago. Which do you prefer?
Oh, that’s tough. It’s between Chicago and New York. New York’s my home now, and I love the energy of the city, but the same could be said for Chicago. I love the people of Chicago a lot, and of course my theater company is my second family.
What are your preferred bars and restaurants to hit when you come back?
[Takes a breath to start talking.]
That are not owned by Billy Dec.
Oh, well that’s tough. [Laughs.] I was gonna say, those are the ones I usually hit. Man, there’s a lot. I like Avec, I was just there last time I was in town. I like, oh man, there’s so many. I like the sushi at NoMi. Sometimes I like RL. I’m naming restaurants probably closer to the theater ‘cause that’s where I usually end up right after or before a show.
When was the last time the whole “Friends” cast got together to hang out?
Boy, I don’t know. I really can’t recall. We each have such divergent lives with families and work and everything. I keep in touch mostly with LeBlanc. I love his new show—I don’t know if you’ve checked it out yet—“Episodes;” it’s fantastic. He’s great in it. And he’s coming to the premiere tonight I think of “Trust.” I still maintain contact as much as I can. He shoots out in London, he lives in L.A., and I live in New York. So, you know, with everyone, it’s tough.
A lot of TV shows are winding up on the big screen these days …
Not going to happen.
I don’t even need to finish the question. Zero percent chance?
On “Trust” being rated R: “The only reason it’s rated R actually, ‘cause there’s more than two uses of the ‘F’ word. I mean, it’s ridiculous to me. There’s no nudity, there’s no violence. It’s just language. The hypocrisy of the rating system is really upsetting to me.”
If Will Smith talked to him about “Men in Black,” which Schwimmer turned down due to Lookingglass commitments: “He’d probably just say, ‘Hey, thanks for passing on that, man.’ I’m like, ‘Pleasure.’ What can I say? I’m a huge fan of his, so I have much respect.”
His next Lookingglass work: “I’m pitching something to the company; I’m proposing a play to direct for next year. It’s a new play, I wish I could say the name but it’s not a done deal at all and the playwright has asked that I don’t let the cat out of the bag yet. But hopefully you’ll hear soon.”
How many more “Madagascar” movies? “I’m pretty sure this is the last one. We’re working on it right now.”
What he does to get into character as a giraffe: “It’s not something I really think about until I step onto the recording stage and they show me all the new animated images and the storyboards and everything.”
His next acting roles: “There are a couple different plays I’m considering for New York in the fall and next year. I’m doing a small part in a movie in October and there’s another thriller that I may finally get to play a real baddie in, so we’ll see. That would be fun. I’d like to play the bad guy.”
Other movies he’s hoping to direct: “A few stories about Chicago, actually, about the history of Chicago. I’m working on an adaptation right now of a big American classic that I’m hoping to do ideally as a miniseries or a two- or three-part thing. It’s quite epic in scope so it’ll probably never happen. It’s so big and expensive and it’s a period piece so we’ll see. I’m determined to shoot in Chicago. I love the city.”
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Fridays at 7 a.m. on WCIU, the U
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