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He focused on acting just in time


Although music remains one of Jason Schwartzman's main passions - for a decade he was the drummer and a composer for the group Phantom Planet, whose song "California" is the theme for the Fox hit The O.C. - he considers himself purely an actor these days.

"It was just a gut reaction," he said of his decision to leave the group. "I think it was time. They are still my really great friends, and those 10 years of my life were the most special years I could ever ask for. I never thought that any of that could come true - that we could make records and play music for people.

"I can't live without music and movies," he added, "and to have been involved with two things that are a necessity for me to survive has been my dream."

Schwartzman's decision to focus on acting led him to Shopgirl, which opens today.

Based on Steve Martin's best-selling novella, Shopgirl examines the intertwined lives of three lonely people in Los Angeles striving to make a connection. Schwartzman plays Jeremy, a young font maker who is clueless in the ways of life and love; Claire Danes is Mirabelle, an aspiring artist who works in the glove department at Saks Fifth Avenue and who meets Jeremy at a Laundromat; and Martin is Ray Porter, a rich older man who tries to woo Mirabelle.

"I never thought I would get to be in a Steve Martin movie," said Schwartzman, the 25-year-old son of actress Talia Shire and the late producer Jack Schwartzman. He is also the nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola and the cousin of Nicolas Cage.

Schwartzman has fond childhood memories of going to the movies on Sundays with his family. And among their favorite films were Steve Martin comedies.

"The ways he expresses himself are just mind-blowing," Schwartzman said over the phone from his New York hotel room.

"He was so helpful. I asked a lot of questions about the character and what he's thinking, and he had a lot of great answers. He was right there. I need the writer [on the set]. I like to know maybe too much about a character."

Schwartzman compares acting to running through an airport to catch a flight and making it to the plane at the last minute. "I feel like right now [in my career], I just got into my seat. I am still breathing heavily, and I haven't put anything away. So movies for me are breathlessness. I love them."

It was Schwartzman's personality that led to him being cast in Shopgirl.

"He is one of the loveliest people I have met for a very long time," said director Anand Tucker. "On meeting him it was that sweetness that led me to think he was perfect for the role.

"The Jeremy character is actually just awful," Tucker said. "He doesn't know how to deal with Mirabelle, but he has a good heart. The journey of that character in the movie is a huge journey. That is very hard for someone to pull off."

While thinking of actors for the part, Tucker added, the image of Schwartzman as the eccentric high school student in 1998's Rushmore flashed in his mind.

"Then we met him ... it was sort of, 'There you go. There's the guy,'" Tucker said.

Next up for Schwartzman? He recently completed the role of Louis XVI in Marie-Antoinette for his cousin, writer-director Sofia Coppola.

"That movie was one of the great, great moments of my life," he said. "Her focus and calmness and sincerity is so inspiring."

Susan King writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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