Ben Schwartz may be best known for his turn as Jean-Ralphio Saperstein in NBC's beloved comedy series, Parks and Recreation, but the comic darling has spent the last decade building a career as one of the most in-demand comedic actors working today. From movies like This is Where I Leave You to the Funny or Die webseries, The Earliest Show, to his ongoing improv comedy tour with Thomas Middleditch, Schwartz has proven his talent many times over.
In addition to his starring role as the title character in Sonic the Hedgehog, Schwartz also starred alongside the legendary Billy Crystal in Standing Up, Falling Down, which stood out among the crowd at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. Of all his jobs, perhaps none are more important than his recent hosting of a pop-up fashion show in Texas debuting the Dos Equis Beach Blazer. It's a piece of clothing that would make Jean-Ralphio proud.
In this online Q&A session, Schwartz answered out questions about the Beach Blazer, his turn in Sonic the Hedgehog, and bonding with Billy Crystal on the set of Standing Up, Falling Down. He also talks about some of his more underrated roles and his love of improvisational comedy.
Hey Screen Rant! I'm Ben Schwartz, and I hear you have some questions.
You're hosting a unique pop-up fashion event in Texas, showing off the Beach Blazer. Is it a suit jacket or a towel? Is it a fifty fifty split, or does it lean more towards one or the other?
Let me tell you what this is. What we got right here is a suit jacket made out of a towel. So you're very close. It's both of those things, but combined as one. You may be asking yourself, "Why?" (Laughs) I'll never tell... Because I don't know why. But here it is. Dos Equis dot com. Get yours? I had to say it with a question mark because I'm not quite certain if you really want one.
Standing Up, Falling Down has earned significant early praise for your chemistry with Billy Crystal. Is there a secret to bonding with a co-star, or is it all as simple as playing pretend?
I think it's a matter of... We had a meeting or two beforehand, and really got to know each other and really connected. And then, being collaborative. So when we're on set, playing with each other, learning it and stuff like that, that was really fun, but I think it's lucky, also. I think it's the idea that we both love comedy, we both love basketball, we have all these interests that we're really nerdy about, and we're just, like, we grew up in New York, so there was instant chemistry. For me, he is someone that I've admired my whole life. It was the best. I loved doing that movie.
Did you get any mileage out of your shared New York City upbringing?
Yes. It was incredible. He's from Long Island, I'm from Riverdale. We talked about it all the time. We actually filmed scenes from the movie... In that movie, the place where he got Bar Mitzvah'd, we were at. Or the place, like, his brother lived right next to, it was just very funny that all the worlds collided.
Sonic the Hedgehog is still a little while out, but the trailer definitely got people's attention, to the tune of 31 million views on YouTube. What kind of energy do you tap into when you're revving up to deliver a line as Sonic?
First of all, the trailer has gotten so many more views. It's bananas. The energy I find in my head when I played Sonic as a kid, it was... He's like a little kid with so much energy, especially in this movie, where he's kind of like someone from a different place coming here. Although, in the video games, he's an alien, but the idea that he's here, on our planet... It's the idea of being an outsider, and him wanting to meet everybody, but not knowing what to do, and being so excited. I tried to play that energy of where he gets his speed and all that stuff, through that stuff. Bringing that childish excitement in there.
How is it different from, say, Leonardo in Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Dewey in Duck Tales?
I think each animated character you do, you see where they fit. For Dewey, he's the middle child. He's always trying to impress everybody. For Leonardo, he's kind of like a Bill Murray-type character. He's like, "Uh, I don't know." He's not quite the leader yet. And then, for Sonic, he's like the over-energetic kid who desperately wants to meet people and have human experiences, but can't quite, because he'd get in trouble.
Can you describe the thrill of doing extended improv with Thomas Middleditch, lave and "without a net," so to speak, as opposed to scripted material for film or television?
Improv is instant gratification, just like any live performance. You get on stage, and we make up a whole show on the spot. Immediately, we find out what people think. We get to have this back and forth with the audience. We get to really feel the vibe, so there's nothing like live performing. Especially the venues we're playing, like Carnegie Hall and the Chicago Theater, incredible... But then there's something great to writing a script, rewriting a script, finding a moment, having a bunch of takes to do it, finding different things in the moment. There's advantages to both.
Are there any jokes you love that just never work, like something you find hilarious that just bounces off of your audience and you don't know why?
That I've written? Oh, I'm sure. I'm sure, when I'm on stage... I mean, of course. Especially in the beginning, you make mistakes, you learn from them. Even now, you learn. You do something, like, "Ah, that doesn't feel right," or "that wasn't taken the exact way that I wanted it to be taken." And you learn, you adjust. And we talk together, like, "That show felt like this, maybe we can tweak this." So there's always places to tweak and figure out.
Is there any work you've done in the past that you're particularly proud of, but you feel hasn't gotten the attention you wish it had? A movie or TV appearance or web video, anything that you feel deserves more love?
What a great question! We did a short film, called I'm a Mitzvah, which was really nice, and one of the first dramatic things I've ever done. And Standing Up, Falling Down, I really like. That's me and Billy Crystal. That's coming out soon. I did something called Medal of Honor, where I got to play someone who was a recipient of the Medal of Honor, and that was incredible. I've been lucky enough to kind of dab a little in all these different pools, and so... If you look me up, there's a bunch of fun stuff out there that people may not know I was involved with.
What are your plans for the summer?
Summer! Middleditch and Schwartz, still touring. I have to write a bunch of scripts, and I'll get them done! And then, come November, we've got Sonic, so I'm really excited!
- Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) release date: Feb 14, 2020