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Jason Schwartzman Interview: Klaus

We interview Klaus star Jason Schwartzman about giving Santa Claus an origin story, improvisation during production, and more.

Netflix Klaus movie

Netflix gets into the holiday spirit with Klaus, an animated tale that depicts the origin of Santa. The plot begins with a postman, played by Jason Schwartzman, who meets a carpenter named Klaus while stationed at the Arctic Circle. Schwartzman shared what kind of collaboration he and director Sergio Pablos had when it came to the development of his character, as well as how a selfish motivation led to such a selfless tradition.

This is an amazing film. The animation’s beautiful, and it's almost like a mixture of styles. Can you talk to me about the approach of the film; kind of giving Santa Claus an origin story in this?

Jason Schwartzman: Yeah, that was the conceit for the movie…

First of all, let me just say this. I heard about this movie, where the main character is maybe a postman. You don't see a lot of post Postal Service films these days. That, to me, was pretty exciting. I was like, “Okay, postal service film. Let's do it. I'm in.” I do love writing letters. I don't do it, but I do love it.

But anyhow, when I read the script, I love that there was an origin story to the process of gift giving. But it was so practical. That's kind of what I thought was the best thing about it; that it didn't come from originally from love or magic. It came from this greedy person trying to get a certain amount of letters written so he could leave this area. I loved that.

But from that came so much warmth and love that it actually ended up changing him. And so, really, it was to me the origin story of communicating with people you don't know. That's the big takeaway: why are we fighting? We don't even know each other. Let's talk. Let's understand.

Writing letters is a metaphor, but it's also the real thing. It's, You know – communicate, learn, write, connect. And I think it's a powerful thing.

Netflix Klaus movie

I read that the director said that over half of your lines were improvised. Why was that approach taken with Jesper?

Jason Schwartzman: I'm not aware of those numbers. I can't confirm those numbers.

No, first of all, I can't say 50% of the character’s lines were improvised. There was a script that was written, but Sergio's from Spain. And he did say early on, “Some of the lines that are in here, I'm not quite sure the best way to say them.” So built into the making of it was a kind of search party aspect, and kind of figuring out the correct voice for Jesper. Just his sense of talking and stuff.

That said, I will say when you are making something that's animated over the course of many, many years – I think one of the fun things about it, and the liberating thing about it, is it's really at most four or five people there doing it. People's time is valuable, and the recording studio time is valuable. But if you're doing a live action thing, by and large, it's going to be a bigger group of people with more equipment. And it's just a bigger production in general, even at its smallest.

I do feel that if someone’s acting [live action], you're much more focused on getting exactly what was written, achieving that and moving on. But in this case, for instance, if you've done a bunch of versions of a line, and they say, “Can we just try it now where I say everything backwards?” or whatever… I mean, it's less nerve wracking to ask that question out loud because you're not asking a bunch of people to sit around and indulge you while you mess around.

It's experimental in a way that I love, like, you can say the lines a bunch of different times, get it out and kind of [start] playing with them. So, maybe some of those lines might have entered the movie. But for the most part, I was just reading the script and often not reading it right, and then they thought I was improvising.

I actually thought it was really brilliant, the way they weaved Jesper’s story into the creation and influence of Santa Claus. Congratulations on the film; it's a lot of fun. And it's beautiful to look at.

Jason Schwartzman: I know. Sergio is such an incredible artist.

I remember I was meeting with him about the movie for the first time, and I asked him a question about a scene, and he said, “Well, you know, Jesper… Here.” And he took out a sketchbook and a pencil, and then he just drew the scene. Like, quickly sketched it right before my eyes, and he answered it that way. That was a beautiful thing, and it was a beautiful drawing. And I thought, “This is the person you want to be making a movie with.”

More: Holiday in the Wild Interview: Rob Lowe & Kristin Davis

Klaus is now streaming on Netflix.

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