Paul Schneider is the kind of brother we’ve admired from afar for a long ass time. Those of us who fell for his writing and acting in All The Real Girls (directed by FADER fave David Gordon Green) subsequently rented his first flick, George Washington, and have recently watched him work the screen with boldfaced names in Elizabethtown and The Family Stone. Happily, Schneider’s somehow managed to hold his own and come away with none of the icky residual doucheyness that Hollywood often confers on its young. This spring, he finesses a good amount of laughs as the slow-witted Lagrand in the new comedy Live Free Or Die, which premiered this week at the Gen Art festival. Schneider was kind enough to sit down and talk with us about general Tinseltown dick-swinging, cold water dick size and curious dick-touching behavior. We continue to salute him.
How did the road lead you to Live Free Or Die?
After going to Sundance for All The Real Girls, I met some producers and they said, ‘You’d be great for this.’ And I was like, ‘Ok that’s great’ but [it was like], talk to me when the rubber meets the road, you know? Let’s talk about shooting dates and what you want to accomplish. The directors were hoping to hire someone for my role who was maybe better known and could get some money, because I can’t really help people with that. But these other producers were like, ‘No you should go in there and rock it, cause there’s gonna be a table read of the script.’ I was living in New York but I was in LA at the time, and I wanted to go to the read, but I couldn’t you know, drop two hundred dollars on a plane ticket, just for the hell of it—so the directors Greg and Andy paid for my ticket. I came back home, and the read was the next day.
That night, I felt indebted to them for paying for my plane trip, and I just worked on the script. It was an extremely funny movie, the funniest one I had ever read, maybe, and then I just sort of came up with what I would do. You know those terrible like frat t-shirts, like, ‘FBI—Female Body Inspector’? My friends dared me to buy one and wear it out, but I never did because I couldn’t confirm that people would know that I was doing it ironically. I didn’t want to be the guy that’s like, ‘Hey guys, I’m a fucking date rapist!’ But I wore it to this read, and I just went as kind of balled out as I possibly could. Somehow I had the confidence not to dilute the idea that you have in your room when you’re alone and then you get on set and you’re like, 'These people are going to think I’m retarded.' I wore the shirt to kind of remind myself—I was wearing something that wasn’t me, so I was able to be weird about it. And I got the role at that time, because it kind of served as an audition.
What kind of descriptions were built into the character? I’m just wondering how much you brought to the table, as far as mannerisms and dress.
Well, Paula Weintraub, the costume designer, she was fucking genius. I picked what I would wear, but I didn’t bring in the choices—she was on the ball. That Land’s End blue jacket that everyone had in 1991? I was like, 'Yeah!' In the movie, they call Lagrand the giraffe, and the dialogue is so specific, there didn’t need to be much description. The dialogue kind of says who he is, and then you fill in the blanks: lifts in my shoes, all my clothes were a little bit short and I forced this hairstylist person in New Hampshire to give me a really bad bowl cut.
[For Lagrande] I definitely thought that the way that nerds walked in high school was really funny. A lot of them had those big puffy high tops that never were laced to the top, and not in like the hip urban way, the kind of dorky way that it was then. They would hit the ground really hard when they walked and they kind of leaned forward a little bit. There was stuff like that that I kind of wanted to get in there—although they did cut stuff out. One of Lagrand’s things was that he’s wearing these thin sweatpants a lot, they’re super thin, so you can see my circumcision through them, and you know when you see a five year-old at a restaurant maybe, and he’s like fiddling with his dick? And his parents are like, ‘Get your hand out of there! Come on buddy, come on—leave it alone’ but he’s like genuinely fascinated. So Lagrand did that a lot, just very publicly. I think he’s just getting an idea like, ‘What is this down there?’ because the idea of sex just doesn’t… he just knows that sex is this thing. Basically his knowledge of sex is there’s like a woman, and in the next frame there’s like a woman with her top button unbuttoned, and then the next 40 frames are black. [It got cut] but there were also a lot of good ideas that got in there, you know, so I’m fine with it.
So what’s next?
The Assasination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford starring Brad Pitt and Sam Rockwell. It was like five months of pretty aggressive, pretty male experiences, fighting and loving, making a movie was like the way that guys hug each other—they just kind of hit each other, on the back. That’s what it was, so during the day it was like, “What the fuck are you talking about?! You have to understand that when you say things like that to me, you’re shooting yourself in the foot—can you get that through your fucking brain?” And then at night you talk to that person on the phone and you’re like, “That was a fucking great day wasn’t it?” “Oh man, it was awesome!” It was great in that way you know? It was good to help me with my confidence, you know?
You haven’t said anything about your instrument in this entire conversation.
That’s because it’s such an excuse to be self-centered. I mean like, that’s the biggest thing that I know I need to be careful of and, I mean I don’t feel like in a couple days I’m going to be a crazy narcissistic asshole, I do enough of high anxiety over analysis as it is—and all that can be argued as narcissism too, totally, without a doubt—at the end of the day, the business is about my voice and my face and it’s me, it’s my body. It’s like, ‘No I can’t take off my pants in this scene, cause I have a hairy ass.’ That’s me, I don’t think it’s a problem. This TV show wanted me to take my pants off and I was like ‘What are you, insane?’ I only did that once and I’m not itching to do that again.
When was that?
I showed my dick in All The Real Girls . You didn’t see it? Because it was like the size of a light switch! I had just jumped in this freezing cold pond, and she kind of pantses me as I go down in the water, and it looked like a dandelion, it was so small. I was convinced that that was tough—you know, suppose I had like tried to fluff it out and it was still pretty small, what then? I think you have to be vigilant—in the same way that it’s easy to get hooked on drugs, per se, in Hollywood it’s easy to get hooked on sex. It’s hard because sometimes you’re just sick of yourself, and hearing yourself talk about yourself, this interview excepted, you know what I’m saying? And I find that maybe the reason I don’t talk about acting so much or my instrument so much is that it keeps me sane not to talk like that.
The problem, the idea that haunts you—me and my friends who are actors—is there something buried in my consciousness that needs to perform? That needs applause? Because in my conscious mind, I don’t feel that that’s true. I don’t think there’s that need for public attention or applause. In fact, with the odd person that comes up and says ‘I like one of your movies,’ I’m very thankful that they’ve done that but it sends me into paroxysms of self-deprecating self analysis, like ‘What did my face do? Did I reflect it too much?’ It’s like accepting compliments, I can’t do it.
You find yourself in a situation, and I think if you have a nervous personality and you’re insecure, and somebody kind of looks at you, then talks to their friend, then looks back at you, it’s like, ‘Did they just recognize me?’ And then you check out their clothes and you’re like ‘Is that the kind of person that would have seen one of those indie movies or whatever?’ And so basically you waste like five or six minutes of your life, internally debating whether or not you’ve been recognized, only to realize that like over your shoulder is Gwyneth Paltrow, and then you feel like such an asshole, like, ‘Why didn’t
that even enter my mind?’ Like, ‘Paul you need to knock it down a peg, dude. You are too big for your britches.’ Then you decide you need to spend a lot more time being humble then somebody comes up to you and is like ‘I really like your movies’ and you’re like ‘Aaah thank you, but now I’m scared.’