Paul Schneider on Why He Left ‘Parks And Recreation’ and Why He Might Leave Hollywood
Paul Schneider is what you might politely call “a straight shooter.” Though, it’s not too often an interview is conducted with an actor who honestly appears to want to be doing anything else with his life other than acting.
Schneider is best known for playing Mark Brendanawicz on the first two seasons of ‘Parks and Recreation‘ — in this interview he discusses why he left the show — and starring in a string of well-well received indie movies like ‘Bright Star’ and David Gordon Green‘s ‘George Washington’ and ‘All the Real Girls.’ Since leaving ‘Parks and Rec,’ Schneider’s roles have been sparse, but that at least seems to be by design. At least, to a point. Like a lot of actors, Schneider doesn’t want to act in what he feels is “shit.” But, unlike a lot of actors, he just won’t act in what he thinks is shit. (An an example, he thinks something like the new Scarlett Johansson film ‘Under the Skin‘ is definitely not “shit.”)
Schneider is starring in ‘Goodbye To All That” — which premiered this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. Schneider plays Otto, a man going through a divorce who hops through a series of relationships, trying anything to get out of his rut that caused his divorce in the first place. ‘Goodbye To All That’ is an interesting title, because, at times, I got the feeling that Schneider would like that to be the title of the story of how he left acting.
I thought you were really good in this movie.
Dude, I appreciate it. I tried hard and I wanted to be.
That’s a unique yet simple way to put it.
I mean, there were a lot of lines to learn.
That’s a lot different than, “I embodied the spirit of the character.”
I mean, look, I have a problem being judgmental and I shouldn’t. Things that are true for me are not necessarily true for other people. If people want to be hippie-dippy about how they approach acting, then that’s great. But I didn’t study acting. I studied editing at film school and I’ve never taken any acting classes and probably have suffered because of it.
You’ve had a good run.
Oh, without a doubt. And that’s not to say I don’t walk around wondering if I might get struck by lightning at any moment … but who wants to hear anyone wax on about how fucking– you know, that’s just a cock-swinging session.
I feel there are a few actors who can get away with that.
Yeah, Daniel Day Lewis, Anthony Hopkins…
If Daniel Day Lewis were sitting here, I’d listen to him.
Ben Kingsley in the DVD extras of ‘Sexy Beast’? Come on. You don’t want to listen to Ben Kingsley. You want to listen to Ray Winstone — who is the secret fucking hero of that movie.
Why did you move away from L.A.?
Because I like it in New York better. And my parents are on the East Coast. I was in L.A. for about five years and I had the opportunity to do some movies that I think are really cool, but maybe because I was there.
You do have a lot of good movies in your filmography.
That’s cool. I fucking really want to. And there are some filmmakers out there I’d sure love to add to my list. But, L.A. was a very isolating place for me … I guess a lot of people feel they can’t move back because the work is there. But, fuck work. Why are people so hung up on work? Check out. Go to the fucking Peace Corp.
So, with this “fuck work” statement, does that mean you limit yourself to a certain amount of projects?
Yes and no. There are two kind of colliding forces and those are there are not a lot of movies that have funding that are being made that I think are really interesting and have a real artistic thrust to them or have fascinating characters that I might be able to inhabit. And the other force that works against me is that I am not an actor where people are are handing me roles.
I always assumed you had a lot of connections in the indie world and would get offered roles through that. I feel like you have a network.
I don’t. If I have any future in the movie business, I think it’s because I keep a relative distance from it when I’m not working.
Why do you do that?
Because I’m not a great networker and I’m not strategic in my approach to work … I’m a terrible advocate for myself. But I feel like if I keep that relative distance, it makes me less desperate for it, somehow. And being less desperate for it makes me a happier human being and maybe, subsequently, a better candidate for the job.
Can you get too far away where you just wind up doing something else with your life?
Oh, are you kidding me, I fucking think about it every day. Absolutely. I’m dying to do something else.
Does this mean I won’t see you in any more movies? I saw your name in this and was excited to see it.
I mean, it is an honor to be filmed tripping and falling and looking like a refrigerator next to beautiful women in this movie.
There’s a lot of sex in this movie.
Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s interesting. Yeah, it’s nerve-racking. But the real answer to what we’re talking about right now is that I want to be discerning and I don’t want to be in a bunch of shit. And, you know what? No one does. No one does. I don’t say that like, “I’m the only one!”
If I’m always working on my career or pursuing jobs in acting, what am I going to act about? Don’t I need to chew on other stuff to shit out something good? I just need different stimulus.
Is that why you left ‘Parks and Recreation’?
That experience was very strange for me. You know, I signed up for a specific character that was changed in mid-season. And it became a character with a lot less to do. And, all of a sudden, I was kind of confused and kind of having a lot less to do.
I’m not sure the show knew what it wanted to be when it first started.
And what show does? Those guys are working on something that I have no idea how to captain that ship. And I was very happy for the experience to be involved and those guys really figured out what it is they’re doing. I mean, decidedly — they have fucking the First Lady in the show. Now, the difference for me is, I don’t have cable TV. I watch ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos’ and I watch ‘Frontline.’
Is ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos’ still on?
I own the DVDs.
Of the Bob Saget version or the Tom Bergeron version?
Of all of them. Tom Bergeron is my favorite host. And I watch ‘Frontline.’
That’s an eclectic duo of shows.
‘Parks and Recreation’ and sitcoms in general and me over here? We worship at different churches. I just don’t know anything about that world and I was happy to come back to the world I understood because I felt there was still more I could do here.
When you first left, Mike Schur mentioned that you might come back now and then. I get the impression that’s not going to happen.
No, I’m not interested in going back. And that’s very generous of him. But I’ve never been contacted about that nor have I any interest in going back.
If you were called with an offer to host ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos,’ what would you say?
No, because I don’t want to peek behind the curtain.
How did you get addicted to this show?
Who can’t be addicted? It’s dads getting knocked in the dicks with Wiffle balls.
But, we have YouTube for that.
This is just a format I enjoy.
I didn’t even know it was still on.
Treat yourself. I mean, Nincompoop’s Corner? They have segments on that show that are unbelievable. The Internet has not cornered the market on witty voiceover and fun music.
And a great theme song.
And a great theme song.
You’re an interesting guy.
I like what I like.
Mike Ryan is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.