Barely two minutes into watching Alex Ross Perry’s latest film, Listen Up Philip, it becomes clear that this film will become a Millennial touchstone, one that vexed artists will undoubtedly reference when speaking of their own “frustrations.” Centered around a semi-successful narcissistic (yet self-deprecating) novelist, Philip (portrayed by Jason Schwartzman), who comes under the mentorship of somehow more egotistic writer, Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), the comedic Philip-Roth-meets-Wes-Anderson-meets-Woody-Allen styled tale branches out to explore the life of his long-term, successful girlfriend Ashley (Elisabeth Moss)—the one to whom he blatantly states, “I hope things will be good for us, but especially for me.”
When Philip abandons Ashley to teach at a secluded liberal arts school, she is forced to reevaluate their relationship and get to know herself as an independent, single Brooklynite. Her character arc, though subtly executed, is the film’s most profound, as she disconnects herself from Philip both emotionally and physically.
Did you see any connection between yourself and your character in the film?
Yeah, definitely. One of the things that I was attracted to was obviously being—I moved to New York when I was 19 and I spent a lot of my time here and a lot of my twenties in New York. I had that experience a couple of times, of going through a breakup in the summer in the city. So for me I was very attracted to the idea of telling that story, because I had gone through it, I’d seen my girlfriends go through it. You know, it was a very real story to me.
And how did you yourself deal with those breakups in New York? Did you think that New York was the worst place for you to be during a breakup, or did you feel the opposite way?
I don’t know, I always feel like New York is the best place to be at any point in your life. I love New York. For me, it was more the idea about how when everyone goes through a breakup, they do all the same things. You get depressed, and then you go out and probably drink too much, and then you slowly but surely start getting on your feet again. You pick up some interests that you had that fell by the wayside when you were in your relationship, and maybe you hang out with girlfriends who you haven’t seen in a while. Everybody goes through that experience, man and woman. I just think that’s very true to life. Things happen.
Yeah. totally. So at the start of the film, your character seems pretty much content with Philip’s self-absorbed nature, and then after Philip leaves she realizes how selfish Philip was and how much she had missed. Did you personally decide to play that role yourself, in your acting?
Well I think for everyone, when you’re in a relationship, it takes a little getting away from it to realize how unhappy you are—how much you miss, and how you used to be. You need a little bit of perspective and I feel like that’s what Ashely gets. When Philip leaves that first time, she realizes, “Why am I unhappy? I don’t have to be like this. This isn’t how my life has to be.” And she remembers how she was happy before and she just wants to be happy again, you know?
So what did you make of where your character was left off in the end?
I think she’s in a good place. She’d gotten over the breakup, she’d gotten over Philip. It came full circle and she’s in a place where she’s ready to, you know, be happy. That’s all she wanted—to be happy again, so she can start doing that. She doesn’t need him anymore and I don’t think she hates him anymore.
Do you have any funny on-set tales or a favorite moment of yours from Listen Up Philip?
For some reason, I don’t know why, I guess the song had just come out, but Jason [Schwartzman] and I were in the hair and makeup department listening to Katy Perry’s Roar. I’m pretty sure I introduced it to Jason. I don’t think he brought that song in. But we played it all the time and it kind of became the theme song for some reason, of the getting ready process, not so much on-set. But we just loved that song so much. Jason would do this little dance to it and that just made me laugh hysterically. I cannot hear that song now without thinking of Jason and making that movie, which is funny because it has nothing to do with the movie whatsoever.
How is it working with Jason [Schwartzman] on set?
I mean, I adore him. He’s one of the cutest, funniest, loveliest guys, and he just makes me laugh all the time. He’s so not like Philip. He’s just so much more of a positive person than Philip is. I just loved it. It was so much fun. It was a huge attraction for me to do this film, getting to work with him.
And how was it working with Alex [Ross Perry]?
It was great. We really collaborated. We made a second film together, which just finished three days ago. I really like working with him. There’s something about the way that we work together that I really like. I feel like my strengths and weaknesses are the opposite of his strengths and weaknesses, so we sort of balance each other out. Where I’m not so good he’s really good, and where he’s not so good I’m really good. We work really well together because there’s a lot of trust, listening to each other, and it’s a good collaborative relationship.
Could you tell me a little bit about the film that you just wrapped?
Yeah, it’s called Queen of Earth. It’s much more of a drama. It’s very weird, very strange. A thriller, but an intellectual kind of one. I don’t know if thriller is the right word to use, but we only wrapped it three days ago so I haven’t thought about how to talk about it yet, since I haven’t seen it. But I haven’t found the words to describe it quite yet.
Listen Up Philip opens in theaters everywhere today.