LOS ANGELES – Jason Schwartzman didn’t realize until he was cast as songwriter Richard M. Sherman in Saving Mr. Banks how familiar he was with his work.
If you had asked me a week before being cast who the Sherman Brothers are, I’m embarrassed to say that I wouldn’t be able to say who they are, Schwartzman says. Then I realized I knew so much of their work. I knew Mary Poppins.’ I knew a lot of their other songs. Musically speaking, I was very familiar with them.
Sherman and his brother Robert were two prolific songwriters at the Disney Studios, producing scores for The Jungle Book, The Aristocrats, The Sword in the Stone and a host of other projects. No other songwriting team has produced more motion picture scores.
It’s their work for Mary Poppins that’s featured in Saving Mr. Banks. The Sherman brothers (with B.J. Novak playing Robert) try to help convince the writer of the Mary Poppins books, P.L. Travers, that she should sign over the rights to Walt Disney.
Schwartzman was able to move beyond knowing only the work of the Sherman brothers to a deeper understanding of the men because of talks he had with Richard during the filming.
If you talk to Richard about songwriting, he sees it as a real craft and really approaches it from that angle, Schwartzman says. He and his brother are storytellers. I saw an interview with them where they were asked which came first – the music or the words. They said neither. It was the idea. You feel that when you listen to their songs.
Getting to play the songwriter felt like a perfect fit for Schwartzman. Although he’s known for his work in movies such as Rushmore and Moonrise Kingdom, Schwartzman was the drummer and a songwriter for the band Phantom Planet and went solo with Coconut Records. . He wrote the theme song for his HBO series Bored to Death and tracks for the TV show Smallville.
When asked about his musical career, Schwartzman says he’s a little embarrassed to talk about his work in the same breath as the Sherman brothers. Schwartzman explains that what he does is different from the way the Shermans worked.
For me, it’s a little bit different because I’m not writing in the kind of situation where someone is saying they need a song by tomorrow, Schwartzman says. I just try to write every day because I get a pleasure out of writing every day. I write music the way some people do a crossword puzzle every day. It makes me feel focused.