Jason Schwartzman is nervous.
A regular on the indie film scene, the actor-musician takes the reins co-hosting Sunday’s first YouTube Music Awards, which celebrate the artists and songs that YouTube users have turned into global hits, at New York City’s Pier 36. Filmmaker Spike Jonze, best known for films such as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, serves as creative director of the 90-minute live event, which touts a performance bill that includes Lady Gaga, Eminem, Arcade Fire, Avicii and M.I.A.
Nominees in the six categories, such as Video, Artist and YouTube Phenomenon of the Year, include One Direction, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Eminem, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Selena Gomez. The event, live-streaming across the world, marks Schwartzman’s first time as a host. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter following rehearsals earlier in the week.
While the typical awards show has months of rehearsals, this came together “in the last seven days,” Schwartzman claims, and because it’s the first go for the YouTube Music Awards, “there is a certain sense of relative ‘WTF’ around here.”
The team behind the YouTube Music Awards, which include producers Vice Media and Sunset Lane, is making a point to differentiate it from the traditional awards shows by playing up the live aspect. One of the ways it will attempt to do so is through creating live “complex” music videos featuring various bands and directors while the show unfolds.
“[Spike] wanted to do it all live as it was happening — very extreme camera work, special effects and everything done in the moment,” Schwartzman says, adding that one of Jonze’s mandates was to “make the night feel different. … It’s very hard to pull off, and I think everyone — instead of being afraid of it — are at least choosing to show they’re not afraid.”
When Jonze called Schwartzman up about the prospect of the actor hosting the evening, the trick was figuring out how to keep the evening vibrant and alive — “not stale,” the actor notes.
“When we were talking about hosting and [co-host] Reggie [Watts] and I getting together, we were saying, ‘What’s the version of that, but for hosting?’ ” Schwartzman recalls, referencing the live music videos. “It became apparent pretty quickly that maybe we shouldn’t have a script at all.”
To add another layer of ambition, an idea was floated that Schwartzman and Watts be kept largely in the dark on what the evening would entail — ranging from when certain awards would be handed out to what their interactions would look like. A basic concept was established; however, the specifics will be a surprise to the co-hosts come Sunday.
“There’s a whole series of obstacles, ambush-style tactics — basically distractions — that we have to overcome as hosts that are going to be thrown at us for the first time on camera,” Schwartzman explains.
And don’t expect him to spill secrets behind the show, mainly because he’s not in the loop. “I know basically 10 percent more than you do,” he admits, later having a laugh about his inability to answer show-specific questions. “I don’t know anything. It’s hysterical! … Every time I ask Spike, ‘What about this?’ it’s like, ‘Don’t tell him the answer to that question!’ “
Nerves aside, Schwartzman is ready to be part of a kudosfest that relishes in the spontaneous and the unconventional. “It would feel a lot different if I was doing something like this with Reggie and we were in a situation where everything else was figured out and scripted, an awards show people had seen before,” he posits.
It only makes sense that the creative approach behind the YouTube Music Awards remains unique to the premise of the evening. “YouTube is a place for people to make things and put them out there for everybody to see,” he says. “We should be making things too.”
In terms of how he is tackling his first hosting gig, Schwartzman is sticking to what he knows best. “In the spirit of our night, it’s about going for it and being yourself,” he says. “If you mess up, go with it. I think it’s terrifying because real, true hosting is a real art form.”
“We want people to be entertained for 90 minutes,” Schwartzman adds. “Entertain doesn’t necessarily mean laughing. They could just be interested or mesmerized. It could be anything. When it became less about hosting in the traditional sense, it became less frightening. If I was meant to come in and be a host and do numbers, I would be well underqualified for that.”
The YouTube Music Awards begin Nov. 3 at 3 p.m. PST/6 p.m. EST on YouTube.