'Jesse James' star prefers life over acting school

Paul Schneider is the first one to tell you he has friends back home who wouldn’t be so inclined to show their emotions the way actors often do.

“Growing up in North Carolina, I was around a bunch of guys who did a lot of drinking and fighting,” recalls Schneider, currently co-starring in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and “Lars and the Real Girl.” “I did my share of that, but I was always the sensitive guy. When I wanted to talk about my feelings, they’d tell me to have another drink.”

Though Schneider studied filmmaking in college, what he learned is only part of what made him an actor. His time spent with friends seems just as vital to what’s turning into a burgeoning career.

“There are people doing this who’ve been to Juilliard, and I’m not that guy,” says Schneider. “What I found out was that time I spent living was my acting school.”

On the set of “Jesse James,” where he played outlaw Dick Liddil, Schneider found himself surrounded by a new group of guys — Casey Affleck, Brad Pitt and Sam Rockwell — and they bonded on the plains of Alberta, Canada.

“Usually when you have a bunch of men in their 30s and 40s together, there’s a lot of competitiveness and measuring yourself against each other,” Schneider says. “There was none of that with these actors.”

The thesp adds he found the same support on “Lars and the Real Girl,” where he plays the brother of a man who begins a delusional relationship with a life-sized doll he orders on the Internet. “There’s nothing better for an actor than being around other actors who are willing to work hard and get dirty to figure out how something should be done,” says Schneider.

For now, Schneider has temporarily taken a seat behind the camera. He is in post-production on “Pretty Bird,” a film he wrote and directed, starring Paul Giamatti and Billy Crudup as two men trying to manufacture and sell rocket-powered belts.

“I’m really just there as a guide,” says Schneider. “These guys don’t need me to tell them anything.”

MOVIE MUSINGS

AN ACTOR SHOULD ALWAYS: “I’ve been fortunate to work a few different jobs in film before I began acting, and I’ve learned actors should always say thank you, especially when being shown what never to do.”

I’M INSPIRED BY: “Deadlines. No, fear. On second thought, maybe it’s the fear of deadlines. Scratch that, it’s the fear of sucking.”

FAVORITE FILM CHARACTER: “The people seen in life whose plight or behavior could be applied to future characters in future films.”

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