Logan Lerman interview: "People don't like to see the same thing over and over again."

Interview: Logan Lerman


At 24, Logan Lerman has already shared billing with Mel Gibson, Russell Crowe and Brad Pitt. He's had his own mini-franchise, leading the Percy Jackson adventure films. And he's even ventured behind camera - his latest movie, Indignation, being his first ("glorified," he says modestly) producing credit. So why is he living in a perpetual state of fear and worry?

"You're constantly afraid of being forgotten, and you're constantly afraid of not being sent a good film," he admits, when we sit down in a Berlin hotel suite. "I'm always at battle with myself. Really just wanting to work. Because really the happiest I am is when I'm on set, or in pre-production, and when I'm not doing that, I get a lot of anxiety. It's a tough period of time."

Naturally, it would be easy for Lerman to simply pick up lucrative pay-packets for forgettable multiplex fodder. But he's not like that. In the past three years, since completing the second Percy Jackson movie, Sea of Monsters, he's made just three films: Biblical epic Noah, the Pitt-starring WW2 tank drama Fury and now Indignation. "I made an agreement with myself that I don't want to work on movies that I'm not passionate about," he shrugs. "You really can't force passion."

Glance at his Twitter page, where you'll find him tweeting about Bertrand Russell, and you'll soon realise Lerman is cut from a different cloth than most of his peers. Take his thoughts on the superhero genre. "A lot of times it just feels repetitive and formulaic, and I'm just not that into those movies. It feels like there are other things to do, in the more commercial realm, besides another remake of another comic book film."

The Perks of Being a Wallflower in 2012 was no disposable teen romance but an engaging coming-of-age story in which he played a boy suffering from severe depression. Today, dressed in sombre tones - black jeans, black shirt and a navy round-neck jumper - dark-haired, pale-skinned Lerman seems wise beyond his years.

"There's so much power in saying 'no'," he says. "It's terrifying…but I have to be true to myself and what I like and appreciate."

He even almost refused Indignation - though not because he felt it wasn't worthy. James Schamus's impressive, thoughtful adaptation of Philip Roth's 2008 novel casts Lerman as 1950s Jewish working-class teenager Marcus Messner. A top student, he's also an avowed atheist who finds himself at odds with his fellow students and the dean (Tracy Letts) of his Ohio college over his religious (non) beliefs.

Lerman's problem, if that's what you can call it, came with the film's standout scene - an eighteen-minute debate between Marcus and Dean Caudwell about the existence of God, shot in an unbroken take. "More than anything, that centrepiece in the film, that's what made me really want to do this film," he says. "And it also made me want to drop out several times, because I was afraid I couldn't do it."

He leans forward, his voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper. "I literally, I never told James this, but there were so many times when I was calling my representation, saying, 'How do I get out of this? I'm too afraid to do it! How do I get out of this?' and they were like, 'You don't get out of it, you're involved in the movie, you're a producer too!'"

If there were nerves on the day, Schamus didn't notice. The Oscar-nominated writer-producer, a regular collaborator with Ang Lee, makes his own directorial debut with Indignation. He was immediately taken with Lerman's "transcendent" ability to relate to his fellow co-stars on screen. "He's a very giving actor," he says. "He doesn't take. He actually gives."

Raised in Beverly Hills - his father is an orthodontist, his mother works as his manager - Lerman comes from a strong Jewish background. His paternal grandfather, Max Lerman, was born to a Polish-Jewish family in Berlin, fleeing the country in the 1930s because of the Nazi regime. Lerman himself attended Hebrew School (witness his perfect Hebrew in TV show Jack & Bobby)

Such an upbringing meant he immediately recognised the family dynamic, the core values and the Yiddish at the heart of Indignation. "I grew up with those things, so it made it a little bit easier to relate to the character," he nods. "But that's not something that attracted me to the project. It was really the substance of the material, and the depth of the character."

Characters like Marcus rarely get offered to actors his age, he explains. Marcus experiences his first real sexual awakening on campus (with Sarah Gadon, who plays fellow student Olivia), but for Lerman it's the character's intellectual flowering that intrigues. "He's a very compelling character on the page," says Lerman. "His intellect and intensity from having to repress his opinions in order to stay out of trouble I found fascinating."

With Marcus a Jewish-raised atheist, forced to assimilate in 1950s America, I ask if it's an issue that Lerman thinks is relevant to today.

"Today? Oh totally, yes, for sure. Maybe not where I'm from. I grew up in a very Jewish area. Los Angeles is very Jewish. So it wasn't relevant to my childhood, but I know that it is relevant in other communities, around the country. So, depending on where you are, it's very relevant! For sure!"

What's clear is just how fiercely proud Lerman is of the film.

"It's not going to be a movie that kind of just fizzles away, that nobody sees," he says. In the US, the film has been greeted with stellar reviews and solid numbers ($3.4 million gross to date) for a boutique indie.

"It wasn't one of those movies [where] 'This is going to be easy to sell.' This is a very unique film, in the landscape of what people are seeing nowadays."

Sounding like an industry veteran, this comes as no real surprise. Deciding he wanted to act before he even went to school, Lerman was eight when he starred alongside Mel Gibson in his first two films, The Patriot and What Women Want. He followed it by playing a young Ashton Kutcher in The Butterfly Effect and Jim Carrey's son in The Number 23 - two less-than-stellar thrillers - and took the lead in forgettable family film Hoot.

"I was part of a lot of films that I didn't want to do, as a young actor, and I got talked into things," he says, diplomatically naming no names. "I was told I had to do certain parts, and in the end, I think it benefitted my career…they were the best learning experiences. For movies that I hated being a part of, or wasn't happy with my performance, or the character…I think I learned more from that than a film where I was satisfied."

It was only in 2007 when he featured in 3:10 To Yuma, a western remake starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, in which he played a farmer's son desperate to become a gunslinger, that he felt proud of one of his movies. "Everything before that I was a little embarrassed about. Not everything, but most things. They weren't really motivating me to go in the direction of being an actor. But that movie did."

Lerman is certainly learning that the best actors micro-manage their careers by producing projects. For Indignation, Schamus wanted him on board from the get-go. "My position was really just to be involved, and also if they needed my help, to help James get what he wanted. So, James can get whatever the heck he wants, so really I didn't do too much, I was just involved in the conversation, and had a say."

Now, Lerman has got a thirst for that conversation. "I'm already working on a bunch of different things right now, in that capacity," he reveals. "I guess I'd like to have a little bit more control over my career, and to find projects, whether it's for me to act, or direct or produce. I'd like to create the projects, rather than just see what comes to me, and pray that something's good. It gives me a little bit of control."

Already, he's helped produce Sidney Hall, in which he plays the title role - a novelist who pens the defining book of his generation before disappearing without a trace. The literary theme continues in the film he is currently shooting The Wife, in which Glenn Close plays the spouse of Jonathan Pryce's pre-eminent novelist (Lerman is their son). But don't expect either to be similar; Lerman doesn't do repetition.

Like his fear of being forgotten, he's just as scared of being pigeonholed, doomed to repeat the same roles again and again. "I think it's better to fight for the roles that people aren't expecting you to do - or are a little bit different from the last thing that you did. "People don't like to see the same thing over and over again. An actor just doing the same thing... it's just boring."

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