by J. Rentilly

Louis Theroux scoured the US in search of weirdness. His cousin Justin simply hooked up with David Lynch — perhaps he can explain what Mulholland Drive is about.

Justin Theroux is a man in black. Head to toe, from the raven crown to the jet-black Doc Martens, and the black-rimmed glasses in between. He’s the kind of guy who listens to Black Flag at four in the morning, rolls his own cigarettes, and would rather commit serial labors of love off-Broadway than star in a big-money movie with a talking dog. In David Lynch’s delirious new film, Mulholland Drive, Theroux — nephew of author Paul and cousin of presenter Louis — plays a film director whose life is overrun by shadowy figures and whose partner is having an affair with Billy Ray Cyrus. Only in a David Lynch film…

The obvious question: Any similarities between your character and David Lynch?

None. [Laughs] My haircut. Maybe. No. That was the first question I asked him, of course, and he said, “Absolutely none,” so I sort of just went from there with the character, and started doing whatever I had to do.

Audiences have been very eager to crack the film’s mystery. How does your character figure into the film’s narrative?

I think I’m very incidental to the story.

That’s it?

I don’t live in Los Angeles, but when I think of Los Angeles, there seems to be an enormous amount of people that go there to realize a dream, and I think this woman in the film [Naomi Watts] is no different, and that she’s sort of a weak-minded, tragic figure. I think at the end of the day the film means many things to me. The pleasure is exploring those themes. There’s a sadness there. A desperation. There’s a sense that fairy tales can run adrift.

You’re a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker. Do you think you could be a bigger movie star if you were to head to Los Angeles?

No. I’m much more pessimistic than that. I am weak-minded. I had a very good education and have had people that just said, “Look, try and become good at what you do, whatever it is.” I made a fundamental decision to go to New York when I was ready to start acting, sort of based on the hope that if I was good I would be fine and if I wasn’t I’d get a real job. LA sort of perpetuates this notion that at any moment something amazing could happen, that you’ll be discovered drinking a milkshake in some diner.

Tell me about working with David Lynch.

He builds an intense atmosphere, and sort of by proxy a kind of trust is built up where people are completely willing to give themselves over to him, and I think that’s one of his successes. He gets amazing performances out of people, and incredibly courageous performances. You know, a lot of directors are technicians. They know how to finish on time, they know how to move a camera around the room, they know how to make up this crazy angle. David knows how to behave around people.

Did your perception of the film change after you saw the finished product?

Events happen in your dream life, or your subconscious, that are incredibly valuable just in the describing or just in the experiencing of it. I think the film does a very similar thing. If you sort of watch it with your eyes at half-mast and try and get rid of the intellectual baggage, I think it’s more successful. I was talking to this guy the other day, about John Coltrane. You don’t say, “Why does he choose to do a solo here?” David makes movies that share a lot with jazz. You take the mood or you don’t.