by Sally A. Edwards
BLAG 2004

Introducing a face many of you may well be familiar with: Justin Theroux. He has graced uber-cool films such as Mulholland DriveCharlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, and Zoolander, and will be a regular in the upcoming Six Feet Under series. Justin, who resides in New York’s Greenwich Village, is not only a cousin and nephew of Louis and Paul Theroux (respectively), but also started out as an artist. All that and he says he’s boring. Yeah, right. Now he has a few days off, he’s finally got the time to start a forty-foot mural in his apartment and catch up with BLAG.

You started out as an artist, didn’t you? Tell us about that, and describe your styles.

I did, yeah, I did commercial and non-commercial stuff. I did murals, actually, that’s what I fell into doing — for clubs, and some billboards. Sort of in a graffiti/animated style, I guess, but it eventually became a little more refined than just sort of spray cans with hard lines and ink on the sides. I don’t know, I guess I did anything I could to make a buck. Anything from real estate ads on the sides of buildings to discos, clubs, restaurants and bars. Thing like that, but mainly all big stuff.

Is there anywhere it can be seen now?

No. All gone, I think.

Really?

I think so, I mean, there might be a couple of restaurants on the Upper West Side. A few things, but nothing major.

What contemporary artists do you like?

I like a lot of contemporary artists. I like some of the people you feature: Kaws, Espo, Reas, Shepard Fairy. I love Phil Frost, he’s probably one of my favorites. And Twist is one of my favorites as well, and his late wife [Margaret Kilgallen]. I have a few of her little figurines. I guess that’s it. As far as mainstream, I like some of the pop artists, Rosenquist and Rauschenberg, things like that.

What is it about their work that you like?

Well, I like the scale of Rosenquist. He didn’t do many interviews. But from what I’ve read of the interviews he did, he’s got a real simple-minded approach to what he likes. I remember one quote that he said. He said — because he used to be a billboard painter as well: “Sometimes you can put a color up and it looks white from the street, then you gt up close it’s bright, bright pink. It’s a funny thing.” Which I always liked, because he never really talked about his art. I loved the images he produced that were out of the commercial world of spaghetti, and F14s, and hairdryers, and babies, and thing like that. I liked the way he put them together. He had a good wall of stuff at the pop art exhibits in the early Nineties in England, I saw it in London. I just like the way that you can appreciate his stuff on an abstract level, when you walk up close to it and get far back, and sort of get bombarded with these beautiful, colorful images.

You were acting around the time of your art work. How did you find juggling two careers?

I wasn’t juggling, really. I wasn’t doing very well in acting; I was basically just doing painting, and then sometimes just straight up house-painting — apartment-painting. Then I got a job doing a play, and then got an agent, and eventually one started taking over the other and that was it. But I still keep a sketchbook, every now and then I’ll do a painting, but not very often.

So when did acting take over?

I guess in ’95, ’96. I didn’t have a very long career as a commercial artist in New York; it was only about six or seven years. I don’t know, I’m really bad with dates. I don’t remember what year I did my first acting job, but the first few things I did were theaters in New York, so I still had to pay the bills with some commercial work. I did logos, that was the other big thing. I would do logos for little companies, and dotcom companies, and a couple of film companies, and stuff like that.

With regards to your films, can you tell us some memorable moments from on-set?

Memorable moments from on-set? From which films? I don’t know. I mean, I’m pretty straightforward when I go to work, I’m pretty boring! I go to work, show up, and film my lines. I don’t know, I’m not too crazy on the sets, but each experience is different. When they’ve been awful, they’ve been interesting in their own way. Of course, David Lynch sets are probably the most fun, but I don’t know. I had a really good time doing Charlie’s Angels, too. So, it depends on the director — each director provides a different set to work from, you know? It’s a different vibe for each thing.

Moving on to Zoolander. You probably get asked this all the time — did you really pull off those moves?

Yeah, I did! I knew a little bit of breakdancing from back in the day, but we had a breakdancing instructor who was the steadying hand! He made sure we did everything as well as possible. Owen Wilson, on the other hand, had major stunt help. He has completely no rhythm!

What are you up to at the moment?

I’m about to go to LA now for Six Feet Under, which I’m really looking forward to. I did one episode last season and I’m starting more full time this coming. I don’t know what season you guys are in over there, but…

We’re way behind!

You’re way behind?! We’re working on the third season, so that’s going to be really fun. I don’t know anything about it. You know, they’re very cagey about their script, so they don’t tell me anything. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of dysfunction to go around for that part, we hope.

Is it correct that you’re doing some writing at the moment?

Yeah, I am. I’m working on a script with Ben Stiller. Doing a movie about Vietnam, a comedy. That’s the only thing I’m working on at the moment. It’s been on hold. We were working on it right before September 11th, then when that happened we were like: “Maybe it’s not the right time for a Vietnam comedy.” But irony’s back, so we’re happy to start working on it again.

What’s next for you, apart from Six Feet Under?

That’s pretty much it. I’m going to be going out to LA to work on the script with Ben and then doing Six Feet Under at the same time. At some point I’m going to hopefully direct another short or something like that; I know, it’s so boring, but that’s what I’m looking forward to. As far as doing something new, I’d like to direct something small.

What advice would you give to aspiring actors?

Oh God, I don’t know. This isn’t a reflection on whether I think I’m a good actor or not, but I think I’m a well-trained actor. So I think aspiring actors should be as well-trained as possible, because the world doesn’t need any more people that can do imitations, or people who fancy themselves as enormous talents, by just sort of, you know, thinking they’re going to be discovered or whatever. I find that more when I go to LA. I see a lot of people who just sort of show up and think it’s like any other profession; that they can just walk in and be accepted as being brilliant. But the truth is the best actors I know have all done at least four years of either conservatoire or hard-grind studying. I guess my advice would be: “Get really good first, then become an actor.”

Do you get to do much traveling outside the States for work?

Yeah. I just came to London, actually, and did a video for Muse, which was just sort of a way to get a plane ticket over there and have some fun. But yeah, mostly it’s really small towns in the US, LA, or New York. Unfortunately it’s mostly Los Angeles, because producers and directors and things like that don’t really like to leave Los Angeles, so they make you go there most of the time.

So how did you find London while you were here?

I think I’m developing a bad association with it. I went to school there, and caught the worst cold of my life. And then when I went this time I caught the worst cold of my life, so I just associate it with being incredibly sick and phlegmy. But no, I’m trying! I don’t know what it is about London. Every time I seem to get there, immediately my throat closes. But I love London, I think it’s great. When I’m anywhere, I sort of think: “God, this is fantastic. I think I could really spend some time here.” Then, after I’m there a while, I think — and no offense to London — but I just think: “It’s not New York.” I start to miss New York. But yeah, it’s fun.

Going on to music, you grew up in Washington, DC and were into the punk scene. What artists were you into?

It was all different kinds, I guess, like Bad Brains, then Fugazi. I don’t know, but then again, anything from anywhere else, Boston, Los Angeles, you know. I guess hardcore, but not what’s now called hardcore, although we’d just call it punk. Then I got into, obviously, a lot of English bands like The Clash. I was a big Clash fan; I can’t tell whether it was because of their music or their poster art, which was also really cool. I guess it was just a general melange of punk rock.

What are you listening to at the moment?

Right now I just got handed The Darkness, which I know is a big deal over there but not over here — and I’m enjoying that a lot. Some mainstream pop stuff like The Strokes. I really like The White Stripes a lot, a lot, a lot. I think they’ve come out of a sort of “Gun Club” genre of music; there’s something about them that’s inexplicably linked in my mind. What else? Interpol… I’ve been mainly listening to The Velvet Underground and things like that.

What do you get up to on a typical day off?

Right now, I actually have some days off in a row. I’m doing a mural in my apartment, finally. I wanted to do this wall in my apartment, take all the artwork off it and paint it. So I’m doing that.

So, what are the ingredients for a good night out for you?

Oh God, I’m so fucking boring. Truly, the ingredients for a really good night are: I have several Simpsons TiVoed, I walk my dogs, I order some good food in, and light the fire! Boring, but a night with the dogs is the deal.

What are your preferences between film and theatre, and why?

I’m starting to prefer film, only because I am getting more comfortable with the medium, or maybe I’m just getting lazy. I love doing plays, but whenever I do, I always find myself wishing I wasn’t in one. It’s very hard work, but really good for keeping the knives sharp in the drawer.

Would you do a followup to Mulholland Drive and/or Charlie’s Angels if offered?

I don’t think a followup to Mulholland Drive would be right, but I would of course work with David again. As for Charlie’s, in a heartbeat. It was honestly so much fun. Those kinds of movies are so absurd to make. Going to work on the sets at Sony was like going over to play at Richie Rich’s house.

Louis Theroux is your cousin. His TV series is pretty culty here in the UK — have you seen them, or ever had any involvement?

No, never had any involvement — I wouldn’t want to! It’s kind of a one-man operation, and if I ever found myself on the other side of his camera I would have to assume something had gone terribly wrong for me. I just saw him in Los Angeles where he was working on his next installment, his latest subject being Michael Jackson, which sounded like he might really top himself. Very funny stuff.

Do you get any of his shows in the States?

No… We used to get Weird Weekends, but it’s off now. I have hopes of his newer stuff coming over. But some of his English subjects are not well-known enough for Americans. As for Weird Weekends, it had a huge following here, too, but in the end I don’t think Americans laugh quite as hard at Americans as the English do. And vice versa.

Top ten DVDs for a long flight?

  1. Strangers with Candy, first season
  2. Strangers with Candy, second season
  3. Akira
  4. Ninja Scroll
  5. Spirits of the Dead
  6. Nights of Cabiria
  7. Bob Le Flambeur
  8. Peeping Tom
  9. Jackass the Movie
  10. Donnie Darko