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This is an all-important weekend in the career of Justin Theroux. When his directorial debut, Dedication, hits theaters in New York and Los Angeles today, the actor who starred in David Lynch’s landmark Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire will be nervous. That’s because the film — about a screwed up, mentally poisoned children’s book author (Billy Crudup) who is forced to work with a new collaborator (Mandy Moore) — isn’t just close to Theroux’s heart. Theroux lived that character, breathed life into that character. In fact, you just might say the Henry character is indeed Theroux himself. Here, Theroux talks passionately about his baby.

There were a variety of scripts the producers had, and you chose Dedication. What was wrong with the others?

They weren’t that great and didn’t interest me. One was about a bunch of kids who get snowed in at an airport or something. [Shakes his headDedication had what I really wanted bad.

So what did you want?

When I read this, I felt I could attach myself to it emotionally. I learned from acting that there’s nothing worse than getting a role that you don’t want to play. God, it’s so boring. But I like Dedication, except the character wasn’t quite as dark in the original version. But I made him darker.

What in the original script was too light for you?

The character was just an asshole, and he had no reason for being an asshole. So I gave him a psychology, a reason for being so polluted. I basically went through and gave him obstacles, hung heavy chains on him, you know? I didn’t want him to be fickle. I didn’t want him to ask himself, “Do I want to get married?” I just wanted him to be dark.

New York City is a dark character in the film, too.

I wanted to do New York from Henry’s point of view. I wanted to show New York when it’s fuckin’ quiet on Christmas, that kind of thing. I didn’t want to do New York as a bustling place with brownstones. It’s more Hopper-ish than Woody Allen-ish. It’s downtown, not Upper West Side. I really don’t like to go above 14th Street in New York. It’s a different world uptown, one that I could never become used to.

How did you choose Mandy Moore for the role of Lucy, and Billy Crudup for Henry?

People thought that Mandy didn’t make much sense. When the meeting was set up, I didn’t know what to think going into it. But when I had the meeting, that was it. I knew she would be perfect for it. I felt it in my gut. I adored her. She was a very centered, normal person, and centered was what I needed for this character. Billy and I have been friends for years. He was really the only person who could have played Henry.

Billy Crudup’s Henry is a writer of children’s books, and this, among other things, plagues him. You’re somewhat like Henry yourself, right?

My family is full of writers. But I don’t think I can do the long form. With the attention span I have, I can do screenplays. I have ADD, and I was kind of a special needs child. So I think I am that person that Billy plays. I have similar character traits, although I’m not mean. But the anti-social aspects, the bizarre personal proclivities, the tics — I have them all. I’m not mean like Henry, though.

You had two weeks of rehearsals, which is a pretty long time for a three week plus shoot like Dedication.

I wanted to have two weeks for rehearsals, and that’s something I brought from acting on the stage. I felt it was essential. The rehearsals brought the sense of rhythm and music to a scene. I got that from my work on the stage as well. There’s a cadence, a movement in a scene that you get from rehearsing.

What are your favorite movies?

I like the French directors. I loved Blue Velvet. It blew my mind that there was this movie which opened up a world for me that I knew nothing about. I love Raise the Red Lantern by Yimou Zhang and La Dolce Vita, which showed me a whole world that I was missing, a deep world.