"Wallflower" is probably not the right word to define Logan Lerman. Though he describes himself as "quiet" and makes more than a few self-deprecating comments, he isn't exactly a bundle of shy neurosis. Instead the twenty-year old actor has the kind of chill demeanor that comes from unfussy professional confidence. Once you stop to do the math, you realize he's already in his twelfth year of professional acting (his first screen role was one of Mel Gibson's kids in The Patriot , 2000).
So it's something of a perfect coincidence that his "senior year" in the public eye, if you will, would so perfectly coincide with a starring role in one of the best high school movies in ages. "Wallflower" doesn't describe him but The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the best illustration yet of his gifts as an actor. His soulful turn as the troubled young writer at the heart of the film won Lerman fine reviews and a well deserved nomination for "Best Young Actor" at the Critic's Choice Awards.
This, you might say, is graduating with top honors.
When I sat down to talk to Logan he was finishing up filming on Darren Aronofsky's biblical Noah here in New York. I had been angling for a set visit but, as Lerman inelegantly put it "usually you have to get permission and shit" and added, joking, that he'd take me along except that "...I want to work with these guys again, you know? I like them!" Most amusingly Lerman admitted to some degree of discomfort with the interview process especially when hearing his own words come back at him "I said that? I sound like such an asshole!" The topic turned to Ezra Miller's open-book interviews at the time of their film's release in October. Though he was obviously impressed with his "incredibly smart" co-star he was quick to play the wallflower by comparison:
I'm pretty quiet. I don't really give away too much about my personal life. I don't think actors should be bigger than their movies. I think it's distracting. So I'm sorry for you right now, you're getting a horrible interview!
I take issue with his characterization of himself as an interviewee. He was thoughtful, talkative and generous with his time. So let's get right down to the highlights of our conversation:
NATHANIEL R: Noah is fresh in your memory so let's hit that first. From the whispers I've heard, it sounds insane.
LOGAN LERMAN: It's turning out to be nuts. I'm really stoked about this one.
NATHANIEL: In other words, it's not a traditional biblical epic. No Ten Commandments.
LOGAN: Not at all. There's nothing clean about it, nothing clean. It's honest in terms of what the story really is. It brings the reality to that situation and what it woud be like. It's fucking intense and apocalyptic. And insane.
This isn't your first movie with Russell Crowe. You idolized him in 3:10 to Yuma and now you're playing his son.
Yeah, it's funny. The relationships are quite opposite, though. I love working with him. Sometimes you just connect with someone. Everyone has their own style and you mesh or you don't mesh, and we meshed. I've learned a lot working with him.
You've also played the son to other, shall we say, storied actors: Renée Zellweger, Mel Gibson, and Jim Carrey. I know actors often feel like they form nomadic families on set. Do you feel... I guess, mentored would be the right word, by these film parents?
100%. That's exactly what it is. You emulate the relationships you have in the film outside of work. You kind of naturally fall into those relationships. I don't know if it's just good casting or something the director saw in these people and they plant a seed. I don't know but it tends to work out that way.
I know you shot in Iceland before New York. I went there for the first time a couple of years ago. Beautiful strange landscapes.
It's one of the coolest places. I got so many amazing photographs. The whole cast -- we were there for a long time. They had the luxury of a big director and a lot of money so they were able to shoot with natural light for all the exterior scenes.
The cinematographer is Matthew Libatique, right?
Yeah! It's all on film and it's incredible. We were just waiting for those magical shots that were perfectly naturally lit. We were weather dependent. We were there for almost a month but I worked only a handful of days so I had a lot of time off. It's a beautiful beautiful place.
I was there off season -- so very little light.
We had twenty hours of light a day! Setting up would be getting your equipment to the top of the mountain. Everyone had to hike so they were long setups because they were hard to get to. But we had light the whole time. We'd be waiting for the clouds to be in the right place. It's going to look good and it's going to feel real and authentic because of that.
After Percy Jackson and Noah your filmography is kind of waterlogged!
Yeah, Yeah! That's funny. Just a coincidence.
Isn't it incredibly hard to shoot anything water-based film though, physically?
Fuck it is. [Sounding relieved] I had a little bit of work in the rain and it was exhausting. But I'm just a part of the story. I'm a subplot. I'm not Noah! But I'm not the crew either and they're fucking there every day in the bitter cold rain.
Something closer to your experience I assume is Perks of Being a Wallflower. It's a coming of age film and you're 20. You have a short window of time left when you're going to be able to make these.
Yes. [Mock relief] I see the light. I see the light!
You've been a professional actor for years. You didn't go to normal high school, did you?
No, I did. I went to high school. I did schooling on the set as well. I did both. I got to see both perspectives.
Were you able to draw on that a little, your own school years, or did you have to just use your imagination as an actor?
A lot of the actors in the film never went to high school and didn't really know and they were playing off the script and their feelings. Obviously there was a lot of research going into it but there were experiences in high school I could relate to, the feeling of starting a chapter of your life and especially how naive I was as a freshman, similar to Charlie, and being introduced to new ways of thinking. It was an interesting thing to get back to.
Perks feels like a turning point in your career. I assume you have some degree of choice by now having carried a film. You're not a supporting player, in other words. Do you look at these things strategically 'I've done a franchise. Now I'm doing a drama.' Like career building blocks?
Yes and no. Not necessarily with Perks. There's such an equation, so many variables to be able to add up to do the projects you want to do. Perks was the first time I was able to attach myself to a project before it got financing. They're going to use my name to help get financing.
First time you wielded your starpower?
No, no. It wasn't like that. Emma was able to do that. She played such a big factor in getting the film made, her name, her value was able to get it financed. I met with Steve and auditioned for him and fought for the part. But still. I guess to them they were like...
oh, yeah, that would be good for the film to have both of them together!"
I know Ezra has been very vocal about his love of the book. Were you familiar with it?
Just the title. I remember people loved it but I never read it. I saw the name in a pile of scripts so I plucked it out first and starting reading it. I thought 'This is really fucking good.' Something about it. You can feel the soul. It's really rich. I just loved it.
It probably helped that the novelist Stephen Chbosky is also the screenwriter. My generation had Mysteries of Pittsburgh which also dealt with some of these themes -- coming of age, the formation of sexual identity. Interesting that they're both in Pittsburgh! Yours got a faithful adaptation, though.
I'm curious about your process. Was the script your bible or did you use the book?
Did I reference the book? I did, yeah. I read it a few times. I picked out the differences between the two and then compromised with Steve on the material as to what would work in terms of his arc. There has to be a consistent arc.
Do you watch your movies? Are you proud of this one?
I wasn't going to watch it -- i avoided all the press screenings and all that. I am so uncomfortable with that. I went home the weekend it came out and my brother and best friend forced me to go see it in the theater. They're like 'Don't be an asshole. You're not going to watch your movie? You have a movie in theaters right now that you haven't seen!' They saw it and they're like 'You've done a lot of shitty movies but this one is really good.'
'You should be proud of it and see it.' So they dragged me to theater. They were so annoyed with me. I was whispering in their ears the whole time 'You know what was happening here.... There was a shot here....'
It was a lot of fun to see it in theaters with a real audience and hear real reactions. It's one of the few films that I'm really proud of. But I only saw it that one time.
One of your earliest breaks was "Jack & Bobby" and it has a cult following of sorts. Would you do a TV series again?
I just love movies. I got bored doing that -- I was a little kid and it was such a great learning experience but it turns into shtick.
Because you're doing the same thing every day?
It was not really creatively satisfying. I get antsy doing the same thing over and over.
Some would say that big franchises are like television series. Percy Jackson!
Yep. Yes they are!
But you do things inbetween.
Yes, there's a lot of space inbetween. It can get boring doing the same character. A challenge is nice. Once you challenge yourself you want a more difficult one next time. I just saw Flight yesterday and I thought 'I want to play a fucking horrible person!' That just looks so challenging.
Do you ever think about the Oscars as an end goal with a big career ahead of you? You've won raves with Perks and now you're working with Darren Aronofsky.
No, no. [Thinking] Oscars usually go hand in hand with filmmakers I appreciate. So I guess you start calling those films Oscar films. Okay, I guess I like films made by good filmmakers! I don't know. I'm not sure.
It's not a plan.
I feel like if that is your intention, than you would never get to the place that you need to get. The intention should only be to do good work and work with good filmmakers and that will maybe come along.
Who do you want to work with?
There's so many filmmakers I don't even know about that are probably making short films right now that will be the next incredible filmmaker. Growing up, the people that got me interested that are around right now are, you know, David Fincher, Todd Field, Spike Jonze, the Coen brothers. Those kinds of guys, innovative filmmakers. Rian Johnson who directed Looper -- incredible filmmaker. Just good filmmakers would be nice. I think that would be cool.
That's a good plan.