Profile & Interview: Josh Lucas

by Carlo Cavagna


LEFT: Josh Lucas stars in Around the Bend

You may not be aware of who Josh Lucas is, but you soon will be. In a month, he joins Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman in the cast of Lasse Hallström's An Unfinished Life, playing Jennifer Lopez's love interest. Next year, he takes the lead in the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced Glory Road, as the coach of the first-ever all African-American college basketball team. Then, action director Rob Cohen taps him to play one of three pilots trying to prevent an artificial intelligence program from starting a global war in Stealth (the others will be Jamie Foxx and Jessica Biel).

Until now, however, Lucas has mostly stuck to character roles in independent films, while occasionally moonlighting in bigger Hollywood pictures. If I tell you he was Reese Witherspoon's love interest in Andy Tennant's Sweet Home Alabama (2002), you might say, “Oh, yeah.” But, unless you're a cinephile, you probably don't recall him in anything else, off the top of your head. What if I told you Lucas was Russell Crowe's rival (and later his friend) in Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind (2001)? Or that he has a fistfight with Mark Ruffalo in Ken Lonergan's You Can Count on Me (2000)? You probably remember those scenes, but can you bring a picture of Lucas to mind? Here's a few more roles: Jonathan Tucker's menacing gay lover at the beginning of The Deep End (2001), the troublemaker on the asbestos cleanup crew in Brad Anderson's Session 9 (2001), the evil corporate kingpin in Ang Lee's The Hulk (2003), and the gang leader who makes Val Kilmer unzip in front of party guests in David Gordon Green's Wonderland (2003). Lucas also played the adult Haley Joel Osment at the very end of Tim McCanlies' Secondhand Lions (2003), a banker in American Psycho (2000), and Sean Penn's brother in the present day segments of Kathryn Bigelow's The Weight of Water (2000).

Yes, those are all the same guy. If that's difficult to believe, it's because that's exactly what Lucas has wanted. In 2002, he remarked to FilmForce, “I really want to be someone who literally disappears in the role. I want to be so strong as an actor that people wouldn't say…eh, that's Josh Lucas." So far he has been successful, even dodging the spotlight during a brief relationship with Salma Hayek last year. But with the high-profile films he has coming up, continuing to disappear will be a challenge.

It took awhile for the 34-year-old, Arkansas-born actor to get this far. After crisscrossing the South, his family finally settled in Washington State, where Lucas took up acting in high school, twice winning an annual statewide drama competition. Despite that, he has described his first acting experiences as a struggle, admitting in 2002, "My suspension of disbelief wasn't great, and sometimes I didn't play as freely as I think I'm doing now.”

After high school, Lucas moved straight to Los Angeles, earning his first credit in an episode of the Fox sitcom True Colors in 1990. Appearances on Fox's Parker Lewis Can't Lose, ABC's Life Goes On, and CBS' Jake and the Fatman followed. He also did a couple TV movies—USA's Child of Darkness, Child of Light (1991), as the boyfriend of a pregnant young virgin, and then a young George Armstrong Custer in Class of '61 (1993).

Lucas made his feature-film debut in Alive (1993), as a member of the infamous Uruguayan rugby team that crash lands in the Andes and turns cannibal to survive. Then came Father Hood with Halle Berry and Patrick Swayze. After a brief side trip to Australia to play Luke McGregor in the Family Channel series Snowy River: The McGregor Saga, he appeared with—get this—Malcolm McDowell, John Rhys-Davies, Mark Hamill, porn star Ginger Lynn, and the guy who played Biff in Back to the Future in…a video game? Yeah, a video game—“Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger,” one of the highest grossing titles in the history of Electronic Arts. After that, Lucas took a series of minor parts in overlooked films (True Blue (1996), Restless (1998), and Drop Back Ten (1999)) and appeared on the stage in the controversial Manhattan Theater Club production of Terrence McNally's Corpus Christi.

It wasn't until his brief but powerful roles in American Psycho, You Can Count on Me, and The Deep End that casting directors began to pay attention. At the same time the profoundly disturbing Session 9, shot in the real-life abandoned Danvers mental hospital, was a hit with many critics. All this led to his small but plum supporting role in A Beautiful Mind, which then led to Sweet Home Alabama, The Hulk, and Wonderland.

Now, Lucas gives us two new independent films, playing two very different kinds of family men. In Around the Bend, the directorial debut of Jordan Roberts, Lucas is Jason, a young father whose own long-absent father, Turner (Christopher Walken), suddenly returns home. When Jason's grandfather Henry (Michael Caine) dies, Jason, Turner, and Jason's young son (Jonah Bobo) are then forced to take a road trip together to fulfill Henry's last wishes, in which long-simmering resentments come to the fore. In contrast, in David Gordon Green's Undertow, Lucas is Deel, the estranged brother of John (Dermot Mulroney), who shows up to terrorize John's sons (Jamie Bell and Devon Alan).

In October 2004, Lucas granted an interview to AboutFilm and a small group of other reporters while promoting Around the Bend. The former avid poker player doesn't seem like he would be a good bluffer. Lucas laughs frequently and talks excitedly, like he's snatching words out of the air to express ideas he's putting together on the fly, frequently pausing to restart sentences, as if the words he does come up with aren't big enough to contain his thoughts. Lucas discussed working with Christopher Walken, his own relationship with his father, and some unusual experiences during the making of Session 9.

Question: Can you ever eat KFC again, after all the KFC in Around the Bend?

Lucas: I don't think I could eat KFC before this. You know, we had prop KFC. It wasn't real KFC, because Jonah's kosher, and so he had to have kosher chicken. Jonah's never had fried chicken in his life—Jonah's the six year old boy who plays my son in this movie. So, the first day, the first scene, we sit down in KFC. Jonah's been given free rein from his parents to eat—so he decides that he's going to eat KFC, or eat this kosher fake KFC chicken, to the point that he ate probably fifteen pieces—this is a six-year old—in about fifteen minutes, and then in the middle of the scene, in the middle of the take, as he's telling a story, on camera—vomits all over Chistopher. Christopher grabbed the KFC bucket and put it out of reach. Then they put it down, and Jonah's [like], “More KFC please,” and just kept eating.

Question: Is that footage going to be on the DVD release?

Lucas: I hope so. God, I hope so.

Question: Obviously Around the Bend is about relationships between fathers and sons. What was your relationship with your father? Was there anything you could draw on for this role there?

Lucas: No, well, my father's definitely not Christopher Walken. But at the same time my father and I have gone through huge difficult relationship issues in the past couple years that I think are similar in certain ways. You know, I'm really fascinated by the transitions that happen when a father— It's almost—disturbingly, I would say—like alpha male relationships in a dog pack. What happens is someone chooses to display dominance. My father was a very dominant, powerful, very intelligent man, and a certain point certain things happened in his life where he sort of lost that a little bit. I think one of the interesting issues of this movie is that, Jason is desperately trying to have an alpha impact on his family, but there's so much chaos around him, he can't get it at all. So he's constantly frustrated. And there was the same thing happening in the [making] of this movie, where there was so much chaos—and the brilliance of this little boy [Jonah Bobo], and the brilliance of Christopher Walken—around me, all this chaos—and I'm desperately trying to search and struggle for my own center, [like] the character was. It was such a difficult thing for me to do, because he never finds it, honestly. I knew that going into it. He's always a little bit lost. He's always a little bit out of touch. He's always a little bit uncomfortable. And he's always the one who's not the most interesting one to be around.

So I had to react in ways that were almost antithetical to the way that I normally would have reacted to Christopher Walken. I would have been like, “Brilliant choice! So cool! So interesting! Let's play with that for awhile.” But Jason has to be pissed off and bored and bothered by the great things that are coming out of this brilliance. That's a hard thing to do. It's hard to force yourself to be uncomfortable all the time. That's the honest struggle of him, I think. And, in terms of my relationship with my father, a similar sort of dance that we're going through right now, is how to be comfortable with each other, how to go through that transition—how to go through the transition of alpha male behavior.

Question: You mean you're replacing the alpha male in the family?

Lucas: I think really that's what it comes down to, whether I like it or not. It's not conscious per se, but it's tribal; it's animalistic. It's the same thing that happens in a pride of lions. At a certain point, even if the one alpha male is dominant, at a certain point there's a younger lion that is stronger, and everyone knows it. Even if the one lion doesn't need to display dominance, it's just kind of what happens. I'm very interested in that behavior for some reason. I'm very interested in how that all played out in this movie as well. Not just among the characters, but amongst the actors, the directing—everything had that same interesting little struggle.

Question: What kind of job does your father have?

Lucas: He's a doctor. Very different from me.

Question: Did he support your becoming an actor?

Lucas: Yeah. He was challenging about it. He was supportive, but he was also like, “If you're going to do it, you better be fucking great at it. And you better be dedicated to it the way it takes to be dedicated to being a doctor.” I think he saw acting in the same way that many people see acting—that it can be a pretty lackadaisical profession. It can pretty easily based on celebrity and on things that intangible and meaningless. I think his whole thing was, he respects it tremendously, but he only respects it at a very high level. And he loves film. And so he was like, “If you're going to do this, you do this at that level. Otherwise don't do it.” And to me, I struggled for years, because I ended up being on television for awhile, and that to him, he was like [blows air out of his mouth deprecatingly]. We didn't even own a TV growing up, it was such a medium he didn't respect.

AboutFilm: At what point did your dad feel like you had reached that level that he wanted to see in you?

Lucas: Well, I don't know… You know, it's funny because I've also been out talking about a movie called Undertow. Undertow is the first time my brothers and sisters have come to me and said, “Wow, you're a really good actor.” Up to this point, they—like me—  As an audience who doesn't know the personality at all, it's easy to be much more giving to [the performance], as opposed to when you really know the person. You see the false moments; you see the things that are untrue. So I think it's very hard for a family particularly, to give over to watching you play a wide variety of characters. It's one thing if I stayed very similar, but I'm not interested in that at all. So, I think my father, like my brothers and sisters, like everyone, is able to watch moments where he's like, “Oh that was great” or [grumbling sound]—in the same way that I do myself.

Question: Do you go to them and ask what they think?

Lucas: I don't ask them, but they're very happy to tell me. They really are. It was interesting this time, because they [had been] like, “You know, I've seen you do a couple movies, and you really aren't any good.” So they're—they're straight up. That's why I feel very lucky to have them, because I don't have yes-man relationships with them. I think so often, particularly as people start to become more and more successful in this business, there's lots of people around to tell them consistently how brilliant they are. For some reason my family is quite the opposite of that.

Question: Did you ever want to be a doctor?

Lucas: Not at all.

Question: Did your father want you to become a doctor?

Lucas: No, I think he— We were lucky in that they wanted us to do what we wanted to do. But at the same time, if we're going to do it, we better damn well do it well.

Question: Is he still working, or is he retired?

Lucas: He's actually just now in the process of retiring—just now.

Question: Is he finding that difficult?

Lucas: I think that's a piece of it. That's kind of partly what I'm saying—particularly when you watch your son become very successful at something. He himself has been very successful at what he does, but he's now struggling to find his own identity in who his is outside of his work. I'm right at a time when I'm strongly finding my identity inside of my work. That's I think a very hard thing to go through.

Question: Do you have children?

Lucas: No.

Question: So you don't know how it feels.

Lucas: No, I don't. And that's the thing. I have tremendous compassion for it from an outside perspective, but I don't yet have the relationship with my own son or daughter to watch that relationship develop as well.

AboutFilm: You mentioned the struggle to stay centered during the making of this movie. Michael Caine and Christopher Walken are two great veteran actors. What were the differences in working with each of them for you?

Lucas: [sighs] They're bipolar. I mean, really. On a scale of acting techniques, they are antithetical. Chris Walken is wild and spontaneous and fearless about a lack of continuity, and absolutely even rageful about continuity. [He] wants—if anything—everything to be different and unstructured. That's his brilliance. Michael Caine is the opposite, where he's totally structured and totally thought out and totally prepared and totally planned. And his [way] is also very beautiful. As an actor, you look at both—  At this point in my life I'm finding myself between the two, and fascinated by—  I've always been taught continuity was wildly important, and you work with Christopher Walken, and you're like, “Why is it important? He's fantastic!” But as a director or an editor, it forces you only to use a couple different things that he does, because they're the only things that actually will match. He's brilliant in his ability to know when he's so good that he will match, so that you can only use those moments. Michael Caine is going to match the entire time, and be flawless within that. So they are really opposites, and I think they're both effective.

AboutFilm: How did they work on the scenes they had together?

Lucas: Chris was shy. I was surprised. Chris was very shy with Michael.

Question: How difficult is it to stay in the moment with Walken, when he's throwing curveballs at you?

Lucas: It's impossible not to, because of what he's—  You have to be on your toes. It's easy to get laconic and bored when you're doing the same thing over and over, and the other person is doing the same thing over and over. You can find subtle nuances within that, but if Walken is suddenly—Bam!—reacting in a way that you have to react to that, because you can't not react to that. So, you're on your toes. It's magic. It's absolute magic.

Question: I've heard that Walken goes through the script and takes out all the punctuation, so there's no rhythms other than what he comes up with.

Lucas: Yeah. He also told me that he doesn't read anyone else's dialogue—I think to the point that he might not necessarily know what the whole movie is about, because he doesn't need to know. It's not important to him, because he doesn't want to know. He wants to discover it. He wants to be like, “Wait a sec. Why'd you say that line?” And he'll say that to you. At a certain point, you're like, “Didn't you read the fucking script?” And he'll say, “No. I did not read the script, motherfucker.” And you're like, “Damn. That's a really interesting idea.”

Question: And that's because he wants his reactions to what you're saying to be spontaneous?

Lucas: Genuine. It's phenomenal.

Question: You did a movie called Wonderland last year. What's your opinion of whether [porn star] John Holmes was involved in the Wonderland Murders?

Lucas: Oh, I think without a doubt Holmes did it, or was definitely involved. I think that's the thing that these filmmakers discovered. They were the first ones to unearth the information. His wife came to them—and has never spoken to the police or anyone about this—but for the first time, she said he showed up covered in blood. No one had ever known that about him. And so, if the man showed up covered in blood, he was involved—at least. I think that he was probably forced to be involved much more heavily. But he was broken at that point.

Question: Did you get any feedback from any of the people portrayed in the film?

Lucas: People were astonished at the realism of it, to be honest with you. That's why people didn't like it as well, because it was too real. It was too harsh. A lot of people were like, “Why?” Well, because it happened this way. So every single person who was involved—Dawn [Schiller], the real woman [played by Kate Bosworth in the film], was terrified by it because it was so real to her, particularly my character, who she hated in life. It was scary for her.

AboutFilm: I'd like to ask you about a movie called Session 9. What's your opinion of the final product, and what were your experiences working at Danvers?

Lucas: Look, man, Session 9 was a terrifying experience for many reasons, because Danvers is the most horrible, haunted place I've ever been on Earth. Bad things happened during the making of that movie that I can't even quite put my finger on; none of us could.

AboutFilm: Supernatural?

Lucas: Absolutely. I mean, there's no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Even someone like Peter Mullan—who has never believed in or had any experience with dimensions or realities beyond our consciousness—had multiple experiences on that movie. Dangerous things consistently happened that were bizarre. There's actually—  They filmed something and they don't know what they filmed. There was somebody in a room that they were yelling at. They thought they were talking to a P.A. about getting off. “Get out, get out, get out, you're on camera. You're ruining the shot. You're ruining the shot.” And there was no one there. It's on camera.

There were events after events after events. I'm not hyping anything. We were terrified, uncomfortable; it was miserable. I thought that building was saying to us the entire time, “How dare you make a piece of commerce inside of this pain!” I think the movie captured that. There's not an ounce of art department in that movie. That is exactly what that place looks like. All of those things that are on camera are found objects in the building. The movie is so effective in capturing that, but to the most minor scale of what the truth of that place is. That place is horrific.

Question: Is that scene on the DVD?

Lucas: No, because they don't know what they have. They couldn't use it in the movie because it was destructive to the scene. They don't like what happened. There were many events in the making of that movie. We had people quitting consistently because of what they were experiencing. Someone was hurt very badly, that makes no sense.

AboutFilm: What happened?

Lucas: An object… It happened to me, to be honest with you. I wasn't hurt, but I was involved in it. There was a table that weighed about five thousand pounds. It used to be used for electroshock therapy. It was broken, but the thing was a massive structure. It took about five men to move it, and it was so stable. There was no way to move this thing, is what it comes down to. This thing moved and fell in the middle of a take, and hit the director of photography right at the point when the lobotomy scene takes place in that movie. It hit her and knocked her unconscious, and should have killed [her], but for some reason didn't touch her. Like, [it] knocked her unconscious, but didn't leave a scar, didn't leave a thing. [It] picked up and slammed her, and I went apeshit crazy after it happened. I said, “We never film in this building at night again. It's too dangerous, it's too angry.” I'm not building up anything. We all hated it, because it was so uncomfortable. The place is horrific, horrific, horrific.

Question: Can you tell us very quickly about a couple things you have coming out? You mentioned Undertow, and then there's Lasse Hallström's An Unfinished Life with Robert Redford and Jennifer Lopez.

Lucas: Let me tell you, people are really responding to Undertow in a way that I'm really happy about, because it's so unique and out of the bounds of normal Hollywood movie storytelling. It's really in the land of [Terrence] Malick. It's poetic. It's very, very dark and beautiful at the same time. It's a difficult, difficult story of a boy—Jamie Bell's character—trying to survive in poverty, and a man who comes back to wreak havoc on his life. It's somewhat based on a true story. And An Unfinished Life—I don't know. I haven't seen Unfinished Life. I play Jennifer Lopez's love interest. It's a smaller character who's just sort of the romantic way for her to realize that men are not all bad. Redford is just a laconic old cowboy—come on, he's Redford!






Sean Penn and Josh Lucas in THE WEIGHT OF WATER
Josh Lucas (right) with Sean Penn in Kathryn Bigelow's The Weight of Water (2000).






Josh Lucas in SESSION 9
Josh Lucas makes an unusual discovery in Brad Anderson's Session 9 (2001).






Josh Lucas as John Nash's rival in Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind (2001).






Josh Lucas is Reese Witherspoon's estranged husband in Andy Tennant's Sweet Home Alabama (2002).






Josh Lucas in THE HULK
Josh Lucas is not a very nice corporate entrepeneur in Ang Lee's The Hulk (2003).






Josh Lucas and Dylan McDermott in WONDERLAND
Josh Lucas (left), Dylan McDermott, and a stack of dough in Wonderland (2003).






Josh Lucas stars in Around the Bend, a Warner Independent Pictures release.






Christopher Walken and Jordan Roberts
Josh Lucas is an uncle from hell in David Gordon Green's Undertow (2004).


[Read the AboutFilm review of Around the Bend]
[Read the AboutFilm profile & interview with Christopher Walken]

Feature and Interview © November 2004 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
AROUND THE BEND images © 2004 Warner Bros. THE WEIGHT OF WATER and WONDERLAND images © 2002 and 2003 Lions Gate Films. SESSION 9 image © 2001 USA Films. A BEAUTIFUL MIND and THE HULK images © 2001 and 2003 Universal Pictures. SWEET HOME ALABAMA image © 2002 Touchstone Pictures. UNDERTOW image © 2004 United Artists. All Rights Reserved.

Related Materials:

  Talk about this feature on the AboutFilmBoards
  Official Around the Bend site
  IMDB page for Josh Lucas
  IMDB page for Around the Bend
  MRQE page for Around the Bend
  Rotten Tomatoes page for Around the Bend