Josh Lucas is perhaps known for playing brash characters, whether it's Reese Witherspoon's home-town boyfriend in Sweet Home Alabama or the villainous Talbot in Ang Lee's Hulk, but he goes completely in the opposite direction for A Year in Mooring, where he stars as an emotionally-devastated man who runs away from his life to live on a ramshackle boat. The movie spends 12 months with the character and his attempts to heal both himself and his floating home, and Lucas portrays many of the character's fluctuations and agony in scenes by himself, where he can't fall back on dialogue to express his emotions.
When I sit down with Lucas in an Austin hotel on a Saturday afternoon, he's decidedly more upbeat than the man he plays in the film, but he's still soft-spoken and thoughtful about his craft and about show business.
Movies.com: I'm always impressed by any low-budget movie where the seasons change. How long was your shoot?
Josh Lucas: Less than 20 days, it was basically 18 days straight. That's just the reality of low-budget film. And when it was sunny, we had to pretend it was summer, and when the snowstorm hit, it was like, ""We have to use this." (laughs) That was the sort of joy of the incredible conundrum of making this work. We were blessed, in a way.
Movies.com: Very effectively faked, then. It felt like you shot and came back and shot and came back. How did you come aboard?
Lucas: I read the script a long time earlier, and to be honest with you, I thought, "There's no way they're going to get this movie together, because who wants to watch this movie about a man alone who suffers?" And yet, it was a piece of poetry, on paper. It was 120 pages of description, no dialogue, and it was obviously written by someone who had dealt with this. It was written from a place of knowledge as opposed to creativity. And I really felt moved by it and thought it was amazing. And somehow they put it together and got the money and did it, on a location that was somehow mystically interesting enough, and we lucked out with weather, so all the forces came together that way. As much as I'll say that this production was fraught with madness and difficulty the whole time – maybe like all independent films.
But the challenge of this became, How do I make this not indulgent, which I really pray to god it's not, because it's so easy for it to be – and I must say, there's not much comparison, but I really, really love what Sean Penn did with Into the Wild, you know there's some interesting connections to watching a man go off alone, and I was hoping to create little moments like that.
Movies.com: And this is one of those films where I imagine the idea of shooting out of sequence must have presented a real challenge, since the movie is pretty much the ups and downs of this man's life over the course of a year.
Lucas: Sometimes we'd have bright light, and they'd say, "OK, let's shoot scene 35," and I'd ask, "OK, what costume am I in again?" I was changing costumes sometimes every 20, 30 minutes. The reality was, he could have one shirt, and it would be fine. (laughs)
Movies.com: So you could be anguished, but you still shaved every day.
Lucas: In fact, the director and the writer were really pissed that I couldn't just grow a beard and cut it off. I said, "Who grows a beard in one day, dude?" (laughs)
Movies.com: I've met some guys; you'd be surprised. You've got an interesting career going, moving back and forth from stage to film. You don't seem too beholden to either one. Is it a matter of looking for challenges and keeping it interesting, or is it by necessity, where you go where the work is?
Lucas: I'm kind of deeply in love with the challenges, but the reality is that it's partly about the offers you get. Look, this business, as you probably know, is in a very difficult place. As is the world. And so, particularly financing anything these days, particularly a beautiful art film, who's doing that? And so if you get the offer on something like this, you take the risk, because you want to help get it out there to people who enjoy this kind of movie. But it's a bit happenstance that way, if I'm gonna be honest with you. I'm pretty seriously in love with a certain kind of European cinema, that if something like this comes across where it seems to be in that vein, and yet at the same time, you also really desperately want to do something like Sweet Home Alabama, honestly, because you want that commercial possibility, because then it's that game of going back and forth. Broadway these days has become driven primarily by not just movie stars but also TV stars who can draw an audience. Like I said, it's happenstance – more roulette, let's say. (laughs)
Movies.com: There was a time when, being the kind of actor who was in a Sweet Home Alabama would help raise funding for a film like this. Is that still the case?
Lucas: I think there's a little bit of that, but as you know, Guillermo Del Toro's movie with Tom Cruise just went down because they said we can't finance that. Tom Cruise! So that's the business right now. I don't think we're a movie star–driven industry anymore. I think we see movies because they look interesting, and they look good, and they look new and original. Or they look exactly like what they want. But it's not these days about, "Oh, we love so-and-so, and therefore we're going to see this movie." I think it's really shifted that way, and so the financiers are smart enough to say, "Look, we don't have to pay the same, because we want to put the money into the movie now, as opposed to in the paychecks." So it's a really different business that way. Although there are people who hit consistently, like Leonardo DiCaprio, who I'm working with now, because he consistently finds great movies and directors to work with. It's an interesting equation.
Movies.com: So yes, speaking of Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar, you're playing Charles Lindbergh opposite Leonardo DiCaprio's J. Edgar Hoover. Is that the national-hero Charles Lindbergh or the anti-Semitic, Nazi-appeasing Charles Lindbergh?
Lucas: Neither; it's the time of his life when the baby was kidnapped, so he was in the worst pain a human being can be going through. The fascinating thing was that controlled flight space, or no-fly zones, came out of the Lindbergh kidnapping, because they shut down everything around the house, but they realized that, since flight wasn't monitored the way it is now, they started selling sightseeing tours to fly planes over the house. So the FBI had to step in and stop this, because Lindbergh was gonna go crazy; any human being would go crazy at that point. It's a phenomenally interesting story and time of his life, where he had gone from being a national hero – he's a majorly complex character. And extraordinarily challenging. Like they say, he went from Jesus to Judas in 12 years.
Movies.com: Do you feel like you're in a place in your career where you get the, not the sightseeing tours per se, but is your privacy being invaded? Does TMZ go through your garbage?
Lucas: Not much. I think because the older you get, you're not the Lindsay Lohan, really, you're not that kind of figure, and that allows people to let you move more freely, which I'm really happy about. I don't really have any problems that way; I think that's pretty rough.
Movies.com: Looking back over your films, it seems like there's a quality where you have a tendency – and this isn't a bad thing – but you can come off as a little nefarious. There's a school of blond leading men where they achieve a certain blankness that allows the audience to project what they want on them, but you always seem to have something going on behind your eyes.
Lucas: I have noticed it – I sometimes worry about it a little bit, because I think it's more unconscious than I would like, but at the same time, I think the most interesting actors are a little bit dangerous. And the ones I've really loved working with, that's absolutely true – Sean Penn, Russell Crowe, those guys. So it's not that you – what would the word be – "cook" that, but you know, I guess, the truth is there's times when I'm probably uncomfortably complex myself, in a way that I have to deal with. And so does everyone around me. (laughs) And I have to say it, "laughingly, with a sheepish humility."
Movies.com: Are you having fun in Austin?
Lucas: Yeah! This is such a cool festival. It's like Mardi Gras without the dark edge. (laughs) It's really fun; I do believe this has become one if not the great film festival in America these days, because it's not an industry-driven festival. It's really about fun, it's really about good, drunken, playful, Southern, Texas fun. Yet they have an incredibly serious music festival, and film-wise, I think some real gems are coming out of this festival.
Movies.com: So besides J. Edgar, what's coming up for you?
Lucas: I have a really fun bunch of films coming up, actually. The movie I really love – a true story, a really fun, wonderful, great family movie out of Australia called Red Dog, which is this great story of a dog in 1971 who was such a popular character in this tiny mining town that they made him their first union president. He was this really extraordinary animal – really cool movie, because it captures this part of Australia that's never been filmed before, ever. It's a really good slice of Aussie life.
Movies.com: What part of Australia?
Lucas: The place is called Dampier, Karratha, which is the mining territory about 200 miles north of Perth, and it's like the moon. It's uninhabitable. The only reason they have people there is because of the mines. The land is actually metal. The land is iron. So it's just cool, and a very '70s film, both in that it's set then but it's also shot and edited that way. And we're going back there in a few weeks to show them the movie, which is gonna be fun.
And there's Lincoln Lawyer, and then a movie I really like which was at Toronto called Daydream Nation, so [it's a] good fun time. It's nice to be working.
MDC at SXSW 2011:
2011 SXSW Film Festival - Photo Gallery
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with Rainn Wilson and James Gunn
Dialogue: SXSW - Morgan Spurlock Delivers The Greatest Movie
Dialogue: SXSW - Paul Giamatti Grapples with Win Win
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with Apart Star Joey Lauren Adams
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with A Year in Mooring's Josh Lucas
Day Five - Film Ends, >Conan Heads to the Big Screen and Anchor Bay Makes the Biggest Buy in Conference History
Day Four - Tuneful Documentaries and Concert Films
Day Three - Simon Pegg in Paul, Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, and Interactive in Everything
Day Two - Josh Lucas' A Year in Mooring, Apart and the Not-So-Super
Day One - Source Code, Insidious, Shiner Bock and Smartphones