Josh Lucas (‘Sweet Home Alabama’)
‘True Southern Comfort Revealed’
Josh Lucas is a young actor with a career on the rise. Most recently seen in Ron Howard’s Academy Award-winning drama, ’A Beautiful Mind’ in which he stars with Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly, Lucas may well be staking his claim for the spotlight now, but to say that he's an overnight sensation is most definitely an incorrect assumption.
Having recently completed production on Ang Lee’s ’The Hulk’ for Universal, which is scheduled for release in June 2003, and other upcoming projects slated for release including ’Coastline,’ opposite Josh Brolin and ’The Weight of Water,’ co-starring Sean Penn, Lucas has already made his mark in such films as ’American Psycho,’ ‘The Deep End,’ ‘Session 9,’ ‘Alive’ and the 2000 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prizewinner, ’You Can Count On Me’ co-starring Laura Linney.
In his new movie ’Sweet Home Alabama,’ a young woman (Reese Witherspoon) flees from Alabama to reinvent herself in New York, leaving behind her "white trash" upbringing and husband (Josh Lucas). She finds herself becoming a city socialite and is happy with her Park Avenue boyfriend (Patrick Dempsey). Everything goes perfectly until he proposes to her, forcing her to return home to tell her parents and get a divorce. But the trip back awakens memories of her past, and she must choose between her new life and the life she left behind.
Greeting me with a firm handshake as I enter upon the interview suite at the exquisite Townsend Hotel in downtown Birmingham here in sunny Michigan, it was quickly obvious that Josh Lucas was suffering from a severe lack of sleep. Pinching hard the bridge of his nose between his eyes, he allowed his eyes to refocus before smiling a huge, southern smile. ”Man, you fly at night and then arrive in a different city, find the hotel and wake up and start all this at 6.45am,” he volunteers unashamedly. ”And I’ve got forty more days to do on this six week tour,” he smiles, this time not quite as brightly.
Sitting down at the table with him, I first wondered – knowing that comedy wasn’t his greatest suit - just why he had taken this role in the first place. ”I’d just finished ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and this was really the first script that I read after it, which is very unusual, ‘cause you normally have to read through tons of stuff. And then you just sit and think about it and hope that somebody casts you and then hope that the whole thing works out. But for this (‘Sweet Home Alabama’) I was like wow; I come from the south and I feel a tremendous alliance to the gentle, honest world that this movie was based in.”
Have you done these press junkets before ? ”No, this is my very first. It’s funny ‘cause part of it comes down to the fact that I’ve never had a movie I was in that I loved. ‘Cause even with a movie like ‘A Beautiful Mind’ obviously the responsibility comes to Russell, Jennifer and Ron. But this is the first movie that I’ve been in that I really, really like.”
Do you think that you winning the State Championship in Drama Interpretation in both your junior and senior years of High School had any correlation to where you are today ? ”Yeah, completely. It was a debate circuit and the high school that I went to had a bigger debate budget than it did for the football team. It had been like the state champion for like thirteen years in a row so when I got there I’d never done that kinda thing before, but suddenly I was in this place where it was really cool to be a debater in forums and things.”
Having been involved in heavy films like ‘American Psycho,’ ‘Session 9’ and to a point ‘When Strangers Appear,’ ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ must have been like a breath of light-hearted fresh air !?! ”Yeah, absolutely. I got tired of playing those kinda characters, but to play a bad guy is very much like a creative exercise with a lot of imagination. You tap into this essence of these people and their personalities and you’re accentuating them tremendously to maintain that overwhelming personality. But in reality they’re not really similar to myself. They’re entirely outside of myself and you do have a blast that way, but for the first time I feel that Jake is about putting myself into a situation where I’m stripping off layers of myself to reveal more as opposed to adding personalities and things on to become more deranged or more maniacal. And I find that much harder to do, to reveal yourself in such a manner. I’m tremendously trained, have done lots of theatre and so you learn how to technically build performances as opposed to someone like Jake who’s about the opposite. This time the character is much more me which is scary; very, very scary to see if it will still attract people. You have to think was it boring or was it rich and alive ? Whereas, you know sometimes; like with ‘The Hulk’ that it was fun right there and then and that it is gonna be cool. But with this I didn’t necessarily feel that way that often. I mean, my instincts are not comedic. I come from a totally dramatic background. All the movies I’ve done on various levels have been drama and for the first time I was having to rely tremendously on Andy Tennant (Director) and Reese. (Witherspoon) I was like guys, you gotta help me understand the beats of these scenes, especially like in the earlier part of the movie when it was all very comedic.”
What makes you wanna sing and dance about this movie more than the others you’ve done ? ”One of the reasons I do wanna go out and talk about this movie is that I was in a typical south high school and had an accent until nineteen or twenty and so I love the south. First of all the physical land is extraordinary, the people are such fun-lovin’ people. There is such a rich spirit down there and another thing that I love about the south is there is so much incredible segregation throughout most of this country, but in the south that’s definitely not true. Although, you might get a little ol’ white grandma who hates black people, but she lives next to her black neighbor who’s her best friend and that’s the strange dichotomy of the south.”
So, you had a lot of fun making this movie then ?! ”We had so much fun,’ he smiles widely. ”This cast and crew were just playing the whole time and one of the things that I so much learnt from working with people like Russell Crowe and Sean Penn is that in the evening they take their crew and cast and they get to know them and drink with them. In particular the cast, because when you get to the set in the morning you just look at each and know there’s been another small bond and it’s usually then on camera. It’s so different from ‘Hey, how you doing. What are the lines ? Let’s run them’ as opposed to ‘Ahh man, you were so drunk last night’,” he laughs deeply. ”It’s a very different thing, but it makes everything just spark that much more.”
The battle reenactment scenes were quite incredible ”Yeah, and we shot that whole sequence in an actual reenactment ! There were no actors ‘cause they were there shooting anyway for five days. Not with us, but they were there to play dead and lay down for a while !,” he laughs. ”Yeah, we shot every day they were there and all of them were there every day and that group was one of the largest in the whole country. It was amazing to watch. Absolutely amazing. There was about 15,000 of them and they literally set up all over town with their tents and markets. It was absolutely mind-blowing to think you could come and spend $10 and watch a battle.”
Wow, so any other ‘behind-the-scenes’ secrets ? ”This isn’t a movie that had a lot of behind-the-scenes secrets. The only ones I can come up with were that the cast and crew partied like mad ! Everybody had such an incredibly good experience together. There were times when everyone from the movie, at four o’clock in the morning – there were twenty-eight of us – playing actor games. It was just stupid to watch Fred Ward and Mary Kay Place, these great actors do this thing where you take an ottoman and you play this whole game of you’re walking towards this ottoman and you end up tripping over the ottoman while you’re having a conversation ! It’s a creative exercise and it’s just fun watching all these guys play the game.”
Could the dog actually swim or not ? ”The dog could do nothing,” he laughs as loud as ever. ”The dog cost that movie millions of dollars. The dog couldn’t bark on command, the dog couldn’t sit on command, the dog wandered around scenes. There was many a moment where I’m throwing the dog into the water because the dog didn’t wanna go in. I just had to pick him up and we had the Human Society people there saying ‘OK, that’s three times. Only three times now !’ Like, why three times would be alright and not five, I don’t know ?!”
What would you claim to be your acting pinnacle point to date – for whatever reasoning ? ’Working with Ang Lee was mind-blowing and having Andrew Tennant allowing me to play comedic for the first time and challenging me to come up with a side of my personality I hadn’t played yet in film was pretty memorable.”
Talking of ’The Hulk’, what’s the character you play ? ”It’s funny, ‘cause where certain actors hate playing certain characters I don’t ! He’s the bad guy,” he giggles, still rather sheepishly nonetheless. ”He’s the maniacal force of the movie and my job is to piss off Bruce Banner so that he becomes The Hulk !”
Aside from the up-coming Sean Penn and Josh Brolin flicks have you been doing any indie films recently ? ”Yeah, I just did one directed by Radha Mitchell, (’Pitch Black’) he nods. ”It’s a short film. She’s an amazing woman, this woman and she’s gonna end up being quite a director. It finishes editing wise in about six months and will come out at the Sundance Festival.”
Which of your movies ended up being the most trouble to shoot and work on ? ”Oh, ‘The Deep End’ was made for less than $3,000,000 and was a disaster ! Every single thing that could go wrong went wrong. We were always having to come up with how do we make this work ‘cause you’ve got three-hundred feet of film and that’s all we have today.”
With your physical resemblance to Matthew McConaughey being quite incredible, does it bother you or amuse you that people comment on it ?! ”Yeah, it used to be different, but right now it’s because of the trailers and most people are like ‘Oh, is that Matthew ? Oh, no it’s not !’ But, I do remember in the very beginning when he was in some magazine spread my mom called me and said, ‘Jesus Christ, have you seen this spread ? I thought it was you !’ It’s just a strange coincidence that we kinda look alike. I think he’s meant to be a really cool guy, but I think we’re two completely different actors.”
FYI – Did you know that www.JoshLucas.com was just recently purchased at Register.com ! Anything to do with you or your management ? ”No,” he stares directly at me, his blue eyes buried inquisitively in my own. I remark that it could now be turned into a porn site and his response is ultra quick. ”Oh yeah, I bet it will with my luck,” he laughs heartedly.
Interviewed By Russell A. Trunk
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