The 22-year-old actor explains why it's a blessing to keep getting the roles he never asked for
Since he was 13-years-old, the story of Noah and mankind's demise at the hands of God has obsessed cult director Darren Aronofsky, and we're celebrating his environmental epic with Aronofsky on Dazed – an in-depth look of his work as an auteur of our time.
Logan Lerman is a bit miffed. Director Darren Aronofsky is endlessly going on about not initially having him in mind for the role of Ham in his biblical epic, Noah. “He keeps telling people that. I’m like, ‘What the fuck dude?! You didn’t tell me that!’” the 22-year-old laughs, sitting pretty in a check flannel waiting for his espresso to arrive. He's miles away from his salad days as a YouTuber, having worked with Aronofsky on Noah and, more recently, having his head shoved under the smelly, unwashed armpit of Shia LaBeouf on the set of David Ayer's forthcoming Fury. For Noah, Lerman was awarded the role of Ham – the broody, wife-hungry middle child – despite angling for Shem, the ‘sensible’ older brother. Shem, the Emma Watson-protecting heartthrob, went to British actor Douglas Booth. “I wasn’t right for the role on the page,” Lerman says. “I initially went in and read for Shem and (Aronofsky) was like, ‘I like you for Ham.’”
Switcheroo aside, it was a hard won battle. In the midst of shooting in Vancouver for Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (the second in the Percy Jackson franchise), he racked up a stockpile of frequent flier miles going back and forth to New York to convince Aronofsky he deserved to be cast. “We were doing night shoots (in Vancouver) for a month. So I’d finish work on Saturday morning at 5am, then rush to the airport to get to a flight by 7. I would fly to New York, land, go to bed, wake up, meet with Darren on Sunday, get on a plane to Vancouver, and go straight back into work,” he says breathlessly. “I did that for a month. And I met him every weekend.”
Hungry for any chance to work with the Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan director, Lerman became bicoastal for four weeks on end. “I just didn’t sleep. It was really tough. I just really wanted it,” he pauses, satisfied. “That was something that was keeping me sane, just the idea of working with Darren. It was a project that I was really excited about. And then I got it, so I was really lucky.”
“He’s a perv. He’s just a little perv. He’s at that age. He’s sick of his hand and he wants a girl, and he’ll stop at nothing to get a girl”
In his adaptation of the biblical parable, Lerman’s “wicked” character struggles to understand and obey his father’s wishes (mostly because they’re wildly unrealistic). Ham pines for a wife to the point of being a bit whiny, simply so he can procreate in the new world post-humanity wipeout. “He’s a perv. He’s just a little perv,” chuckles Lerman. “He’s at that age. He’s sick of his hand and he wants a girl, and he’ll stop at nothing to get a girl.” And get a girl he does (spoilers ahead): Ham goes on a mission to the enemy camp and, after spending a single day in a trench together with a companionless tween, convinces her to accompany him back to the ark. “I’d do the same thing,” he says. “I relate to the guy. I’d be like ‘Yes father, we’ll go in the ark alone…’” Fair enough, but true love in one day? “Yeah, it’s short. I mean, it’s not typical,” he says. “Having those things make sense to me were kind of odd as an actor. I’d always ask the same question, like, ‘Yeah this feels so odd’. I’m just meeting her and then it’s like, ‘You’re my wife now! You come with me; it’s a caveman ship!’ Was that love? I don’t know. It wasn’t love. That’s too quick. But he definitely thought she was cute. She had nice teeth,” he laughs.
Settling into roles he never originally went in for is Lerman’s signature. “This is like the same story with every movie now,” he jokes. The Beverly Hills-born actor read for the part of Patrick in Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being A Wallflower, but was swapped for the lead role of Charlie after Ezra Miller’s eccentricity made him a more obvious choice. “He’s totally crazy – crazy in a good way. He’s eccentric. And he’s a genius at the same time. I wish I had an eighth of his talent,” he admits. “He’s really good.”
With a 90210 post code, the actor grew up with the Hollywood sign as a backdrop. There's a story that at age two and a half he told his mother he wanted to act. Lerman would beg her to take him to auditions. “I just wanted to give it a shot,” he shrugs. “I think growing up in Los Angeles, it’s such a movie culture. I guess that’s a reason why it was an interest of mine. Another reason why is because it was a way of getting out of school.” On a trip to the supermarket, Lerman would shuffle through the discount bins of packaged VHS tapes. “The cheapest ones were the old Jackie Chan movies and I’d be like, ‘Let’s buy that box set’, and I’d watch those. They were some of the first movies I watched. I loved Jackie Chan as a little kid. I can’t say he was really an inspiration because it was just from when I was a little kid. But yeah I liked his movies.” Which were his favourites? “I vaguely remember the Drunken Master films. And the stuff that he did in the 70s when he was really young and he directed them.”
“I used to have a toy gun and look at myself in the mirror and think, ‘You’re really cool’, and it just flicked out of my hand and broke the whole mirror. I guess I had several years of bad luck”
Little Lerman would get pretty riled up with all the action-packed sequences in his Drunken Master marathons. “I used to have a toy gun and flip it up and look at myself in the mirror and think, ‘You’re really cool’, and it just flicked out of my hand and broke the whole mirror,” he laughs. “I guess I had several years of bad luck.” It can’t have been that bad, however, because a couple of commercials later and Lerman’s acting chops were getting sharp. He was next seen as William, the youngest son of Mel Gibson’s character in The Patriot, before pairing up with Gibson again in What Women Want.
“The first movies I did were pretty big and they had this grandness to it,” he says. “It’s an amazing spectacle when you’re on set. As I got older, it ended up being a foot in the door for something I was interested in, because I found a love of movies later on. It was just fortunate timing, I guess.”
Together with his friend Dean Collins, Lerman also dabbled in his real ambition: to direct. As monkeynuts1069, his YouTube channel features a carousel of shorts, including a spoof trailer of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain called “Brokeback Horse”. “That was like one of the first things (we made)!” he laughs. “We were experimenting with cameras and stuff and we had no idea what we were doing. It was fun.” While many of their projects never made it online due to sheer embarrassment (Lerman blames a laptop thief), there are a few he can still recall. “We had this one that was really good – it was called Cemetery Party or something like that. I think it was an Air song, and we just tried to come up with some story around it.”
That story was about a kid who wanders into the woods and stumbles into “some creepy scene in the middle of a ditch.” It was basically plotless, but gave him a feeling of what it was like to sit behind a production. “We haven’t done anything like that anymore. We’re making films now, we’re just doing it in more of a more professional way, I guess.”
“People were asking if (Shia) smelled bad because he didn’t shower and yes, he did smell bad because he didn’t shower; but he’s playing a soldier who’s been at war for three years, so it makes sense”
Next, the budding filmmaker is going to be seen in the as-yet-to-be-titled David Ayer project centred around a crew of soldiers during WWII (soldiers include “really, really fucking cool” Brad Pitt and “the most dedicated actor I’ve ever worked with” Shia LaBeouf). For Ayer’s production, Lerman had to undergo four months of prep, which included speaking to war veterans and reading tank crew manuals. LaBeouf – who has recently fallen into his own industry K-hole – was apparently so dedicated on set that he wouldn’t wash for weeks to better ‘understand’ his character. When Lerman spoke to Shortlist about the film, his words got a bit twisted. “I just read all these bullshit articles recently saying like, ‘He smells so bad, everybody’s gagging.’ It’s bullshit,” he says. “People were asking if he smelled bad because he didn’t shower and yes, he did smell bad because he didn’t shower; but he’s playing a soldier who’s been at war for three years, so it makes sense. So it would be nice to clarify that he’s not so bad that you’re gagging all the time.” Au contraire, working with LaBeouf was something of an eye- (and nostril?) opener.
Harking back to his YouTube-filmmaking roots, Lerman plans to swap spots with his favourite directors to take a seat on the other side of the camera. “(Directing) is definitely something I’m interested in,” he says. “A lot of the filmmakers that I’ve worked with have allowed me to kind of peer over their shoulder and see what they’re doing. Some more generous than others.”
He’s learning from the best. Aronofsky, James Mangold, David Ayer… And what about Brad Pitt? Did he give any advice? “He totally did," Lerman smiles. "He was like, 'Choose filmmakers. Make sure you work with good guys.’ That was validating because that’s what I want to do. I remember that was his big advice.” His eyes light up: this is pure gold, as he tells me Fight Club is the one film he could watch over and over and over. Even as a 22-year-old, his CV is padded out with costars and projects that have really set him apart from the Mickey Mouse club crowd of child stars. Work with enough Hollywood legends, and you're a Hall-of-Fame shoe-in. But for Lerman, it's all a part of the process. "It’s been a great education so far," he muses, sipping the espresso that finally arrives. "It’s a good way to learn."
Noah is out in cinemas today