Actor Josh Lucas has certainly had a diverse career so far, from the quality of movies he makes, to the scope of the films he’s appeared in, to their level of success. It’s quite a leap going from David Gordon Green’s understated Undertow to Rob Cohen’s opus Stealth, and there was a time when it seemed as if we were going to see Lucas appear in plenty of Poseidons and Stealths. Yet, in recently speaking with the actor, it seem that type of “candy” entertainment just doesn’t peak his interest nowadays.
When discussing his recent project Red Dog, Lucas sounded more interested in pursuing projects more in line with the feel-good Australian “dog” picture. It’s a movie where all the actors never veer from sentimentality, something that doesn’t bother Lucas, which, as he tells us, usually isn’t a part of his “less is more” approach.
Here’s what Josh Lucas had to say about serving a project as a piece, wanting to tell entertaining stories, and wishing for a clearer relationship with how he feels about his films:
Enjoying your day?
Yeah, it’s nice promoting a movie you like [laughs].
[Laughs] Well, maybe when you don’t, it must come in handy being an actor…
[Laughs] It’s funny, I’m so mixed on it. When you’re promoting a movie you like, it’s wonderful and so easy to talk about. When you’re promoting a movie you don’t like, it’s all acting, but it’s also, “Why am I doing this? I’m lying to everyone!” [Laughs] You walk away from your day feeling disturbed. I have a strange relationship with it. I wish, as actors, we could go out there and say, “You know, this film just didn’t work out. I don’t know.” I wish you could have a more clear relationship with what you feel, but it’s a product, right? It’s a weird game, especially with the big Hollywood ones. This one’s the opposite.
Even with those bigger movies, you can probably find a good way to look at them. Like, with Poseidon, the level of craft involved. Or the Hulk, whether you like the movie or not, it’s ambitious for that genre.
I like the Hulk a lot, actually. I think it has all sorts of visionary and beautiful moments in it, and it’s very much an Ang Lee film. You look at all of his movies and they’re about isolated, tortured men stuck in bad situations. He very much brought his vision to it. I think it’s the antithesis to those bigger movies, and I think that’s what Batman does so well: has a dark and questioning soul. Often times, with some of the bigger Marvel movies, they just become action candy. With Poseidon, that was a brilliantly crafted movie. The last I saw it was in IMAX, and it was incredible. Technically, it’s brilliant. Now, the process of making it, was as painful as it gets [laughs].
[Laughs] I remember reading about how you actually tried to cut your role down for that movie, to serve what the movie really was.
Absolutely. I guess I come from the less is more school. I know I can be flashy, but that’s not what I do best. There are certain actors who just eat up the screen in a way, but I like to disappear. I do think, for me, the project comes first. I like to think as more of a director or producer, thinking about what the project needs. I often find some actors selfish, in how they go into a movie thinking it’s about them. In reality, it’s a huge group of people with so many moving parts. Actors are merely a piece to it, and often times some actors think they are the center of that universe. That doesn’t necessarily serve the movie best, but sometimes incredible performances can come out of that. I’m not trying to disappear, but just, you know, having people watch the movie as opposed to me. I enjoy that type of acting movie.
Say for a movie like Red Dog or Glory Road, do you see it as okay straying away from that less is more school, to wear your heart on your sleeve a bit more?
It is. I look back at the movies I love in my career, and you mentioned the two of them I love: Glory Road and Red Dog. Both are wonderfully happy true stories, even with the pain involved in them. In the end, there’s a sense they do something that cinema can do great: bring people together and entertain. There is a core of complexity, with sadness, loss, and risk. If that complexity is missing, then it just becomes candy, which is not my favorite kind of entertainment. I think more and more I lean towards movies that are more accessible and entertaining, and that’s our job. I’ve made movies that are purely dark, difficult, and challenging which no one saw. I understand more now why no one saw them: we live in a dark world, so we want entertainment. And yet, I look at something like Batman, and that’s a wonderfully entertaining darkness.
Red Dog has definitely found an audience, considering how well it did in Australia. How much does that actually mean to you, whether a movie finds an audience or not?
You know, it always hurts when a movie doesn’t find an audience. Of course, it’s always wonderful when a movie does find an audience. In the case of Red Dog, it found a huge audience and was tremendously embraced in Australia. The movie I’m referenced foremost is Sweet Home Alabama, because it plays on TV consistently and people have a warm spot for it. I can’t deny that doesn’t feel good. This goes back to the beginning of our conversation: when you have a movie you don’t think turned out well or the experience wasn’t very good, it’s easy to let go. With something like Undertow – where you poured your soul into it, believed in it, and found it fascinating – and that doesn’t end up finding a life, it’s interesting. There’s also Wonderland, which has become a bit of a cult film. When it came out, it got no support or nothing. That’s an interesting path when that happens, and people have mentioned that one to me. When you care about a movie that doesn’t find an audience or get any support, it can be heartbreaking.
I may be speaking with Ang Lee next month, so I have to ask, what was your working experience with him like?
Let me tell you a story about Ang Lee. I was doing this show on Broadway, and it was right after I did Hulk, and he asked, “What are you doing?” When I asked what he meant, he said I’m not telling the truth. He said it in a very Ang Lee-way, which means very gentle, deep, and challenging in a paternal, loving way. He might not remember that he did that, but…I think it’s a part of this cultural difference, with Ang being Taiwanese. He challenges you in a lovely way, and he has this Buddhist power with it. He makes you feel good, as opposed to bad. I ended up remarkably changing my performance in that play, because I agreed with him. To be honest with you, I felt I had been terribly misdirected and I went along with the director of the play. I ended up trying to get that truth, which Ang is so great at bringing out. Ang is quietly intimidating in a way I love. He’s a profound artist.
Red Dog is now on DVD.