July 2006 By Philip Berk
Josh Lucas first came to notice in The Deep End even though he had worked in other high profile movies such as You Can Count on Me and American Psycho.
Playing the the gay seducer of Tilda Swinton’s teenage son, he was signed by Ron Howard and Ang Lee to play the nemesis of Eric Bana in the Hulk and Russell Crowe in Beautiful Mind
But it was his Southern wastrel in Reese Witherspoon’s Sweet Home Alabama that catapulted him to Hollywood stardom
Was he the next big thing?
Both Wolfgang Petersen and Rob Cowen thought so, rewarding him with leads in alternating year’s summer blockbusters.
The first Stealth turned out to be last summer’s biggest disaster
The second Poseidon is about to hit the waves any day now.
Not that Josh should be held accountable for either.
In the case of Stealth the reaction from everyone was, What could they be thinking?
The reviews are not in for Poseidon yet
But meanwhile the question persists
Does he have what it takes?
Josh of course would laugh at the suggestion that he’s the logical successor to Paul Newman (even though he’s played a young Paul Newman in the TV miniseries Empire Falls)
He comes with a lot of Paul’s qualities, staunch liberal background, political activist, but unlike Paul he’s embraced independent movies even choosing to play cameo roles in interesting projects
Some of his choices haven’t been too savvy. Think Undertow, Around the Bend, Wonderland, and Secondhand Lions
He fared better with Glory Road replacing Ben Affleck at the last minute but even his Broadway debut in The Glass Menagerie left much to be desired.
So when as president of the HFPA I’m confronted with a smiling, affable Josh Lucas before the press conference begins, how do I break the ice?
Do I lie and tell him how great he is in Poseidon?
We all know the film is a popcorn summer movie almost devoid of characterization.
Remembering that before Deep End he had appeared in the controversial off Broadway play Last Supper in which Jesus and all his disciples were gay (he played Judas) I ask him if he is thinking of returning to Broadway
He quickly reminds me he had just done The Glass Menagerie with Jessica Lange.
So much for putting my foot in my mouth,
But let’s face it, Josh has struck out on every opportunity he’s been given.
Even in his relationship with Salma Hayek!
So who exactly is Josh and how much do we know about him?
I’ve interviewed him seven times (the first time for Sweet Home Alabama in which he got the girl even though his rival was Grey’s Anatomy’s Patrick Dempsey) but he still remains an enigma
Dempsey (Dr. McDreamy) is suddenly the hottest new star around while Josh waits in line for his next movie.
At that press conference I wanted to know about his upbringing — poor activist parents — it all sounded so intriguing.
“I was born in Arkansas but as children we we were raised off the coast of Charleston, two tiny islands called the Sullivan’s Islands. If you remember Prince of Tides that’s exactly the territory. I live in New York now and I love it but if I had my choice I would spend three weeks a month in New York and the other week In Charleston. “
“You get so addicted to the energy of it, its highs and lows, you start to lose something of yourself. By going back — it takes me a couple of days to adjust but then I start to feel the earth in a different way. I feel calm and confident and comfortable .”
And yet as a kid he moved around from state to state. Were his parents on the run from the government?
“Not quite. My parents — my father grew up very poor in Arkansas and so he was strongly motivated to succeed. He was smart enough to get a full scholarship from Harvard, but because of his thick Southern accent — everyone assuming he was dumb — he had a really difficult time there. It was in the late 60’s, and he became concerned about the issue of nuclear proliferation. He had met my mother, and they became involved in that cause. They started this little organization called Sixth Sense, and yes they moved around the South; so that by the time I was thirteen we had moved thirty times.”
Were they blacklisted?
“Not blacklisted per se, but we had a black car parked outside of our house a lot. I remember that kind of fear.”
When did he discover his interest in acting?
“It was about that time. We were living in a small town outside of Seattle (Washington) where they had a speech-drama dept. I had never even thought about acting, but at that school that was what everyone was doing. I met with the teacher, and he suggested I do a dramatic interpretation. I had gotten so use to moving each time I’d go to a new school, I’d kind of transformed my personality, and I realized I could do the same thing with acting. After I won the state championship, I felt I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. So after I finished high school, I moved to Los Angeles for a brief period and then lived in New York where I got beat up for ten years, making no money, just studying acting and doing tiny theatre but falling more and more in love with it.”
He neglects to mention that in those ten years he had done a lot of TV including an Australian series, acted in movies (including You Can Count on Me) appeared in a controversial off Broadway play but had gone unnoticed until he played a homosexual predator in The Deep End.
A credit he prefers to downplay, which makes you wonder why.
Asked if it was that performance that brought him to the attention of Ron Howard who cast him in Beautiful Mind (as Russell Crowe’s nemesis) he replies, “He hadn’t even seen it, and honestly that might have hurt me. The reason he cast me was because I auditioned thirty times.”
Another episode in his life also puzzles me.
Why when he was a struggling actor and landed a lead in an Australian TV series (Snowy River) did he drop out after the first season?
“I felt they didn’t seem to really care about the quality of the writing, and I didn’t feel good doing it anymore. I was a long way from home.
Would he have been happier if he was in a relationship at the time?
“I’ve thought about it a lot. I’m very proud I made it through living on a beach with naked women in my front yard without making a mistake, I’m not a person who frequents nude beaches, although the nude beaches in Australia is the way it should be. I was very much in love at the time and happy to struggle with monogamy. I don’t look back on it with regret. I guess if I had been single it would have been a hell of a lot more fun.”
No mention of who she was.
But then there’s so much about Josh that has you pondering,
He’s had a high profile relationship with Salma Hayek, the same Salma Hayek who ended a long relationship with Edward Norton
Neither has ever talked about the other.
Whenever you ask Josh about his relationships he clams up,
Four years ago when I asked him if he’s ever been rejected, he answered, “I seem to have a taste for the kind of woman who usually has a taste for another man. I like women who happen to really like dark European men,” and he wasn’t joking.
He once told me, “The best way to propose to someone is to wake up in the morning and be lying next to your woman and roll over and when she wakes up just be looking at her and say, Hey, you want to get married?
Does he believe in such a thing as a soul mate?
“Completely; however, I do believe that a soul mate can be your own child.” (more later) “I hope the person I meet I fall madly in love with. I have been in love but I haven’t met my soul mate because every time I’ve met someone I’ve had a sense the relationship was eventually going to end. I believe in the concept my grandfather taught me, ‘As a man, all you have is your word.’ So if you choose to say to someone I am with you, I commit to you, that’s what you have to do.”
A year later he and Salma were romantically linked.
Has he found his soul mate now I asked him
He begged off with, ”It’s an incredibly difficult thing trying to build and maintain a relationship in the public eye. Salma and I want it to be as private for as long as possible; so having said that I am just not going to talk about it. Not until at some point it’s truly an established relationship; then it’ll be no problem.”
A year later, when I wanted to know how they were doing, he surprised me with this admission: “I was just telling my agent that I’m tired of being safe in interviews so I’ll answer this honestly. My family went through a very devastating breakup.” (no details) “My parents broke up. There was a lot of massive turmoil. And an artist that turmoil ends up bubbling inside of you and you need to speak about it. Playing conflicted characters allows me to deal with both side of that experience.”
Yet in the next breath he admitted, “I have mother, father, and three brothers and sisters. Still to this day a very close family.”
You wonder why in all his interviews he’s never talked about his mother except as a fellow activist alongside his father.
He has talked about his father.
“When I was sixteen I took an amazing trip with my dad. We went to look at colleges. We flew from Seattle to San Francisco and from San Francisco we drove through all the college towns down to San Diego. It was one of those times maybe the first time where you’re relating to your father a little bit more like two guys out on a trip together rather than father-son. We did strange things. We went to a nude beach. I was like, Why in God’s name are we at a nude beach? This is terrible. My God, they’re all naked! And I remember being absolutely freaked out, But it was really a lot of fun and we bonded in away we never bonded before. We ended up coming out of it much better friends.”
Was there much sibling rivalry growing up?
“I have a younger brother and two sisters. We grew up battling each other, but we’re starting to be very integrated. My brother’s working with me on most of my movies as a production partner. My sister will be coming and going with me as well because she can do her job wherever she is. My brother honestly has become a force for me because he’s really really tough with me about not behaving like a movie star.”
By 2005 his relationship with Salma was over.
“My personal life these days is just a little bit non existent, and that’s a choice I’m frustrated with. You get lost in the world of your work. You hear it from every actor. That’s how affairs happen. You’re giving your life away; so I’m happy to be about to stop (working).”
He doesn’t hide the fact that he has a “stepson.”
“When I was very young, nineteen years old, I met a woman, eighteen years old, who had a seven month old baby. I have raised that child ever since. He’s now fifteen so I have a very strong relationship with him even though he’s not biologically mine.”
Does he live with him?
“We were together for five years so I raised him during the formative years of his life, learning to walk and talk and ride a bike, everything like that. He doesn’t live with me now, but he visits for a period of time and he’s a huge part of my life. I’m like a stepfather, I guess.”
His once burgeoning career almost crashed and burned after Stealth. Luckily for him he was signed for both Glory Road and Poseidon before it opened.
Asked if he had a theory why, he was quite outspoken.
“I think people are sick of CG (computer graphics) movies. They want to see movies about human beings.”
In all three movies he plays roles usually assigned to tough, muscle bound Hollywood stars like Robert Mitchum or Steve McQueen.
Did he ever imagine when he was a struggling actor that he’d be playing roles like that?
“When you put yourself into serious physical danger” (as he did on Poseidon), “in order for the audience to believe you, you have to make the same sort of commitment. In my case I gave it everything I had.”
Even to the point of nearly drowning?
“There was a moment when I thought I was going to die, absolutely. It was an underwater scene. The film makers were looking down the barrel of the camera concerned that the safety divers were in the frame and trying to get them out. Meanwhile I was in the scene with about two inches of breathing space above me. I’m holding my breath until they yell action. At which moment I’m supposed to swim towards Jacinda (Barrett) ignoring a dead body in the water being held by a wire. Accidentally the wire caught on my belt and started pulling me under. I didn’t think much of it for a second, but then I realized I was stuck and couldn’t get up and I couldn’t get my breath. There was no one there to see me, and the cameras couldn’t see me because there was too much going on in the water. I fully panicked. I tried to break lose but the more I twirled the more I got entangled. Finally I got out of t. I literally pulled myself out of it, and after taking a gasp of air, I told Wolfgang Petersen. “You only get one take, that’s it!”
What was his reaction?
“You know Wolfgang, when you work with him, he’s so lovely, he’s got that childlike quality, a grand -fatherly presence. He calmed me down and said, ‘So great, we go one more time?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah let’s do it again. But I can tell you, I was incredibly scared and I was very angry.”
Why a new Poseidon at this time?
“Nothing about this one is the same as the l972 version except the premise of a cruise ship being hit by a wave on New Year’s Eve. Everything else is different. Gene Hackman’s character was a man of God; my character, his counterpart, is a roguish selfish personality, but there’s something mysterious and dangerous about him.”
Hollywood sees him as an action hero, but by his own admission he doesn’t qualify.
Is he a good swimmer? I ask him.
Did he play basketball in college?
“I didn’t play basketball at all. I don’t know the game at all.”
Like the character he played in The Glass Menagerie, he’s “a lover not a fighter.”
Is there a love in his life?
“I knew you were going to to get there sooner or later. You know, I’m single and I’m straightforward about it. I’m sick of it “(does he mean being single or being asked the question?) “I think it’s because I’ve been so busy that I haven’t played around and had fun, but I’m at a point now where I’m tired of it and ready to meet someone. What it comes down to is, I’m tired of just dating around. I’ll wait until I meet someone who I really want to spend my life with me.”
What is he looking for?
”Someone who understands what I do. The mistake I’ve made, the mistake a lot of actors make and why relationships don’t last very long in this business is because one person is not able to be with the other most of the time; so I have to find someone who’s willing to do that with me. It takes a very rare person.”
His character Dylan in the movie professes, “I am happiest when I’m broke.” Now that he’s acquired a nice bank account, does he ever feel that way?
“I don’t agree with Dylan. One of the hardest times in my life was when I was broke. Five years ago — I remember it was the day before I got Beautiful Mind — I was with a girlfriend. We went to an ATM to withdraw funds, and I couldn’t get any money because all I had was $19 and the minimum withdrawal was $20. So we went back to the house, and we took all our quarters, and there was a moment where the two of us were looking at each other, and I was thinking, ‘God, I’ve been working in this business for ten years, and all I have is $19 in the bank.’ I just felt sick. It was a really bad, bad feeling, and the next day I got offered Beautiful Mind. Those times were not pleasant; so I would have to disagree with Dylan.”
He’ll next be seen in the final episode of Will and Grace. Can he talk about that?
“That was a really interesting experience. Doing sitcom is an incredible skill, and those guys are masters. It’s like when you go to the gym for the first time, you’re so badly out of shape you try to pick up what you think will be an easy weight, and you can’t even do that. That’s what it felt like. It was terrifying to watch how good they are. Sean Hayes finally sat me down and assured me, ‘Listen man. it took two years of being on camera to learn how to work the audience, wait for the laughs. In one episode you’re not going to get that.” They are as finely turned a family as I’ve ever been around, they love each other, they’ve worked together so long, and it was a cool thing to be a part of that but I tell you, I basically made an ass of myself.”
What part does he play?
“I play myself, and I think secretly they were making an ass of me also.”
Were you a fan of the show?
“I honestly have never seen an episode of Will and Grace. I don’t think they were very happy with me when I told them. I watch very little TV.”
So what does he do for relaxation?
“I’m a big poker player. I played in a poker game for ten years. We call it Big Money Wednesday. It’s just me and the same group of guys.”