Justin Theroux in Wanderlust
Long before Justin Theroux started getting attention as a movie actor — playing a filmmaker in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, playing a dueling DJ in Ben Stiller's Zoolander — he couldn't decide whether to be another pretty face or to paint them. The Washington, DC, native graduated from Bennington College in Vermont with majors in both drama and visual arts. A move to New York resulted in gigs as a muralist and commercial artist — doing figurative paintings on billboards and restaurant walls. But he never gave up on acting. Then he got a part in the Off Broadway show Hide Your Love Away, playing Brian Epstein's lover. Other stage roles were offered, and the painting lost out. Then he landed a small part in the film I Shot Andy Warhol, and the offers haven't stopped since. He was most recently seen as the commune leader in Wanderlust.
But somewhere along the way, Theroux also picked up another talent. Maybe it was in his blood. His mother, Phyllis Theroux, wrote for the Washington Post's style section in the 1970s. His uncle, Medford native Paul Theroux, is a prolific travel writer (The Great Railway Bazaar) and novelist (The Mosquito Coast). So he gave writing a shot, starting with short gags, and working up to feature screenplays. His credits so far include Tropic Thunder, Iron Man 2, and the new stage-to-screen adaptation of Rock of Ages, directed by Adam Shankman, which comes out June 15. Upcoming is Zoolander 2, which he'll likely also direct. I spoke with Theroux last week in Los Angeles.
WHEN YOU WERE AT BENNINGTON, DID YOU COME TO BOSTON TO VISIT UNCLE PAUL? I used to visit him on Cape Cod. He's there every summer. But just before college I lived in Allston for a summer. I had a girlfriend in Boston. We lived with, like, 40 people in one of those horrible houses. I can't even remember the name of the street. And I had a job hanging lights at Axis. I like Boston, but it was the worst summer of my life.
HOW DID THE TRANSITION TO WRITING HAPPEN FOR YOU? I was doing a play on Broadway— Three Sisters — and Ben Stiller's then-girlfriend, Jeanne Tripplehorn, was in the play with me. So I met Ben. I was a huge fan of his, and we had a similar funny bone. We became friends, and we would work on little stuff together, little jokes here and there for when he would do Letterman. And I wrote some stuff for when he hosted the MTV Awards. Then we struck on the idea for Tropic Thunder, and we developed that for years and years.