If you’re the type of person who doesn’t frequent IMDb, to you Josh Lucas is still that dude from Sweet Home Alabama. If you frequent Perez Hilton, then he’s probably the guy who Rachel MacAdams is dating post-Gosling. But Lucas is now a decade-deep into a serious film career that’s seen him go from brooding indie artiste in films like Undertow and Session 9, to American hero in blowouts like Stealth and Poseidon. His latest film is tiny, but it packs a sledgehammer punch. Death in Love is grueling film directed by Boaz Yakin, about a mother (the ferocious Jacqueline Bisset) who uses her tortured past as an excuse to torment her two sons, played by Lucas and a decrepit Lukas Haas. It isn’t a fun movie (Lucas calls it masturbatory), but you probably guessed that from the title. Lucas’ plays a man so wounded that he tries dulling the pain through violent sex (there are at least six women in the first ten minutes). I spoke to the surprisingly mellow actor about the effects of taking on such a demanding role, offering up sex on Craigslist, and those damn pharmaceutical companies.
So I saw the film yesterday, and it’s a really tough watch. It’s a really tough film. I’ve had people say they fucking hate this film, to they think it’s a total masterpiece.
The reviews are echoing that sentiment too. I actually think that’s what the director was searching for in a way. He was making a film that’s filled with self-hatred, betrayal, passion and rage. He financed it based on the money he made as an executive producer of the Hostel series, and weirdly enough, there’s a direct correlation between the sort of silly entertainment value of those films, to the fucking harsh reality of this personal journey. He set out to make a film that made people feel pain and made people feel uncomfortable, and he says that there’s a great validity to that as a cinema in and of itself. He says this is not a drama, it’s a tragedy. He almost wants you to feel bad.
Does it bother you when people trash it? Honestly, I think there’s a perspective—I don’t know that I agree—but it doesn’t surprise me at all that someone would go that far with this film, or call it masturbatory. I would say the same thing about the Hostel or Saw series’. This to me is at least asking deep and serious questions about what it means to be a human being, and it’s not done just as entertainment, it’s done in a way that’s throwing these ferocious ideas in front of your face. The only reason that I would say I don’t think it is garbage by any means, is that it’s a personal story, a true story. And so I don’t think you can just say that someone’s life is garbage. You have to say I don’t agree with it, I don’t like watching it, I don’t have any connection to it whatsoever. But unfortunately, it’s the way that some people live and choose to live.
When you finished the script, what makes you say ‘this is something that I want to do?’ Boaz and I had worked together on Glory Road. He was a writer who had done the best writing on Glory Road, in terms of setting it apart from a Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer movie. So I think he knew me that way, and when I read it I didn’t understand it at all. I don’t even know that I even liked it. I felt that it was too angry and too filled with self-hatred, and yet at the same time, I knew there was a vision beneath it, there was something about it that was scaring me. And so I thought I wanted to experience that. And I also think that sometimes as an actor you’re doing things that are asking questions about your own personality that you don’t have to work out in your own life. Like you know, “what does it mean, he slaps her breast?” And like great, I did that, I don’t need to do that in real life anymore.
What was shooting those visceral sex scenes like for you? They’re pretty violent. Was it awkward? Sometimes it was this almost violent choreography where you literally would go into it, both people, and you’re both basically naked, and you’re both trying to figure out, what is it that causes two people to want to go here?
But it’s not choreographed? No, it’s fully choreographed. It kind of had to be, it was too violent otherwise. Both of us sat down and tried to figure out, why do people want to do this to each other? How do you then make it look like it’s real on camera, particularly when there are five other people in the room? It’s a really weird moment to begin with, and it’s the most private moments that people ever experience together, and there’s a camera crew there.
It’s a relatively small one I would imagine. That was the piece of it that actually made it much more safe in a way, is that you didn’t have a big crew.
So in the film, Jacqueline Bisset’s plays your mother, and because of her psychological problems, she emotionally stunts you. I know that you have unique parents who gave you a special upbringing. How has your mother affected you and the way you live your life now? Fuck, man. Almost the opposite of this. Like literally, my mother is someone who is deeply involved in not just the feminist movement, but in equality, and in birthing. Basically we were taught love. We were taught almost the opposite of this story, and we did not deal with abuse in this way at all, and again it comes down to this thing of exploring some of the darkest sides of your possible personality. I walked away from this film, even in watching it, I felt like I’m glad I explored it and I don’t have an interest in really continuing to explore it. I felt like, great, it’s an artistic experience and a lot of artists I know explore things inside their personalities that are not who they are, and like to take themselves to an edge. And my parents instilled in us quite the opposite, but they instilled in us a love of cinema that was like this, to be honest.
What kind of films are you talking about? Pauline Kael was my father’s of main passion as a cinema-goer.
Ingmar Bergman? Yeah, literally. Boaz to an extent has a very violent, edgy, you can go so far as to say masturbatory Bergman quality about him. He really does, and one of the films I know Kael thinks is one of the greatest masterpieces of all is Last Tango in Paris, and sadly I think this film doesn’t have any of the same beauty that that film has. I think this film is much more filled with pain, but there’s a similar thing to me as an actor, where it was like, well this is your Last Tango, man. And I’m glad I’m only going to do it once.
This is one of the only movies I’ve seen in a long time where there really isn’t a second of humor in it. Not one second, man.
What was that set like? Was there laughing when the camera stopped? Not much. I will say the humor was surreal, like the opening sequence, when you see I have sex with I think it’s like nine women for I think six minutes.
That must have been fun. Dude, the humor came from the fact that they did a casting call on Craigslist that basically said, “Come have mock sex with Josh Lucas for $50 and get a film credit.” Literally that’s what it was. And like 25 different women showed up.
That’s it? [Laughs]. They got $50 to basically sit around for a day in a synagogue in New York City, where we had set up seven different mock location bedrooms throughout this synagogue, and you literally shake hands with this person—you’d be butt naked—and have mock sex with them.
I wonder if some of the girls were skeptical if the ad was going to be true or not. Weirdly enough, almost all of them were surprisingly cool. They were like, “I’m a young actress, and I know this is a weird way to start, but you know…” This is not a bogus film, in the sense that there’s nothing pornographic about it. You can say the context of it makes people feel ugly, but on paper, the people involved are fairly serious artists who are setting out to make a work that is contemplating serious issues. I think that each girl coming in there—and they were literally girls between the ages of 19 and 65 years old—had different reasons for being there. We would talk briefly about it, and every one of them was surprisingly legitimate. That was the day that I would say was the funniest and also the most surreal, and the most kind of gallows humor and just fucking weird.
You have a drama on Showtime coming out called Possible Side Effects. What does it mean for your career now that you’re doing television? I’m actually not. We ended up doing a pilot, because we got this crazy group of people involved. That was something I actually asked as well, is this a good move, going into TV? And it seems to me like there’s a real breakdown these days in terms of some of better coming out of the television world, particularly Showtime and HBO. And this was fucking Tim Robbins, and Ellen Burstyn was my mother, Tim Blake Nelson—like everything about it was so, like A-film world, and the story was a story that could have only been told in a massive format. And the rumor that I heard is that the show got shut down by the pharmaceutical industry.
Oh really? Was it an expose on them? Yeah. A lot of the advertising on television these days primarily comes from pharmaceuticals because the car companies are basically dead now, so pharmaceuticals is the biggest, and the show talked about the pharmaceutical industry being involved in the manipulation of diseases, and the killing of people, to the highs and lows of what that industry does. It was a real contemplation of it, a real expose. And I heard that when it came down to it, basically they threatened to pull their advertising out of CBS.
What are some of your favorite bars and restaurants in New York? Well obviously I’m still a part of The Box, which I love. And The Box is sort of having its second generation right now. There’s a bunch of new things happening there. Obviously it’s a place that I am involved in for a number of different reasons. Simon is like my closest friend, and it’s gone through a lot of upheaval, but I think it’s back to shows that are fun and light these days. Other places in terms of nightlife, oh man, you know I’m a huge fan of the philharmonic in Central Park to be honest with you. I really am. The Summer Stage. That stuff to me, that’s what makes this city sing. The River to River festival, Celebrate Brooklyn, all that stuff. I literally am the guy that goes with balloons and a blanket at eight in the morning when everyone else shows up at six o’clock with wine and beer.