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With his performance on the HBO series “The Leftover” and the public’s scrutiny of his marriage to Jennifer Aniston, Justin Theroux’s star continues to rise with general audiences. And with his performance in “The Girl on the Train” (opening in theaters October 7), that star will continue to climb.
The best-selling book by British author Paula Hawkins, which has now been adapted into a Hollywood movie, stars Emily Blunt as Rachel Watson, an alcoholic who is reeling from a divorce and finds herself entangled in a missing persons investigation. Theroux plays Rachel’s former husband, Tom.
Though the story is centered on Rachel and two other women, Megan (Haley Bennett, “The Magnificent Seven”) and Anna (Rebecca Ferguson, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”), Theroux’s Tom character is an integral part of its very dark moments (if you’ve read the book you know what I’m talking about).
Business Insider spoke with Theroux about this character you won’t forget anytime soon, what’s in store for the final season of “The Leftovers,” his thoughts on “Zoolander 2” (which he was a co-writer on) being a box office disappointment, and his reaction to Aniston being thrust into the coverage of the Angelina Jolie-Brad Pitt divorce.
Warning: Spoilers ahead regarding the Tom character in “The Girl on the Train”
Jason Guerrasio: Are you prepared to go down in history as one of the most despicable husband characters?Justin Theroux: [Laughs] Yes. Guerrasio: I was thinking about this on the train coming home from the movie. Theroux: How appropriate. Guerrasio: You got performances like Harrison Ford in “What Lies Beneath,” Michael Douglas in “A Perfect Murder,” that dude who played Julia Roberts’ husband in “Sleeping with the Enemy,” Patrick Bergin – Theroux: Yes! Guerrasio: Your performance is up there with those portrayals of awful husbands. Theroux: I’m glad. As long as it’s not the last thing I do then I’ll be happy. [Laughs] Guerrasio: Did you go back and watch really bad guy husband roles, or just go with the source material? Theroux: I kind of just went on the source material. Weirdly, I think the thing you can run afoul with is if you make the character too mustache-twisty or telegraph it. Especially for those who have not read the book, you don’t want to ruin it. And this may sound a little douchey-actor-speak, but in reading the book and doing some research, Tom isn’t a psychopath or sociopath, he’s not Robert De Niro in “Cape Fear” –
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Guerrasio: He’s not concocting murders. Theroux: Yes, exactly. It’s not premeditated. It’s what’s presented to him. So I was thinking about how this guy could bring himself to do that as opposed to the rational thing of talking things through with your spouse. And what I figured was he’s a narcissist and does a lot of blaming to the women that he’s been wronging. That, to me, was the key hole I found to get into the character. Just play him straight. Guerrasio: Was it fun to play this character differently, basically, every take? The personas you have to display to tell his story shift dramatically from scene to scene. Theroux: Yes. Some of it is in [Rachel’s] memory, so I’m shooting scenes in how she thinks Tom is and then there’s reality. But what’s crazy is, for him, he can justify his actions, that’s scary. Guerrasio: But were there times when you were shooting where you had to ask director Tate Taylor or someone, “Am I playing my hand too much? Should we show him at this level of aggression?” Theroux: Yes. There were even times in the early scenes when I’m playing happy homemaker where I felt like I was just being boring with the character. And Tate would correctly say, “Well, yeah, you should be boring because we don’t want to reveal anything.” So I took the tack of when Rachel is stalking him to play him as a victim. Guerrasio: So were you between seasons of “The Leftovers” when you shot this? Where was your head at? Theroux: It was a real breath of fresh air at the end of the second season. [Laughs] It really was. I finished up on season two and had just gotten home, and waiting for me was this script and a note saying “Tate wants to speak to you immediately.” So I read it overnight, talked to him, he offered me the part and within a couple of days I was flying to start prepping it. I mean, this was almost like a romantic comedy in comparison to “The Leftovers.” Guerrasio: And you’ve wrapped on the last season of “The Leftovers,” right? Theroux: Yeah, we just wrapped like three days ago. Guerrasio: Is Kevin still in your head? Is it hard to kick him? Theroux: I love that character so much and more importantly I love that show, so because it’s the last season it’s bittersweet to say goodbye to that family –
Guerrasio: But there are so many peaks and valleys for this guy – Theroux: It’s true. Guerrasio: Do you take that home with you? Theroux: I’d love to be one of those guys who could be like, “Yeah, it’s really exhausting,” but the truth is I’m not method. I don’t take roles home. And there’s something cathartic about playing those kinds of parts. In a weird way you kind of exorcise them. You get rid of them the minute you play them. I can have tough days at work on “The Leftovers” where we are doing big emotional work and then at the end of it I can feel kind of lightened. Guerrasio: We talked last for “Zoolander 2” and back then you said you didn’t know if the last seasons of “The Leftovers” would go out like a whimper or a bang, so what is season three like? Theroux: It’s still very much our show. It’s not like we all jumped into the back seat and coasted. It’s same show, different location. [Show co-creator] Damon Lindelof didn’t let up on any of us as far as what we had to go through and experience. I won’t say anything specific, but I will say I’m extremely gratified by the final episode and felt like it put a ribbon on things in a beautiful way. Guerrasio: And in regards to “Zoolander 2,” it didn’t do the business I’m sure you guys had hoped for, any regrets you or Ben Stiller have about making a sequel? Theroux: No. I’m proud of that movie. Whether it did well commercially or even critically, I thought critically there were some very unfair reviews, but you never know when you make a film how it’s going to be received. I’m a big believer that the reception is not the endeavor. And what I enjoy about almost all my work is the endeavor, the doing of something. For “Zoolander 2” I had three years of developing it, working on it with Ben, shooting it, all extremely happy memories. And to me that’s my experience of it. As far as the financial or critical success of it, it’s a shame, you want to drop your kid off at school and have everyone be nice, but on the other hand you can’t control it. That’s why we make new movies.
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Guerrasio: With the news of Angelina Jolie filing for divorce from Brad Pitt your wife has been thrust into the coverage of the story. I’ve always been curious, how do you two ignore all of the tabloids that are so obsessed with her?Theroux: It’s just not in our house. I’ll say this, she’s been in the public eye a very long time, I’ve been in the public eye not as long as it relates to this nonsense, but as a child of divorce all I can say is that’s terrible news for those children and that’s all you can really say. It’s boring to comment on anything else. People are having a bad time, that’s horrible. Guerrasio: You point out that your wife has been dealing with this much longer than you have, has there been a moment that has scared you or disturbed you in how aggressive the paparazzi are to get to her? Theroux: No, not really. But there’s no handbook for anybody for going through it. Scared isn’t the right word or alarmed or anything like that, it’s more bad weather. Some weeks it rolls in and it rains and then, whatever, you just put on your rain coat and bring an umbrella. Some days it’s sunny and it’s fine. You kind of have to look at it like that because there’s no remedy. There’s an endless appetite for trash, apparently, although everyone would say they don’t have that appetite, but I think a lot of people do because people buy it. But there are bigger things to b—- about. It’s shocking how much bandwidth things can take up when there are far more important things going on in the world.