It’s a big year for Justin Theroux. He’s starring in the new HBO drama, The Leftovers. Wearing his screenwriter’s hat — he co-scripted Tropic Thunder with Ben Stiller and Iron Man 2 all by himself — he’s readying his Zoolander 2 screenplay for production. And soon, possibly on his 43rd birthday in August, he’s due to marry Jennifer Aniston. “I will need,” he says, “a couple of days off in the summer.”
During a diverse Hollywood career, Theroux has been kicked to death by Drew Barrymore (Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle) and been leading man twice for David Lynch (Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire). Like any actor, he’s done the stuff IMDb won’t let lie, “television shows where they’ve changed the word Starbucks to the word ‘Storebucks’, shit like that where you can feel the lawyers crossing things out.”
No such worries with HBO. The Leftovers is a mystery thick with the right kind of eyebrow-furrowing intrigue. The drama unfolds in a small US town three years after a rapture-like event caused two per cent of the world’s population to disappear. No one knows why; everyone is still affected. Theroux plays the town’s sheriff. The pilot episode is a superb opening salvo that immediately causes the viewer to yearn for episode two. It is often dark and sometimes darkly funny.
“We’re not shooting a Judd Apatow thing up in Queens,” says Theroux, of the New York location that stands, in part, for his fictional sheriffly domain of Mapleton. “Hopefully there is humour in there somewhere. We keep trying to find those moments, to give people a break.” For example: a barman, on why certain folk disappeared, says, “I get the Pope, but Gary fuckin' Busey?” (Other missing celebs: J-Lo, Salman Rushdie and Prince Harry.) At a meeting of town dignitaries, an objection to calling a memorial parade Heroes’ Day is countered with the impossibility of naming it 'We Don’t Know What the Fuck Happened Day'.
Theroux keeps things mysterious behind the scenes, too. “I get my scripts as close to the day of shooting as possible, to keep it as fresh as possible. If you know your entire arc, you can lose interest in playing in it. I kind of like building the bridge out without knowing what the other shoreline looks like.”
The showrunner of The Leftovers is Damon Lindelof, who performed similar duties on Lost. “When I started working with Damon,” Theroux says, “I’d seen the first season of Lost but I thought I would follow it through. So I watched about six of them and said, ‘How many of these are there? About 200? I’ve got a fuckin' job!’ But there is nothing worse than people starting conversations about shows you haven’t seen. That and talk of YouTube should be prohibited at social gatherings.”
Theroux, you may have gathered, can be deadpan-funny and funny-funny. He talks insightfully about all aspects of the filmed entertainment industry — diary permitting, he might have directed Zoolander 2 — and fondly about his forthcoming marriage. When a lady marries a man, she may take his name. If Ms Aniston goes full wedlock, she’ll be entering a minefield.
“It is Therroo,” says Theroux, who nevertheless th-rows his surname about as Therroh. His cousin, the documentarian Louis, gets it right. “Me and Louis have joked about it, why we pronounce it differently. The older generation, my uncles, my father, all say Therroo. There’s always a humiliation when I go to Paris, and the person checking me in pronounces my name better than I do.”
The Leftovers will be shown on Sky Atlantic HD later this summer
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