It can be a strange, and uncomfortable, time to be writing about film – just as Trump’s rhetoric and actions have born a pervasiveness that seems so universal; that no thought, pursuit, or corner of culture feels untouched by what has happened (and is happening) in America.
I had the opportunity to speak over the phone to Logan Lerman, the star of James Schamus’ beautifully rendered Philip Roth adaptation Indignation. Lerman may not have fully crawled out yet from the shadows of his breakout out role in the Percy Jackson series, but he’s spent the following years offering consistently strong and thoughtful performances in a vast array of projects: from Stephen Chobsky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower to WWII tank drama Fury.
He now takes on the role of Marcus Messner, the lead of Roth’s semi-autobiographical account of the author’s time at college; simultaneously a kind of historical monument to the Jewish experience in America during the 1950s.
Which leads me now to my conflict: how do you approach talking to a Jewish actor about a movie documenting the Jewish experience, with the shadow of the political current climate hovering so beastly above our heads?
Film is both universal, and entirely a product of its time, yet Indignation has the eerie feeling of a film that’s taken on new urgency after its initial conception, now that anti-Semitism is making its way into the very corridors of power. I breach the subject on a more general level with Lerman, asking him his thoughts on the changing nature of America’s Jewish experience.
“That’s a tough question to answer quickly,” is all he can really offer. We move on in the conversation, but as the interview wraps up he suddenly apologies for having – though quite rightly – found such an ambitious question difficult to answer, offering a sudden moment of frankness about America’s frightening future.
“Being a Jew in America right now,” he admits. “It is a little unsettling, having someone like Steve Bannon in office right now. I think that kind of sums up where it’s at being a Jew right now. It doesn’t feel very good knowing that you have such a horrible person, a fascist pig like him.”
Throughout our entire conversation, Lerman consistently expresses himself with this unmatchable passion; he speaks both with an emotional openness and an intellectual thoughtfulness, a commitment already so visible in his work.
As an actor, he’s always possessed a quiet, unboastful screen presence that almost works against the grandstanding tendencies of actors his age (he’s 24) in the midst of driving forward their careers.
Lerman instead gives the sense of an actor whose utmost priority is in the commitment to the work, to the art as a complete product. He served as a producer on Indignation; which he explains to me, “I’m mainly on-board early on to put the film together in a way that allows for minimal compromising of the filmmaker’s vision."
"I’m just there to help, and to be a partner in the process of pre-production, production, and post-production. So, it’s more of a creative involvement in all the other mediums involved and all the other stages, rather than just showing up to do my part as an actor. Which is still my main job at the end of the day [laughs], but I have a little more involvement as a producer.”
Does acting as a producer on a project aid his performance in any way? “I don’t think it helps my performance,” he replies. “Maybe - I get more time with the filmmaker, which always helps the performance. The more time you spend with your director discussing the project, the better the movie is going to be.”
Lerman’s involvement with Indignation was a particularly long-spanning one, he tells me; “We had about six months of prep on this film, which was nice. It’s a luxury; it’s not very common.” A time that allowed him to achieve a familiarity with Roth himself, though he sees a distinct separation between the author’s autobiographical intention and the character of Marcus himself.
When I ask him whether Roth ended up directly having any influence on his performance, Lerman replies, “I tried to learn as much about him as possible, but I didn’t try to look at interviews or seek out any specifics about how he carries himself. I guess there is a lot of Philip in the book and in Marcus, but I think that once I learned more about Philip – he’s pretty different from Marcus, I don’t think he was as stubborn.”
Indignation’s luxury of time also allowed Lerman to work closely alongside a hero of sorts for him: the film’s director James Schamus. Though he makes his directorial debut here, Schamus’ history as a producer – and the CEO of Focus Features – has left an incredible mark on the independent scene; he even oversaw one of Lerman’s favourite all-time films, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Early Oscars 2017 contenders
Early Oscars 2017 contenders
Martin Scorsese’s passion project since 1991 is yet to receive a release date but rumours abound that it will be out in time for the Oscars. Based on a novel of the same name by Japanese author Shusaku Endo, the story centres on two Jesuit missionaries sent to 17th century Japan to spread Christianity and find their mentor Once there, they endure brutal persecution at the time of Kakura Kirishitan (‘Hidden Christians’) following the defeat of the Shimabara Rebellion. Silence sounds weighty, intense and full of hard-hitting promise.
2/18 Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi director Ang Lee has narrowly missed out on a Best Picture win twice now but this adaptation of Ben Fountain’s acclaimed novel could be the film that finally wins him some overdue glory. The cast includes Kristen Stewart and Vin Diesel with newcomer Joe Alwyn in the lead as 19-year-old soldier Billy, who is brought home for a victory tour after serving in Iraq. Told in flashbacks, the drama reveals the horror of what really happened to his squad in contrast to America’s flashy, patriotic perceptions. Out here 6 January.
3/18 A United Kingdom
Oyelowo plays Prince Seretse Khama, inaugural Botswana president from 1966 to 1980, in this follow-up to 2015’s Belle. Films about real life people often hold clout with the Academy when done well and with Gone Girl’s Rosamund Pike playing Khama’s eventual wife Ruth Williams, A United Kingdom should pull in cinemagoers. Khama sparked a global stir when he married the white Londoner in the late Forties and the first pictures from the movie promise beautiful costumes and cinematography. A United Kingdom will open the London Film Festival before its general release on 25 November.
Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton star as Mildred and Richard Loving in this historical drama about an interracial couple sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for the crime of getting married. Out here just in time for the Oscars on 3 February. Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, Loving earned positive reviews from critics when it competed for the Palme d’Or at Cannes and received a standing ovation for understated, strong performances.
5/18 Manchester by the Sea
One of the best scripts co-producer Matt Damon had ever read, this tragedy about an uncle who is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies while trying to reconcile with his ex-wife stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and newcomer Lucas Hedges. It was bought at Sundance by Amazon for $10 million and arrives in the UK on 13 January.
6/18 Nocturnal Animals
Designer Tom Ford has cinematic strings to his bow, as proved with 2009’s Venice premiere The Single Man. He’s back in the chair for this drama-thriller starring Amy Adams as a remarried art gallery owner whose ex-husband’s violent new book begins to haunt her. Jake Gyllenhaal, Isla Fisher and Armie Hammer also star. Due in UK cinemas on 4 November.
7/18 The Light Between Oceans
Michael Fassbender stars alongside last year’s Best Supporting Actress winner Alicia Vikander in the big screen adaptation of ML Stedman’s 2012 novel of the same name. Derek Cianfrance is the man behind the camera for this story about a lighthouse keeper war veteran who rescues a baby girl with his wife after she washes up on an adrift rowboat. Then, in steps another Oscar winner, Rachel Weisz, as the woman who threatens to break their happy family apart. Out in the UK on 4 November - bring tissues.
8/18 American Pastoral
Ewan McGregor makes his directorial debut with this period adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel American Pastoral. The drama - set in the 60s - centres on a successful businessman (McGregor) whose missing daughter (Dakota Fanning) is accused of a violent bombing in post-war America. Out in the UK on 11 November.
9/18 Queen of Katwe
Indian-American filmmaker Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) is the director behind this long-awaited biopic of Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi. That Mutesi is played by 12 Years a Slave Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o is reason enough to anticipate this Disney-produced film, out here 21 October.
10/18 Free Fire
Ben Wheatley’s new action thriller will close the London Film Festival. Set in Massachusetts in the late Seventies, Free Fire stars Oscar-winning Room actress Brie Larson in the lead alongside Cillian Murphy. It follows the ‘heart-stopping game of survival’ after shots are fired during a meeting between Justine, two Irishmen and two arms dealers who are selling them a stash of guns. Expect ‘blood, sweat and irony’ with bravura filmmaking from the High-Rise director. Reaches UK cinemas sometime in 2017.
Jim Jarmusch’s Palme d’Or contender sees Adam Driver take the lead as a bus driver poet from Paterson, New Jersey. Each night after work, he has dinner with his wife Laura before walking his dog (2016’s Palm Dog winner) to the bar for one beer. Then one day, a small disaster strikes.
12/18 The Founder
Michael Keaton has starred in the last two Best Picture winners Spotlight and Birdman. Here, he takes on the role of ruthless McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, with the film telling the story of the fast food empire’s origins. The ambitious entrepreneur on a journey to theme didn’t end so well for last year’s Joy, so it remains to be seen whether The Founder can live up to expectations as an Oscars contender. Out here 30 September.
The Weinstein Company
Clint Eastwood returns with Sully: Miracle on the Hudson, about the hero pilot who, in 2009, successfully landed his plane along the Hudson River after it was disabled by a flock of geese, saving all 155 crew and passengers. Tom Hanks takes the lead as Chesley Sullenberger in a biopic that sounds like it could tick a lot of Oscars boxes. Based on the autobiography Highest Duty, the thriller marks Eastwood’s first directorial effort since 2014’s American Sniper. Out 2 December.
Pablo Larrain directs Oscar winner Natalie Portman as late first lady and fashion icon Jacqueline Kennedy in what he has promised will not be another ‘classic biopic’. Set in the days immediately after John F Kennedy’s 1963 assassination, the film sparked great excitement among distributors after a seven-minute promo screened at Cannes. Release date unknown at this stage.
15/18 The Girl on the Train
The Help’s Tate Taylor is in the director’s chair for ‘this year’s Gone Girl’ about a troubled woman who becomes embroiled in a murder case after developing a fixation on a beautiful couple from her commuter train. Expect a film pulsating with creepy, voyeur vibes, a la Rear Window, based on Paula Hawkins’ bestselling thriller. Out in the UK on 7 October.
16/18 Florence Foster Jenkins
Meryl Streep has been widely praised for her turn as the 1940s New York heiress who couldn’t sing (and we mean really couldn’t sing) yet somehow became an opera singer with the help of her patient husband St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) and pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg). Directed by two-time Academy nominee Stephen Frears, the film proved heartwarming and inspiring upon its release earlier this year and was embraced by both film lovers and critics.
Rebecca Hall set Sundance ablaze in January, earning five-star reviews for ‘the performance of her career’ in Christine, about the news anchor who killed herself live on air in 1974 after suffering from depression. Yet to receive a UK release date, Christine arrives in US cinemas in October, with Antonio Campos also one to watch for directorial accolades come awards season.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Jeremy Renner in a scene from 'Arrival'
“I would always pick his brain about how certain films came together, the process of making those films, distributing them; what his approach and perspective to filmmaking is,” Lerman says. “He’s become a mentor and an important figure in my life creatively."
"Whenever I’m seeking advice, I’ll always go to James. There’s no one I think I respect more than James in his opinion on filmmaking; I just think his experience and knowledge is unparalleled.”
I begin to get the sense that Lerman has a keen interest in directing in the future. “That’s definitely one of the goals,” he confirms, and his voice almost energises at the mention of it. He presents himself entirely as someone who looks beyond his job as an actor and at the entire process of filmmaking, so his ambition makes sense; but there’s something so refreshingly passionate about his approach as well. He’s the true cinephile actor.
I then ask him about what every aspiring director, or up-and-coming actor, must obsessively fantasise about in their spare time: the dream project. “I guess, to work with a filmmaker – or be a filmmaker – in a position where I can have creative freedom to do whatever I want."
"Or, working with a filmmaker who can very clearly dictate their vision and create something really immersive, and well paced, and well executed on all levels is the ultimate dream for me. Because then you’ve made a classic, pretty much. That’s when you’ve made something that’s close to perfect as possible.”
Really, to see an actor so fuelled by creative urge, by such deep artistic commitment: not only does that breed a deep hope he’ll one day achieve his dream, but also the belief that it’s but an inevitability.
Indignation is out in UK cinemas now.Reuse content