Logan Lerman interview: Why the Indignation actor is the rising star you need to pay attention to

'Working with a filmmaker who can very clearly dictate their vision on all levels is the ultimate dream for me. Because then you’ve made a classic, pretty much'

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The Independent Culture

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.

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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.


“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.

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