Though better known as an actor, “Charlie’s Angels” and “Mulholland Drive” star Justin Theroux has spent most of his time in recent years penning movies for others – such as Ben Stiller’s “Tropic Thunder” and Robert Downey Jr’s “Iron Man 2″. Evidently feeling an itch that needs scratching, Theroux’s back in front of the camera for director David Gordon Green’s fantasy-film satire “Your Highness”. Moviehole chats to Theroux about playing Leezar in a film he says is more or less just an hour-and-a-half of “dick jokes”.
How is it shooting with people you enjoy working with? Is it like playing with your friends, or do you have to be extra-professional?
We didn’t actually have to be that professional. It was shocking how unprofessional we were! We felt like we’d been let into the candy store a little bit. ‘I can’t believe they gave us all this money to make, essentially, dick jokes.’ So we constantly had those little check-in moments. We showed up to work on time and all the rest of it, but it was kind of a dream job. We got to do magic, stupid special effects, swear and have sex. If there was anyone on that set complaining, they should’ve gone home because that’s as good as it gets.
How much of the script would you say remains in the final film?
Actually, a lot of it. When I read the script, I thought it was really funny and there were some great bits in it. On the day, we’d shoot stuff and Danny would just be around all the time as producer. He and David (director) would be shouting different stuff out to say, because Danny’s brand of humour is very particular. There’s bluntness to his humour that I can’t write. He just goes right for the joke, where as some people might take two or three lines to get to the joke, he’ll go right to the jugular for every joke, which is a really funny style of comedy and works well for this movie. The script was in great shape. I would improvise a little bit, but from what I can tell, there’s an enormous amount of the script in there. All the stuff with me and my mothers was heavily improvised, all the stuff with Belladonna, when I’m snorting the fairy was very improvisational, but we had a really good time.
Whose idea was the fish fingers, peas and mash feast?
I think that was David!
I wanted to ask about Leezar’s background and his look in the film. Did you and Danny talk about it at all?
The one thing that I guess I could take credit for was that I thought the name of the thing he was planning needed to be defined. So I thought, ‘what about The Fuckening?’ We all laughed about that and kept it. The wardrobe was pretty much all David. One character I thought was funny was in the movie Excalibur. The character of Merlin was so serious but he looks drunk half the time. Apparently, from what I’ve read of that movie, they were drunk. I thought he was funny because he had this intensity all the time, bug-eyed and crazed. Then I watched Gary Oldman in Dracula and the hair comes from there. We took the teeth from Willem Dafoe in Wild at Heart…
We also realised that, ‘here’s a guy who was raised by not one horrible mother, but three horrible mothers and no father figure.’ He was probably deeply adored, and probably has a huge ego for no good reason and he’s also a virgin. Plus he’s raised an infant that he’s going to have sex with now that she’s old enough. He’s demented.
Is it just more fun to be bad?
It is. It really is! The hardest jobs are having to be fabulous or charming. Not speaking for this movie, but lead parts are usually so boring. Villain parts are great because you work in isolation usually, you have less work to do because you pop in every now and again and you usually get some great death scene. I really enjoy it. The trick to any villain is making them one that people like to hate. I had a blast. Villains are almost always more operatic, because they’re the ones with the screw loose. There’s usually something more complex to play and you don’t have to be particularly subtle about it. You can make ridiculous choices, but if you’ve done your homework, the craziness pays off. In a weird way, Leezar gets less and less powerful as the movie goes on. He comes out with this big entrance and steals the girl and you think he’s a guy to be reckoned with, but as you get to know him, you realise what a loser he is. It’s funny.
Are you doing anything on the DVD?
I know David must have reams and reams of footage of different takes, hysterical stuff. That disc is going to be fat.
How was it being in the make-up for the finale?
It was great, it was really fun. The contact lenses, though, because they had these hand-painted lenses, were crushingly hard to put in and you couldn’t see out of them really, either. But it’s better than working in coalmine.
Did you train in any way for the film?
I think James probably trained with swords and probably Natalie.
So no trip to Hogwarts for magic lessons?
(Laughs) No, it was literally just me making it all up. But you hear it in interviews all the time – when you’re doing special effects, there’s a lot of standing around, pointing or waving your arms for stuff that will be put in later. There’s no sound effects or anything, so it feels a little silly. You feel like William Shatner. Maybe that was the joke on him – they always told him there were going to be special effects, but there never were.
It pushes a few boundaries. Was there anything that you figured they’d never actually get on screen?
We were equal opportunity genitalia offenders, I guess, in that you could accuse us of being misogynistic, but the guys were getting just as nude as everyone else and there is a the Minotaur penis.
In terms of fantasy, why do you think the genre is huge again?
I think it was an untapped genre and once you turn that fire hose on, it’s hard to turn off. It used to be much more popular in the 1980s, films like Excalibur, Clash Of The Titans, Labyrinth… Krull, all that stuff. Those were all in the same rough orbit. When I read Your Highness, I thought it was such a smart movie to make, because it will tap into nostalgia for some people and for others it taps into what’s going on right now, those fantasy movies that have been embraced. It’s deceptively smart. I’m sure we’ll take some hits that it’s juvenile and such. It’s self-consciously stupid. It’s almost like Jackass in that way. We’re not trying to be Lord Of The Rings, so don’t hold us to that! We definitely had moments where we couldn’t believe we were getting away with it.
How was it with Charles Dance and people like that on set? They must have been wondering what they let themselves in for.
I can’t remember what moment it was, or what Danny improvised, but he made some super off-colour joke as he was acting with Charles Dance and Charles Dance just goes, ‘I don’t even know what to say to that. David… What do I say to that?’ It was funny.
“Your Highness” is now on DVD and Blu-ray