Hugh Humphreys catches up with Australian actor Josh Lawson, who’s getting ready to shoot “Dog Fight”, starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis.
So Josh, I wanted to talk to you about your casting in “Dog Fight”, what character will you be playing in that?
Well he’s southern, it’ all set in North Carolina- all about Southern politics. Well it really is about American politics, you know the dirt-slinging and the back-biting and the completely moral bankruptcy in politics in America. And I’m playing Zach Galifianakis’ brother, so he’s a DA – very straight, ostensibly very straight-laced but he’s a womaniser. He’s constantly being seen with all these different women who aren’t his wife.
Yep… But he loves his brother and he’s trying to be supportive but the only problem is he’s a complete political novice and he’s always making huge mistakes publicly. But he’s just trying to support his brother the best he can.
It’s a pretty different role for many Australians to be seeing you in, with this great Southern accent?
Yeah, well I guess my Southern accent is different. But yeah, it’s a different role for me, certainly. He’s very larger than life. He’s almost like a giant frat boy, you know he’s trying to give his brother nipple cripples and stuff; he’s very much an “Arrested Development” kind of character.
Well, my first audition was with [director] Jay Roach, and it was just a one time thing. And we did a lot of improv, and Jay seemed to really like it. And then a long time passed – think they had to go off and do another draft of the script – and the next time I got a phone call they asked if I’d do the table read with Willl and Zach and a few other actors. Then we went to Warner Bros studios and re-did the table read there, and at that stage the role was two brothers. And then I got the call to ask would I take the role and I said “which role do you want me to play?” And they went “oh we’re just going to make it one brother now”. And that’s the long and short of it – in about a week and half I fly out to New Orleans and we shoot out there.
It must feel pretty impressive to have a character condensed from two brother to one- must be pretty flattering?
Well yeah, it might be flattering, or they could have just gone “let’s not waste money on another actor” which kinda happens. So it would be nice to be flattered by it but it could also have nothing to do with me at all!
Are you looking forward to working alongside Will and Zach?
Obviously at the table read they were unbelievable. Especially Will Ferrell, who I’d been a fan of since I was a kid; you know this is a guy who’s done so many films, countless numbers of “Saturday Night Live” shows, he was just a cut above. Like Zach is hilarious, no doubt about it, but Will was just a professional you don’t see, he was really good. He was amazing, actually. It was inspiring to watch him work.
Yeah It was great. So often you’re afraid you’ll meet your hero and they’ll let you down somehow, disappointing, but these guys weren’t that at all. They were just so nice, no ego in the room at all. You know Jay Roach was the same, he’s just the nicest guy and just wants to make a good product. Comedy in the States is very difficult to break into, because it’s a very exclusive genre; you know, people love acting with their friends and nobody can blame them for that. But I’m really glad Jay Roach took a chance on me, because all it takes is one director to let someone like me, a new guy in the industry in America have a go.
I know you haven’t done any filming yet, but what’s Jay been like as the director?
He’s been great. He’s awesome. And he knows politics really, really well. Hopefully he’ll bring a real truth to the comedy of it all. I mean it’s going to be crazy and mad and all that; but the script has potential to actually say something really valid about politics in America. But the table read and working with Jay is really relaxed, just like working with a mate.
So American politics, is that something you’re into?
Well not really but it’s kind of impossible to avoid it here, because it’s just everywhere. Particularly with the election, and Americans make politics entertainment, way more than any other country. It’s truly as interesting as watching a reality show, it’s very different from Australian politics which can be really dull, you know. But in America they make it so entertaining and all the personalities you encounter over here. I mean, as ridiculous the characters are that Will Ferrell and Zach play in “Dog Fight”; they’re not that ridiculous when you compare them to some of the other personalities that are real in America.
So how long have you been Stateside for now?
Probably on and off for about 4 years, this is the first year I’ve spent more here, because I didn’t have any time to go home. I spent the first half of the year shooting “House of Lies” [coming to Showtime in 2012] and then straight into this.
And you must be looking forward to “House of Lies” coming to TV screens, one of your bigger American shows?
Absolutely yeah, I mean I loved shooting it and I hope people are going to love it as much as I did. But I guess as an actor that’s out of your hands, once you do your bit you just sign off and who knows if it’s going to be popular or not. But I know we made a really good product, we’re really proud of it. It’s one of the jobs I’m the most proud of.
Yeah I play Doug Googenheim, he’s a very stuck up, elitist, Harvard graduate who’s very right-wing. He’s kind of the butt of everyone’s jokes because he’s so socially awkward. He’s kind of a nerd but he’s exceptionally clever and very good at his job. While you’re got all these guys like Don Cheadle, Kristen Bell and Ben Schwartz who are really morally bankrupt, slick operators, my character Doug doesn’t really know how to play those because he’s not socially savvy enough. So he’s kind of this beacon of decency in this really corrupt world. Part of the fun is watching him slowly become corrupted.
And you’ve also got a project coming out closer to home soon too, “Any Questions For Ben?” [coming to Australian screens in February].
Yeah, that’ll be great. I’ve not actually seen it yet, but what can I say, it was one of the best professional experiences of my life, I just loved every second of it.
Do you feel like you’re being rewarded for al your hard efforts with these great projects coming out now?
Um, I suppose it’s a reward, I guess, yeah. I’ve been doing this honestly for 20 years. I was a child actor in Brisbane, I had an agent when I was 10 years old, I’ve been doing this all my life. And so I suppose because I’ve done it for so long, I’ve kinda assumed, eventually, the hard work would be rewarded [laughs]. It’s not like I expected this to happen, but it’s a relief that I don’t have to hustle as hard as I did 5 years ago.
And it is a hustle. Acting’s a f**king slog, you never stop and you’re always trying to get work, and you’re always trying to impress, and you want every job to be the right job, and every job to launch you. And I’ve probably done a bunch, you know 5 or 6 jobs that I thought was going to be my ticket to the big time. And when it doesn’t happen time and time again you stop expecting it, and then even better, you stop caring if it does or doesn’t and you just try doing the best job you can.
And so what’s the life like for you living over there, do you see many people out and about?
Honestly no. When I’m not acting I’m writing, so I’m almost a bit reclusive. But yeah I don’t socialise much at all. I consider LA work. I consider every day work. I kind of miss Australia in that way because that’s where all my friends and family are, but I dont’ see many Australian s here apart from my beautiful girlfriend Rachael [Taylor].
So you’d still be keen to work in Australia? That’s something you’re still keen to do?
Oh I would love to. I mean for me, after doing 4 years work in America, I’d like to come back to Australia. But I guess as an actor you’re at the mercy of the industry, you only work when they offer it to you. So I guess I’m just waiting for the next job in Australia to present itself.