Indignation — adapted from the 2008 Philip Roth novel by writer/producer/former Focus Features CEO James Schamus, making his directorial debut — arrives in theaters this weekend. It’s a different kind of film than your standard big explosions and death-defying stunts summer movie — it’s quiet and contemplative, about Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), who leaves home in 1951 for college, avoiding the draft for the Korean War. It’s there that he meets a beautiful girl (Sarah Gandon), different than anyone he’s ever known, which unfortunately sets into motion a chain of events that leads to him butting heads with the headmaster (Tracy Letts), which, in turn, threatens his future. (Read EW’s review here.) We caught up Lerman to discuss butchery, Roth, and working with James Schamus.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you end up playing Marcus in Indignation?
LOGAN LERMAN: I got the script in December of 2014 and read it right away. I was and remain such a fan of James Schamus.
He’s done everything! From what specifically?
His writing, for one. [Schamus has penned films such as The Ice Storm; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; and Lust, Caution, among others.] More than anything it was his work at Focus Features that was really influential. Like, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — that’s when I fell in love with movies. I got the script, I read it and I just had a visceral response and knew this was the right next step. I met with James the next day. We ended up talking for three hours and the rest is history.
Marcus is such an interesting character because he really treads the line of being unsympathetic.
Sometimes it’s hard to like him. But that/s part of the job, you know — protagonist, antagonist, you really want to feel for them. That is our jobs as actors. When an audience member or reader or you looks at this material and maybe says, ‘Why should I give a s— about this?’ It’s my job as an actor to battle your apathy. I want to make you care about [my character’s] plight. Whatever is going on. This one was a challenge, because on the page Marcus isn’t the most likable guy, I hope that most of the people who see the film at least find a way to empathize for his situation.
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I heard you took butchery lessons.
I did! I was curious and James has this group of people who get things done very quickly.
So what did you learn to do?
Oh you know, I’m not, like, a butcher now. [Laughs.] That’s a real craft and skill and there’s an artistry to it, one that I’m not going to pick up in a couple days. I just learned about the physicality of the job, how challenging and difficult it is. But mainly I got to smell what they smelled and feel what they felt and that informed my character big time.
James Schamus is such a smart industry veteran. What was the best thing you learned from him?
Oh, I learned so much! It’s so hard to pinpoint to one thing — he’s really opened my eyes in general. It’s such a privilege to spend time with him, you know? I look up to him so much. I’d take just a few minutes and I was lucky enough to have countless hours with James and can now call him my friend. It sounds cheesy but I feel really fortunate to have him in my life. I’m so happy with the film and it was truly fulfilling but just to know James Schamus and get to spend time with him and learn from him? That’s a privilege.