Joshua Leonard might not be recognized by many of you, but this is a guy who has been in a lot of films and several well known ones. Leonard has starred in films like "The Blair Witch Project", "Promnight (2008)", "The Life and Death of Bobby Z", "The Shaggy Dog (2006)", and "Men of Honor". Since "The Blair Witch Project" Leonard has been making smaller films, doing guest spots on television shows and doing voices for video games. Now he is back in a big way with his latest film "Humpday" about two straight friends who decide to make a gay porn film. Interested? Keep reading.
Born in Houston, Texas and raised in Pennsylvania, this son of a theatre professor and operator of a children's theatre actually was not interested in the movie world until he got older. I guess that makes him the black sheep of his family. After traveling extensively for years through Central and South America, Joshua moved to New York to study photography and filmmaking. After making his living taking portraits of famous people he got cast in a small, independent film called "The Blair Witch Project". That film made Joshua a recognizable actor, but more importantly he discovered his passion for acting.
We recently sat down with the actor on the terrace at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. We talked about "Humpday", his dislike of shaving and what is next for Joshua Leonard.
Orcasound: I went into "Humpday" not knowing anything about it except for that one line that it's about two heterosexual guys going to make a film of themselves having sex.
Joshua: You and me both!
Orcasound: I read that you also were only given a vague premise, but agreed to do it because you are friends with Mark (co-star Duplass).
Joshua: Mark is brilliant. He just wrote me an email saying "Hey, do you want to play my best friend" and I was working on some bad movie at the time and it sounded great. I want to work with my friends and with people that I trust and respect. After I committed he said, "Great! It's a film about two straight guys who make a gay porn. Remember that you already committed to it."
Orcasound: Apparently a lot of the film was improvised you went in without a script. How much of the character is you?
Joshua: I think a lot. Emotionally I completely identify with Andrew (his character). I think his core, his fears and fallibilities are something that I'm very familiar with. That said, in our actual lives we are very different. I've got a mortgage and a girlfriend.
Orcasound: So you're the other character?
Joshua: Well, I think if you look at both Mark and I in our own lives we're both probably more to the center. I show up to work on time and I'm pretty responsible. Mark has a wife and a child, but he is also a writer/director/actor and spends his life doing creative things. He does not feel trapped in a domestic prison. I think in creating those characters what I have to do at least if I'm improvising something is pick somebody that I can understand enough that when I'm trapped in that spontaneous chess game of feelings sharing and one upmanship that I don't have to reach too far out of my spectrum of understanding in order to do it. I don't think I'm a good enough actor to create a character out of whole cloth and be quick on the draw with it. So what we did was take things we were both really familiar with and then exaggerated them intensely for the sake of conflict.
Orcasound: That makes the film even better because the strength of the film is the dialogue.
Joshua: Thank you! I think over the years I've become much more comfortable with certain things. I think this is something that my personality is really well suited towards. I'm very proud of my performance in this film. As I'm proud of everybody's work on this film. But put me in any role that Sean Penn's ever done and I'm going to make a terrible film out of it. I think it takes a bit of a different kind of acting. Because I take great strides to try to be honest with myself and not take my mistakes too seriously. I'm openly and willingly ready to fail. I think part of taking a character like this and taking your own fallibilities, putting them under a microscope and letting other people come in and laugh at them really takes some of the venom out. There's a pretty perfect symbiosis between who I am and what I'm interested in as a person and what I'm interested in as an artist.
Orcasound: You've mentioned the subject a couple of times and the films you've made are about human failure and fallibility. What draws you to those types of films?
Joshua: I just think it's honest. I think everyone can relate to it. I certainly can. I grew up in the suburbs watching John Hughes movies and they're great movies, but big Hollywood movies were always entertainment, but not terribly relatable to me. When I watch a protagonist in those big Hollywood films the actors always want their characters to be cool and complex, but my friend says that their conflicts are the same you would have in a job interview. The character just works too hard and cares too much. Puts too much of himself out there for other people. I don't really relate to that because when I screw up I screw up big time and I hurt myself and I hurt other people. I try to learn from that and I try to not do it again, but I'm going to do it again. I'm going to try and learn again and I think that to me is a huge part of being human. Not indulging in too much self loathing. We've all got our issues and that's kinda what we do is try and work them out. I love exploring that. I'm a pretty optimistic guy, but I try to approach my optimism with a sense of realism. I don't believe that an epiphany in your life is going to change you 180 degrees. I think it might change you 15 degrees and that will affect the rest of your life. In many ways the ending of "Humpday" although melancholy is a happy ending. It's not a Hollywood happy ending, but Andrew finds himself in a place where all his subconscious fronts that he's presented to the world for so many years have stopped functioning for him. He is hitting bottom, so it's a really great place to get to in your own life when the stuff that you thought was supposed to work stops working and you have to get honest with yourself and figure out who you actually are. Nothing is more painful at the time, but it gives you a place to build from. In that way it's kinda a happy ending. That he gets to a place where he's honest with himself. Mark's Ben does the same thing.
Orcasound: I'm going to ask you what struck me immediately and what I think everyone was thinking as they watched the film. How long did it take you to grow that beard?
Joshua: A day and a half.
Orcasound: C'mon, it's a crazy hockey playoff beard!
Joshua: I had it for months before we started shooting. I don't like shaving very much.
Orcasound: You didn't decide it was central to the character?
Joshua: No, I just didn't shave the beard I already had.
Orcasound: I heard you are making a film ("Everything's Alright") with Eddie Izzard and he's one of my favourite comedians. What is he like?
Joshua: He's great and incredibly intelligent.
Orcasound: Is that intimidating?
Joshua: It's intimidating because he is intelligent and British.
Orcasound: What else is coming up for you?
Joshua: I've got two things coming up. One is a movie that I'm producing and acting in called "The Lie", which is going to be based on the T.C. Boyle story that I optioned. I'm very excited about it. It's about a guy who wants to call in sick, but panics when he realizes he's used up all his sick days, so he tells his boss that his newborn baby has just died. I loved the story.
Orcasound: Considering you weren't even sure you wanted to be in the film industry you seem pretty passionate about it.
Joshua: I'm passionate about storytelling. I loved the experience of acting in "Humpday". If I could keep making films like that the rest of my life. I would love to do that.