Interview: Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)
Nov 29 // Geoff Henao @videocognito
The Perks of Being a Wallflower was an honest surprise when I watched the film a few months ago. Not only was it a heartfelt, well-acted and well-written film, but it was a film adaptation that was honestly just as good, if not better, than its source material. To come across an adaptation that can match and sometime exceed the same level of excitement and joy as the original source it's based off of is so rare, especially in the film industry that's full of poor remakes and reboots.
The critical acclaim that The Perks of Being a Wallflower received is due not only to the book's author, Steven Chbosky's role as the film's director and screenwriter, but also a brilliant cast led by the film's lead actor, Logan Lerman. Read on as myself and a few others shared a conference call with the young actor as we take a look into his personal interests, inspiration, and insight into his role as the wallflower, Charlie.
Logan, I've been a big fan of your work since Jack & Bobby. It's one of my favorite shows of all time.
Hey, you're like one of the five people that have seen it!
I know, I tell all my friends about it and wish it was on DVD... My question is how do you think your character from Jack & Bobby would fare in the The Perks of Being a Wallflower school? Do you think he'd be one of the wallflowers? Do you think he'd get along with Charlie?
That's so funny. Yeah, he's very similar to Charlie, actually. They're pretty similar. I think he would definitely be very similar to Charlie.
Did you notice a similarity between characters when you read the script for The Perks of Being a Wallflower?
Yes, totally. Out of everything that I've done beforehand, that was pretty similar to that character.
Logan, I really liked The Perks of Being a Wallflower and I actually liked it better than the novel itself, which is rare.
Yes! Thank you very much.
No problem. You don't really see that a lot in film adaptations. I guess a part of that is because Stephen [Chbosky] wrote the screenplay and directed it. My question is whether you enjoyed the slight changes to Charlie's character, and which version did you like more: the film version or novel version?
In terms of both pieces, the novel and the script, I really had a lot affection for the script that Steve wrote. I thought it was beautifully written, and that version of the character, I really responded to the most. I mean, they're pretty close, but they're different as well, both adaptations. There's something about the film that I really responded to.
You've basically been acting your entire life, but some in my circle of critics are calling your performance in The Perks of Being a Wallflower a breakthrough performance. How do you view the film and your performance in it in terms of your career and your future career?
I'm not sure what it means, but for me... Before that for a few years, I was kind of experimenting in a different world of filmmaking... more visual effects-driven and physical films with less substance. This movie for me, on a creative level, meant a lot. It's what I want to do, the projects like this that have this depth and complexity. It was the most creatively-satisfied I've felt for a long time, in many years. It was just a project that was very satisfying.
One of the things about this film that really struck me is that it takes place in 1991, and we're dealing with change of Hollywood that we're seeing in so many movies today- there's no iPhones, there's no hipster cynicism to it... With your performance as well, it's refreshing, because there's a great level of sensitivity in that, and I'd like to hear a little bit about embracing that art of the character, kind of exposing those sort of sensitive sides to yourself. For example, the moment where you ask Sam (Emma Watson) if you can be friends again... there's a lot of moments like that, and we're certainly not used to seeing that sort of stuff in the way teenage boys act. I'd like to hear about navigating those emotions.
It's refreshing as an actor to get a script with a character like that. For me, getting to that point or feeling that way, being able to be vulnerable in that place is difficult, but it's just something I feel comfortable doing. I'm not a person to just do it; I have to fully understand why, the intention behind his thought process of who he is, and I have to believe it. That comes from a lot of preparation in different ways.
Charlie really looked up to his teacher in the movie played by Paul Rudd. Is there someone who has given you that special guidance or you've looked up to as a role model?
Is there somebody? There's been a ton of people like that for me. At that age in my life, I had a neighbor of mine who's still a friend of mine.* He's a writer, he was a screenplay [writer], he wrote and directed a few things. He introduced me to a lot of films and inspired me to do good work, or to aspire to do good work, at least. I'm not going to say all the movies I've done have been good, but he definitely was somebody I looked up to and definitely inspired me. *Editor's note: Due to the quality of the recording, I was unable to catch the person's name.
Logan, what do you think was the biggest challenge in bringing this character on-screen? He's been a beloved character since the book came out several decades ago... Was it a little daunting to work with Stephen Chbosky, who wrote the book and directed the film and as a screenwriter, to create this character from scratch?
It wasn't that daunting to work with him. I was just excited to collaborate with him, and he was really open to ideas that I had, and we meshed well together, personalities and everything. At the end of the day, it's all just about coming up with good options for the editing room. In terms of the character, yeah that was very challenging mapping out his arc and understanding the intentions behind everything that Charlie does and making it work from beginning to end. It was definitely time consuming and very challenging.
What was it like working with Emma Watson and Ezra Miller? The three of you guys are all similar ages, and Emma's a big rock star now. Ezra, too, is on the cusp of his breakout, and you as well. What was it like kind of having that shared moment of time with one another where you're all just ready to get to the next stage in your careers?
It was a really special group, even beyond them, with Mae Whitman and Johnny Simmons, Reece [Thompson], and Nicholas [Braun], and everybody in that cast, it was interesting to look at them when you're filming a scene and think, "Fuck." Like, ten years from now looking back, am I going to be thinking about how crazy it was when Ezra or Mae or somebody's winning their Academy Award, like, "Wow, I got to work with these guys at this age." I kicked myself a few times. It felt really fortunate to work with such talented young actors, people I really appreciate. It was a really interesting perspective.
Are there any scenes in particular in the film or in the book that you are most proud of as they were adapted for the screen, or just moments in the film that you were most proud of with your performance?
I guess in terms of sequences, I'm really proud of the whole movie as a film, but I was really impressed with Stephen's vision and the way that he translated, for instance, the visual representation of an acid trip, and the visual representation of a nervous breakdown. I was just impressed with the way those scenes turned out.
One of the themes in the movie is the loss of innocence, and more to the point, Charlie's transition into young adulthood. I wonder what your thoughts are on that process for him and maybe for yourself having been in this industry since, I think, age 5. Was there a particular point for you where you grew up into this?
I grew up going to high school, and then I'd work a few months here and there on a film. It's funny, it was an odd way to grow up and kind of force maturity upon me at a younger age than most. But it's kind of faint. It's funny, I'd be the person I needed to be in terms of how I needed to work when I was working on set. And then I'd be my normal, regular self where I was at the time when I'd be back in school. It was a really fun balance of the two; that was really odd, I guess... like two lives. I'm still immature, I just fake it.
Obviously, a book and a movie are two completely different mediums. What was the hardest [aspect?] to portray on-screen from the book?
The hardest one... the one that took the most preparation was the nervous breakdown sequence. It's just one of those things that doesn't come by easily for me. I don't know many people that do, but I know some actors that can just go out there and have a breakdown. Mapping that out and making it a natural progression... It's not shot in order, we did it all out of order, but making sure it would be a natural rise and climax in that whole sequence was difficult, and making sure it was the right place in each scene was tough. I had a great partner-in-crime that was able to control those, the direction that we went in.
And since [Chbosky] was the author, he was able to help you get to that state emotionally, since you were filming out of order.
I kind of like to just be in my own head and block everyone out and try it out, then he'll come over and guide me in the right direction - "Bring it down. Go further with it." Give him options.
Can you tell us about your experience with the book before you got involved with the movie? Have you read the book before? Have you heard about the book before? How did the script come to you?
It was a really, really popular book around my high school. It was everyone's favorite book, you know, listed on their MySpaces and Facebook pages, but I never read it. I knew the title, though, and got a stack of scripts one day in a pile, and I saw that title, and I was drawn to it, and read it immediately. It was the first one I read, and I fell in love with it, [I] just knew I had to be a part of it. And then I read the book and fell in love with that, too, but the initial connection was to the script.
What did your friends think of the movie? Have you talked to them about it?
Oh yeah, I have. They had the warmest response I've gotten to a film I've done. I mean sometimes, I don't even get a response, you know, people don't feel the need to. Not that they need to message me or say anything, but I got a ton of messages from people I haven't spoken to in years that were fans of that book, or weren't even fans of the book. They saw the movie and they read the book afterwards. It was the warmest response I've received to a movie I've been a part of.
Stepping aside from Perks for a little bit. I know it's a little bit early, but what was it like working with Darren Aronofsky for Noah?
Unreal. Such a dream, you know? I'm just such a huge fan of his work and everybody, part of his crew, everybody he works with... It was an awesome experience. We just finished a little over a week ago, and it was just a very special experience.
To follow that up, what was it like working with Emma in this one, kind of moving from a grounded scenario with Perks to something of Biblical proportions, literally, with Noah?
It was really comforting to have a friend there in that situation, in such an intimidating environment, to have that person that you can lean on in tough times and be like, "Ahh, what are we doing?" They ground you, and it was really nice to have her there. It's funny, we kind of had role reversals in terms of our challenges for each film. I got her challenges for that one. It was just nice. It really helped.
A couple of your first film roles were in movies with Mel Gibson. I was just curious about his impact on you as an actor and if you maybe kept in touch with him over the years and throughout your career?
You mean my drinking buddy?! No, I honestly don't know him at all. I was probably seven. I don't really have any memory or real conscious recollection of that time period at all, but it'd be interesting to see him. I don't know.
As early as you can remember, what were some of your acting influences?
At that age? As early as I can remember, acting influences... I'm not sure. I think it was mainly films. I remember I started to fall in love with movies, and then I fell in love with filmmakers. I would watch their movies. I wouldn't say there are particular actors... I'd say some of the people that really inspired me at first were like... Dustin Hoffman, Jim Carrey... serious Jim Carrey, though, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was one of the first films that really inspired me to get into acting. There are so many, I can't really pinpoint all of them, but yeah. Those are two that I can remember.
Some of the funniest stuff in the film was shot with Mae Whitman.
They're some of my favorite scenes.
Isn't she great? And we've talked a lot about Emma who's equally superb in the movie. It would be great to hear a little bit about those very funny and awkward dating scenes with Mae. We certainly all know what it's like to be on first dates as teenagers.
I just think she's so freaking incredibly talented. She's like the first person that was ever mentioned for any role in the movie when I first met with Steve. We were both like, "Mae Whitman would be perfect for that role." He's like, "I hope we can get her." And she ended up doing it, which was cool. Now she's a good friend of mine, and those sequences were probably my favorite to film. She's brilliant. I'm a huge fan of hers. That's really cool to have collaborated with her. Really, really cool. A lot of fun.
When I interviewed Steven Chbosky a few months back, he talked about the overwhelming response of fan letters and letters in general he received from people in general falling in love with the book and how it helped them so much. What's the kind of response you've received from being in this movie from the fans?
It's the warmest response I've ever had from a film. It's the first time I've done a movie where it actually could affect somebody's life. I met a lot of people, and a lot of young people saw this film said, "It really saved me. It really helped me to know that there's other people out there like me." It's odd, because I never really thought about that kind of impact it could have on somebody until someone came over to me and said that. It was just, in that moment, it became a little bit more bigger than just a movie for me just a little bit.
Now that Noah has wrapped, what do you have on the agenda coming up next?
I'm just trying to find a good project, work with a good director, somebody that I really appreciate, but I haven't found it yet. Hopefully I will soon, though, but I'm just going to take my time. If not, I'll just relax and maybe work on other things creatively.
I mentioned earlier the award buzz that Perks has gotten, as well as your performance in it. I know a lot of actors are modest about awards and that sort of thing, but what would it really mean to you if you began to get nominated and winning some of these awards from your peers, or from these organizations?
It'd be very flattering. It's nothing that I... I don't really expect that, and I don't really think about that, and it's funny, because we're on the phone right now for that reason and talk about it. I just want people to see the film, and I would be very happy if people noticed Steve's beautiful script. That's really what I think deserves a lot of the attention, Steve's screenplay. I don't know how I'd feel if anything happened to me. It'd be very flattering.
Other than doing conferences calls like this, Logan, what's the very best perk about your job?
Other than this, the best part is the fact that I guess it's all encompassing, but the fact that this isn't really a job is the best part, the fact that I get paid for doing something I'd just normally be doing. It's really just a hobby that pays well. It's kind of funny.
You mentioned growing up there were a lot of filmmakers you fell in love with. Is there one particular director you would love to work with in your career?
One in particular? I can name some first loves that are alive that got me into films. First loves are David Fincher, Coen Brothers, Spike Jonze, [Martin] Scorsese... People like them are people that got me really interested in being a part of movie making.
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