I’m not going to lie to you – I am jealous of Lou Pucci. Not because he’s a young guy just starting to make it big in film. Not because he’s been getting awards recognition for his role in Mike Mills’ Thumbsucker, winning best actor at the Berlin Film Festival. Honestly, it’s because he got to make out with Kelli Garner in the film. It fills me with a complete jealous rage.
Any jealousy was quickly defused, though, when Pucci came into the room at the Regency Hotel in Manhattan and turned out to be a pretty nice guy. It’s easy to let even a small measure of success go to your head when you’re a teen, but Pucci seems to get that this is only the beginning. And he’s not afraid to talk about his more famous co-stars, which actually makes for better copy.
Thumbsucker opens in New York and LA this weekend, and goes wider soon after.
Q: Were you surprised by the awards attention you’ve been getting?
Pucci: Yeah. It’s really strange. I appreciate them all but it’s also weird. It’s kind of like what’s going on, why am I getting those? But I’m also so completely happy, you have no idea. I couldn’t even tell [director] Mike [Mills] how happy I was, I had to joke about it, that he got the award at Edinburgh. That’s awesome to me.
Q: Why is that?
Pucci: Because it’s for him. I made this movie for him. I wasn’t doing this for me or for anything else. He had a story that he wanted to make and he told me about it and I got into it so much that I wanted to make it for him. I think that’s kind of how acting can be.
Q: So you knew him before the movie?
Pucci: No. He told me about it at the audition. I was auditioning for acting, and this part was amazing for an actor. You’re going to go through so many different things. You go through so many alternate personalities, but there’s one base. He was happy that I found a base with it, that I could find who Justin was and not just who Justin on Ritalin is and who Justin on pot is, just who Justin was. I think that was why he liked me for it actually, because I was a real regular kid. I always wanted to be a real, regular kid. I went to all of my school. I did my prom and everything; I didn’t want to get out of school. I wanted to go to college but it didn’t work out because of this.
Q: Did you read the book?
Pucci: I read it after. I love it. It’s amazing. But it’s very close and it’s very far from the film. It’s both. It’s got the spirit of it and it’s got the characters of it but the story is completely different.
Q: Would it have affected the way you played Justin if you had read the book in advance?
Pucci: I don’t know. It’s almost like why put yourself through having to forget something. I based my character on all the experiences he ever had, because I believe – and maybe it’s just me – that everybody is kind of born the same exact way, and every experience they have is going to change them into who they are. All you have to find to find a character is what they’ve done in their lives and what choices they’ve made. Then you know who that character is and what choices he’s going to make forever.
It was not hard to find that character. I had one base for that character, and the base was to say I don’t know, which was the sentence that was always running through my head through all this stuff, it was ‘I don’t know.’ Because he wasn’t wandering aimlessly, he was wandering in a direction. And he was looking for the answers everybody seems to have that he can’t find. Because everybody is living and breathing and happy, and he doesn’t know what the hell that is.
Q: What do you think it is about being a news anchor that attracts him?
Pucci: I don’t know. I’m not completely sure. I went into that but I wasn’t even – I didn’t even have to. That’s almost a story piece. I didn’t really delve into why he was going to be a journalist. I think it was something – when I was 5 I always knew that I was going to be in movies. I didn’t know why, and I didn’t want to go into that area, but for some reason I always knew I was going to do that. I guess I just took it for granted that Justin had the same thing because I could always say that I wanted to be in movies forever, and now I am. Strange. So for Justin I could say that he always wanted to be a TV journalist, he always watched them on television and thought it was kind of amazing.
Q: I thought he was interested in the news.
Pucci: I think he is. I think he’s a lot more political and a lot more into that area than I am as a person. Justin is way more into the facts of things and percentages. That was what really came out of him when he was debating; you realize that he has all this knowledge. It was really cool to see in that character that he had all that, because you didn’t know he had that at first.
That’s almost the most fantastic piece of it, is when he’s on the Ritalin and he’s doing so well that it’s amazing. I think that’s funny, that it’s a cool piece of the movie. Every movie has to have that fantasy piece of it to make it a film.
Q: You’re co-starring with some heavyweights. Was it intimidating to go on set and act with Keanu Reeves or Vince Vaughn?
Pucci: I was kind of star struck when I got to see Keanu Reeves and Vince Vaughn. But with Tilda [Swinton] and Benjamin and Kelli and Vincent, I had no idea who the hell they were! I knew Tilda was mom and Vincent was dad. Don’t get me wrong, I knew they were weird, and I knew they were out there, and I knew they had a lot of stuff going on upstairs that I didn’t know about. Vincent is out there, man. Tilda is out there. But I love her. She talks forever. We usually just sit around the table and read the script or talk about the characters and Tilda would just go on and on and on about every possibility of every thing in every time period that could have occurred to make the person who she was. I was like a vacuum consuming this information. I didn’t have the energy to speak after I listen to her. But she’s amazing in that way, in that she can think of everything about it.
Q: I have heard that D’Onofrio can be frighteningly intense.
Pucci: He can. It was great. I like people who are frighteningly intense. I thought it was fun to work with him. He liked to scare himself, and to do that sometimes he would scare other people, and that would scare him. Because he had this power over somebody else. But he loves to scare the shit out of himself. I think he does that by intimidating people or manipulating people.
Q: When you auditioned did you know who you would be working with?
Pucci: The cast was set before I got there. Except for Benjamin Bratt. I think I was the second to last one cast for the movie.
Q: What was it about the script that grabbed you?
Pucci: The thing that got me into it so easily was the fact that he changes so much. It’s kind of the actor’s dream – he goes on Ritalin, and he goes on pot and he tries girls and he tries to be Tilda’s husband. He tries to be all these different things. In one movie you get to be all these different semi-characters, and I thought that was amazing. It just looked like the best thing in the entire world. I didn’t think I would get it.
My dad loved it and I take my dad’s opinion really strongly because we talk a lot about the same kind of things. He loves movies and now I love movies.
Q: Was there a phase of Justin that was harder for you to figure out?
Pucci: I am not completely sure. I think it was always hard, externally, to play high because I hadn’t been high. It was always interesting, it was always a weird thing where I doubted myself a little more than usual.
Q: Who gave you advice?
Pucci: Mike and everybody! Everyone in the world except for me. It was really funny because I just hadn’t before.
The Ritalin was slightly easy, to just be hyper. I have a hyper side of my personality, and I could just get out there. It wasn’t from caffeine or anything, and I learned during it to just turn it on and turn it off.
And then there’s the girl. That part was easy. That part was really easy. It was fun, because Kelli’s so hot. The audition was her breaking up with me over and over and over again. I just kept getting sadder and sadder and sadder and sadder. I think that was probably why I got the part, because by the end of it I looked like I was going to cry, because I was! I was so sad, I was like, ‘Man, I got a crush on you and you keep breaking up with me.’ I really felt like shit!
Q: You’re getting at on of notice for this – what is that translating to in your career?
Pucci: Offers. In the first place, just because I hadn’t gotten offers before this. That’s ridiculous to me. In my mind I go, ‘Holy shit, somebody’s just telling me I can be in their film? What?’ So that’s new. Other than that it hasn’t been like, oh this studio’s looking at me now. It’s just been a lot different and I have seen a lot more options. Now everything’s not so far off. Everything’s a lot closer.
Q: What kind of movies are you offered?
Pucci: I think it’s all been independent films that have been offered to me. But I’ve been auditioning for studio films. I’m not opposed to studio films in the slightest way. Except that they usually suck. I am trying to find a script that I like that has some money behind it, otherwise I’m going to keep doing independent films because that’s what’s interesting and what’s truthful.
Q: So there’s no pressure to make it big in Hollywood right now?
Pucci: There’s a tiny little bit of pressure in the side of my mind because my agents are saying ‘There’s a business end to this as well!’ I’m not saying my agents or manager are saying to do the studio film, because they’re not. They’re really cool and leave all the choices way, way up to me and give me all the sides of it. But they’re definitely giving me all the sides of it, and they’re telling me business end wise, if I do another two independent films in a row and they do pretty well, I’m the independent king and I’m not going to be offered certain studio roles because I’m the independent king. That’s just something that’s a label and it’s kind of interesting these days. But it’s true and I have to know about that. You have to make good business decisions as well as good life decisions.
Q: Do you like that label?
Pucci: No. That sucks. It’s stupid! But I do it. You label people. If you see someone in a TV show day after day after day and you see them in a movie the next day, you go ‘That’s not him! I don’t believe that.’ That’s why I was always smart to say I wasn’t going to do any TV because of that fact. I always felt that one anyway, that if I did a certain character over and over again, people would see me as that character forever. Especially at the beginning of your career – that can be the worst thing in the world for you.
Q: Look at Keanu. He still carries that Bill and Ted baggage.
Pucci: I think that people are really giving him a bad review on everything. Life in general. He’s such a nice guy. He’s so not the Bill and Ted character – even though he sounds like the Bill and Ted character. He’s funny as hell when you listen to him. He’s Keanu Reeves. He’s DEFINITELY Keanu Reeves. But he’s the coolest, most shy, most self-doubting guy, regular person that I’ve met. He’s just a really cool nice person. It’s really hard to see that he’s taken so badly in the public a lot of times.
Q: Did you get any advice from these great actors?
Pucci: Yeah, lots. Tilda – it wasn’t advice, but she said ‘You’re spoiled as shit.’ And I said, yeah I know, doesn’t that suck? She said, ‘No, that’s the best thing in the world because now your bar is going to be right there [gestures over his head]. Now if you look to do any other films you’re going to see that if the bar is here, you’re not going to do it.’
Vincent D’Onofrio – this is the one I say all the time – I say I’ll only do a part if it scares the shit out of me, but that’s exactly what he said to me a couple of days ago. We were on a press tour in Los Angeles and he said I only do a part if it scares the shit out of me.
Vince Vaughn is so funny. I was having some real trouble with this one scene, where Justin freaks out in the middle of debate class and he runs out. Vince Vaughn was in there the whole time and he saw me struggling. He was really sad for me that I couldn’t get it, that I looked so pissed off, because I doubt myself beyond belief. Just like Tilda does. So Vince Vaughn came outside and he said, ‘You don’t have to feel it.’ It showed me how he acts. It showed me that some people can make it seem like they’re feeling a certain way and that there are two sides to acting that both work perfectly.
Q: Is there a big star out there whose career you want to emulate?
Pucci: Vincent D’Onofrio. It’s funny because I went into the film not knowing who the hell he was, but now he’s kind of my role model. He just looks different in everything he does. He’s not caring if he’s going to be that movie star walking the red carpet looking great. He’s so not that. If you start off a career like that, it’s probably the best because you’re showing everybody all the different possible worlds you can live in. Gary Oldman does a great job of that.
But to watch, I love Christopher Walken and Steve Buscemi. Those are my favorite people to watch.
Q: Have you had a chance to meet them yet?
Pucci: I met Steve Buscemi! Steve Buscemi is awesome. He’s such a nice guy. He is such a cool guy. I met him at an airport. I was at JFK. I swear to God, it was the funniest damn thing in the world. There were people walking by and I didn’t see him and then he was staring at me. I started walking toward him and he goes, ‘Lou?’ I go, ‘Steve?!?!?’ He said he saw the movie at Sundance and I was like, ‘Holy shit! That’s amazing! That’s awesome! This is the best thing that ever happened to me!’ The reason I think he saw it is that he was cast for a long time in the Vince Vaughn role. He couldn’t do it in the end for some reason, but he knew Mike.