In the new raunchy comedy Your Highness, actor Justin Theroux plays Leezar, the medieval wizard with less than stellar magical prowess. When Leezar kidnaps Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), the fiancée of the Kingdom of Mourne’s crown prince Fabious (James Franco), in order to impregnate her with a dragon, the lazy Thadeous (Danny McBride) must join his brother in an epic quest to save the fair maiden before Leezar can fulfill the ancient prophecy.
At the film’s press day, Justin Theroux talked about going all-out to play the films over-the-top villain, collaborating with director David Gordon Green and actor/screenwriter Danny McBride on the creation of this character, and finding the vulnerability and insecurity in Leezar. He also talked about his own career as a screenwriter and gave an update on the status of Zoolander 2, for which he and Ben Stiller just completed a draft of the script. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: These medieval, sword and sorcery, fantasy villains dance around what they’re really trying to do. How did it feel to actually be able to conspire to The Fuckening?
JUSTIN THEROUX: That was actually a conversation that I had with David [Gordon Green] and Danny [McBride] much earlier. We went and had coffee before we started shooting and I said, “In these kinds of movies, there’s always an event called The Darkening or The Awakening, or whatever. How about we call it The Fuckening?” And, they were like, “Oh, my god, I love that!” We’re not mincing words. I’m going to have my way with the princess and hopefully give her a dragon in her womb. That’s the plan. I’m sure it will be on the DVD somewhere, but the plan did come to fruition, at one point, and because it went so haywire, I ended up laying an egg with a dragon in it. I shot this incredible sequence where I actually give birth to this puss-laded, horrible thing. Maybe it was too far. The Fuckening was consummated in this completely perverted way. I gave birth to this half-baked dragon that was manned by some wonderful little person.
Do you think your character had performance anxiety?
THEROUX: That’s funny because, at one point, I was asking David and Danny questions, trying to get to know the character, as much as I could. I said, “What’s the deal with this guy? How old is he? What’s his background?” And, David was like, “He’s 19 years old.” I was like, “What?!” I was expecting him to be 4,000 years old, but he said, “No, he’s 19.” That made so much sense. He’s just a 19-year-old virgin. He’s a guy who’s never had sex, and he’s been raised by three demented women, who are much, much older, and he has to perform under two moons, in front of his parents.
THEROUX: Yeah. Those guys have such a particular way of creating jokes. Being a fan of comedy, it’s so unique, in their own voice. I was really stoked to be able to participate. They’re so great at just coming up with stuff on the fly and making stuff funny.
Was there a lot of improvisation?
THEROUX: There was, but Danny must not be giving his screenplay the credit it deserves. It was a really funny screenplay. Any good movie or script usually, if they’re doing their job, gives the highest platform possible for an actor to leap off of, and that script was very high up there. It was a very smart, tight script. There was a lot of improv, as well, once we got to the set, but a lot of the original script was also in there.
How does it feel to come into a role where you’re basically the ringer in a comic universe?
THEROUX: It’s the fun part ‘cause you don’t have any of the real heavy-lifting to do. You just come in and shout and chew scenery, and just be awful and say a few jokes, and you don’t have to carry the romantic storyline or the quest part of the story. You just pop up, every now and again.
Did you enjoy finding the vulnerability and insecurity in your character, along with him being an evil villain?
THEROUX: Yeah. He has this backwards trajectory. Normally, the villain comes in and, as the movie grows, he grows more and more powerful and horrible. I come in horrible and you think, “Oh, god, this guy is someone to be reckoned with,” and then he gets more and more neurotic, as the movie goes on. He has this downward spiral and you think, “Oh, god, this guy is really unraveling.” I think that came from just knowing he was a virgin, and also the idea of his whole life having been about The Fuckening and making that moment happen. Why on earth would you put it on a platform, in the middle of a huge room, in front of your parents? That would be the worst way to lose your virginity. I think it just weirdly came out of the reality, in our fantasy movie.
THEROUX: Yeah, we stole many things. I stole a lot from Gary Oldman. I stole the hairdo from his incarnation of Dracula. We cheated it just enough, so we couldn’t get accused of copyright infringement. InZoolander, I also stole his True Romance look when I played Evil DJ. We literally just took it. I watched a lot of villains, from that era. I watched Labyrinth, and all the movies I had watched, growing up. And then, for the performance, I took from Merlin in Excalibur. He was this slightly drinky English actor, who had this weird chrome helmet thing. His performance made me laugh so hard because he looked like he had been drinking all morning. It’s super-funny ‘cause you can tell that they’re all drunk. So, I took my performance style from that guy, who was over-serious. And then, I took a little bit of make-up from David Bowie in Labyrinth. We took the teeth from Willem Dafoe in Wild at Heart. It’s just a fucking Frankenstein of various other villains.
How long were you in the make-up chair for?
THEROUX: Not long, actually. The teeth were just an appliance that you sucked in, and the hair was a wig. It was actually pretty easy, shockingly. At one point, I had to wear these badThriller contacts that we stole from Michael Jackson. Those are pretty painful. But, it was actually pretty painless, as far as the make-up goes. It’s fun, putting that shit on.
THEROUX: We all respected each other so much that there were many times where we would have to say lines to one another, where we’d be like, “Please don’t make me say this to Zooey Deschanel. It just feels wrong.” Danny had a similar thing with Natalie [Portman]. It was just one of those things. But, because of the world that we were in and the stupidity of the world, it was fun to say those outrageous, ridiculous things to each other.
How would you compare working with David Gordon Green to working with David Lynch? Are there any similarities between the two?
THEROUX: No, they’re very different. If you had to find a similarity, they both have very good senses of humor and both create a really fun working environment. When I worked with David [Lynch], on the couple things I got to work with him on, when I saw the final products of Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, I was shocked at how serious they were. When you’re on a David Lynch set, it’s like you’re making a comedy. You’re having so much fun. David’s laughing and you’re laughing. Then, you watch the movie and, all of a sudden, there’s these weird glances. It’s the sign of a good artist. He keeps the set and the filmmaking experience light and accessible to the actors, and then he goes into the lab and does his mix and, all of a sudden, you’re just like, “Holy shit! That’s something entirely different than what I thought we were making.” The same is true for David Gordon Green, in that he keeps it real light and real easy, but knows exactly what he wants. David Lynch does that, as well. But, as far as approach goes, they’re very different guys.
You’re also a really successful screenwriter. If you had to choose between a really cool role or writing a really cool script, would you have trouble choosing?
THEROUX: I think I would always choose the script. You get more creative control that way. But, when you’re in a situation like this, where everyone is really funny and you really want to do it, that’s the chance of a lifetime, so you want to do it. But, a script has longer legs than a performance and, in the end, is more satisfying. It’s harder, but it’s more satisfying.
You were a screenwriter on Tropic Thunder, which Danny McBride was in, and now you’re in this film, which he wrote. Was there a dynamic shift there?
THEROUX: No. I was such a huge Danny McBride fan, from The Foot Fist Way. I thought that was such a funny movie. So, when we were doing Tropic Thunder, Ben [Stiller] was like, “I think we should get that guy, Danny McBride.” And I was like, “Yes, that guy is super-funny.” And then, Danny said, “Hey, do you want to do this thing with me?,” and I was like, “Great!” I would hope we’re both fans of each other. He has this “unimitatable” style, as a writer and a performer. He has this very blunt force way of writing jokes, which is super-funny. It’s something I can’t do, so I’m always happy to say whatever he can come up with.
What’s going on with your screenwriting career, at the moment?
THEROUX: I’ve got a couple little pots simmering. There’s nothing really worth talking about. Me and Ben Stiller have handed in a draft of Zoolander 2, which we’re excited about, so we’re just waiting for that to happen. That’s pretty much where that stands.
Was it very different to approach a Zoolander movie, now that Ben Stiller is a huge star and director?
THEROUX: No, the character is the same. He’s not that different from when he made the first movie. The character is the character. You’re writing for the character. You’re not writing for him. He’s such a smart screenwriter. He’s really good at cutting away fat and creating material. He’s a genius, when it comes to creating a screenplay, as is evidenced in his work onTropic Thunder. The work experience of creating the material is the same.
Have 10 years passed in the Zoolander world?
THEROUX: Ten years have passed. We’re in the present, in Zoolander 2.