Got a minute? The 36-year-old actor dishes on his latest film The Lie (which was also his directorial debut), why Gen X had to grow up eventually, and how starring in The Blair Witch Project changed his life.
DETAILS: What prompted you to try your hand at directing?
Joshua Leonard: I just got really sick of hearing myself talk about almost making a film. And—believe me—I've been heavily judgmental of friends for the same thing, so I kind of had to turn the mirror back on myself.
DETAILS: Your character in The Lie has a slacker mindset, but in real life you seem to be an overachiever.
Joshua Leonard: Does the A-type really shine through? I try to keep it hidden. The truth is that I'm both. And the characters in The Lie represent a vast part of my peer group, grappling with the concept that Gen X had to grow up sometime. I am the last man standing among my friends—they became parents, and I became a workaholic. We've all got our crosses to bear.
DETAILS: Was there an underlying message you wanted to communicate in the movie?
Joshua Leonard: The one thing I wanted to explicitly address is the kind of relationship I want to see represented more in films. We are flawed, fearful, loving, chaotic, confusing beings, but when we fuck up, we hurt each other. In the case of The Lie, there's this one big lie in the center of the movie that propels the plot along, but that was always a stand-in for all the other lies that I think we are guilty of, which are the lies of omission. We stopped being explicitly honest with ourselves and with our partners.
DETAILS: What lies do you tell yourself regularly?
Joshua Leonard: That I'm going to quit smoking. What else? I've had some of the biggest heartbreaks of my life and woken up the next day and been devastated. In work, life, and relationships, sometimes you gotta tell yourself whatever's gonna get you through the next day.
DETAILS: Your breakout was The Blair Witch Project, which was heavily improvised. How much have you improvised in your subsequent films?
Joshua Leonard: Totally depends on the story and the material. Humpday was probably the loosest structure, where we just had a general idea of who the characters were and what the scenes were, and we kind of improvised everything while we were shooting. The Lie had a very tight story structure, but I would say 95 percent of the dialogue was improvised.
DETAILS: What was the impact of Blair Witch on you and the rest of the cast?
Joshua Leonard: I'm still proud of the film—it was really scary to people. It was an intense experience to share with anybody, so I think we've always got that to relate to each other on. And personally, it got my foot in the door of a community that I desperately wanted to be a part of. We had no idea the film was going to be successful. I would never take any personal responsibility for the success of the film. You know, the film was famous—we never were.
The Lie was released November 18 and stars Kelli Garner, Alia Shawkat, James Ransone, Jane Adams, Mark Webber, Jess Weixler, Joshua Leonard, and Gerry Bednob. The film was directed by Joshua Leonard.