This is Logan Lerman’s first feature interview in almost two years. For an actor of his prominence and caliber, that’s a rarity. But despite almost two decades of playing leading roles in box office hits like the Percy Jackson & the Olympians film franchise and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Lerman finds the act of promotion, specifically talking about himself, extremely off-putting. It’s one of the main reasons he can’t stand Hollywood. And it’s also why our conversation feels so refreshingly earnest. “Oftentimes, you look at the trades and see announcements for projects, and it’s all in vain,” Lerman tells me during a phone call from his West Hollywood home. “It’s just people trying to get attention for themselves and the projects aren’t real. And I don’t want to be that guy. I feel like I’m much quieter about the things I’m working on. That’s the way I like it.”
That might explain why the public hasn’t seen Lerman in a major motion picture for almost 10 years. In this time, he’s maintained consistent work as a producer, but he’s wary to discuss anything coming down the line in detail. (“You never know if anything’s going to actually get made, never know if things are going to pan out,” he says, “And a million things can go wrong.”) Thankfully for Lerman, his long game of committing to the craft continues to pay off. Coming off of a movie premiere for his role in Bullet Train, the second season of the Jordan Peele-produced series Hunters, and a calendar stacked with possible projects, life is relatively good for the tenured Hollywood actor. When it’s all said and done, he feels “great,” back at home in WeHo.
The reason he finds himself back in his hometown of Los Angeles after a seven-year stint in New York City is a relatable one: he moved during the Covid-19 pandemic. Finding himself “trapped” during a visit metamorphosed into a second act in L.A., one that consisted of hiking, going to the beach with friends, and having the solace to sit down and develop new projects. But the list of reasons he’s happy to be back on the West Coast is accompanied by an even longer list of reasons he can’t stand his hometown, especially the culture the film industry has cultivated within it. “Everyone’s wrapped up in everyone else’s wants and puts this pressure on everyone to continue being in some conversation,” he says. “You have this desperate desire to be relevant.” Aware of the cynicism, he’s been working on shifting his perspective about the city, and finding new ways to appreciate it. “I’m lucky, though, that now, I have a really happy home and good lifestyle,” he adds.
Two years of few box office opportunities and very little work grounded Lerman back into a place of understanding why not everyone cannot take “risks” and “sacrifices.” Unless, of course, Brad Pitt’s on the line. “Brad Pitt is the only person who could justify a studio making a movie during a pandemic,” Lerman says.
Along with corralling Joey King, Bad Bunny, Aaron Taylor Johnson, and Brian Tyree Henry, we can thank Pitt for Lerman’s role in the new movie Bullet Train—even if it is a small one. “I know Brad and I’ve been friends with him for years and love him,” Lerman says. So when the Hollywood mogul called him up in the middle of the pandemic, he couldn’t resist joining the project. “It was nice to have an excuse to go to work when nobody was really working. I was really lucky to be doing that,” he says. An action comedy in which five assassins battle each other on a Japanese bullet train, Lerman plays the son of White Death (Michael Shannon) whose unexpected murder along the ride results in a Weekend at Bernie’s-esque scheme by Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) to create the illusion that he is still alive.
He considered his time on set as a chance to “observe” the best in the business. “They’re doing the most exciting things with fight choreography, and to see them create these dances of sorts in such a tight space…[plus,] the beats of humor throughout the fight sequences are exceptionally well-crafted,” he says. Outside of this, Lerman does not want anyone to assume that this is in any way more than just a guy doing some friends a favor. And that’s how he talks about all of his past works, big or small.
His last lead as Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the 2012 film adaptation of Stephen Chbosky’s book of the same name, had an impact on the zeitgeist of the late aughts, causing Lerman to rise to relevance simultaneously with the first iterations of social media. From Charlie riding through a tunnel in the bed of a truck to David Bowie’s Heroes, to gifs of him telling the manic pixie girl of his dreams, Sam (played by Emma Watson), “We accept the love we think we deserve,” images and videos of Lerman were reshared across Internet dashboards worldwide for years. He became the face of a generation expressing their adolescent angst in completely new ways. Even as social media has evolved, the relevance of Lerman’s impact has just been readapted to fit new platforms. On TikTok, both Perks and Lerman pop up in conversations around nostalgia and core memories (along with how he remains a major heartthrob thanks, in part, to his girlfriend Ana Corrigan’s social presence, and the content she posts of the two of them). It’s why the film remains one of Lerman’s fondest works, and, he says, is the kind of role that drives him. “That is a really special feeling, to be a part of something and know that it’s had a big impact on someone's life," he says. “I guess that’s the bar an actor hopes to reach: making something that means a lot to someone else.”
An executive producer on a few independent projects, Lerman is privy to the backend of getting a project off the ground. At the root, the biggest obstacle is, more often than not, money: both in creating the film and the reward financiers will see when it hits the box office. This is Lerman’s biggest gripe with the industry, merely because he doesn’t agree with it. He emphasizes more than once the value of independent films, unique storytelling, and how difficult it is to be heard in all the noise of the entertainment industry’s constantly shifting landscape. “It’s the most important side of the culture that I care about so much,” he says, “Seeing films in theaters, seeing original films get made, seeing new voices attract the financing to get their movies made.” But he would be remiss to remain cynical about it, especially during a time when independent filmmakers are taking risks that have been received with overwhelming praise. He points to Everything Everywhere All At Once, the Daniels film starring Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Ke Hu Quan made with an independent film budget which received surmounting success. “[Viewers] want bolder choices,” he says. “They want new visions. They’re craving something new. I’m craving something.”
This enthusiasm for the future of film is infectious—so much so that I can’t imagine anyone rejecting an actor with a résumé of his caliber. Stepping into the spotlight at age 8 in The Patriot, followed by consecutive years as the lead in films like Hoot (which has a young Brie Larson), Stuck in Love, and The Three Musketeers, his credibility in Hollywood is unwavering. But rather than assuming everyone is familiar with his past projects, he approaches the conversation as if you’ve probably never heard of them. This humility feels like a mental tactic, one which helps him separate his identity from mega-movie star to, simply, an actor. It does not present itself in a pretentious manner—instead, it’s an evolution as a result of a lifetime of experience. “There are a lot of pressures here that are unique to Hollywood,” he continues. “I’ve had too much time to observe it. I’ve been trying to approach it with fresh eyes now.”
The appreciation and sense of humility Lerman carries was something he had to learn and continues to work on. “You can’t avoid it. It’s just about recognizing it and keeping your values in line,” he says. In an industry known to absorb and destroy young talent, his approach to his work feels like a form of self-preservation. It’s also a relief to know that a person who’s had such an impact on late-aughts kids is doing alright. “Early on, it was harder for me to appreciate things,” he says. “I was too wrapped up in the newness of all of it, the newness of the entire experience of making things and being a part of things, and impacting people. But now I’m in a place where I try to enjoy it more: the entire process of being in a production and the release of it, and the impact it’s had on people.”
While the possibility of leading in a major motion film in the near future isn’t out of the question, Lerman is just fine where he is: knee-deep in preparation for the first of a slate of projects he'd begun working on during lockdown. It’s his favorite part of the process. “It’s been a really long journey, a long road so far,” he adds. “I’ve always loved it and it’s always been a passion of mine. Even though I've been doing it for so long, I still feel like I’ve just started, in a way.”