Prepare to feel old: Nearly 20 years ago, Logan Lerman made his acting debut as one of Mel Gibson’s sons (and Heath Ledger’s kid brother) in The Patriot. After roles in movies like Perks of Being a Wallflower and the Percy Jackson films, Lerman became a household name for those who came of age in the mid-aughts. It’s something the 26-year-old actor still has trouble wrapping his head around. “It’s still hard for me to process that I’m a part of films that mean a lot to somebody else,” he tells me over the phone. “It’s strange because I’m just starting, in a weird way.”
Sure, Lerman, who stars in the new drama The Vanishing Of Sidney Hall, now in select theaters and available on DirectTV, has technically been doing the acting thing for most of his life. But when he was a kid, it was a fun hobby; now it's a job to pay his bills. There's a lot more riding on every choice he makes, especially, since, as Lerman explains, acting is "freelance work" where he's not always sure where his next paycheck will come from. What he does know is that in Hollywood, you're only as good as your last movie, which can be rather frustrating.
"There’s that pressure," Lerman says, "to create and to be a part of things that people want to see so that the financiers still want to put you in projects."
That's a hard line to toe when, like many 20-somethings famous or not, Lerman didn't choose his career path for the money. He just really, really loves what he does. But of course, that's sometimes not enough to lead to a major career. Case in point: After a big year and an even bigger Oscar nomination, Timothée Chalamet was the latest young star to be called "the next Leonardo DiCaprio." Just eight years ago, though, Lerman was "flattered" to earn the same title.
But the actor is more concerned with picking good roles than what label he is or isn't given by the press. Already, he's been in Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky’s biblical drama Noah, David Ayers’ war movie Fury starring Brad Pitt, and the western 3:10 to Yuma, alongside Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Next, Lerman will play Dan Rather in David Gordon Green’s Newsflash, which chronicles Walter Cronkite’s (Seth Rogen) live on-air reporting of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
Lerman's filmography is certainly filled with well-respected names and up and coming talent, but the way he goes about choosing roles doesn’t always make his representation very happy. “Often, I’ll read a really good script with really good people and be up for a role, or considered, or offered a role,” he says, “and I’ll be like, ‘I’m not the best person for this. This actor is way better than me for this role.'" While he won't name any names, (he does joke I should reach out to his agent to have them tell me how “irritating” this all is), Lerman says that this practice is all about “being realistic and, I guess, having good intentions."
“If you’re not right for it,” he explains, “there’s someone better.”
While some people might question Lerman's "honesty is the best policy" career approach, he thinks it's the only way he'll be happy going to work every day. And although the "perfect role" might not exist, there is such thing as a "perfect match," he says. For him, it's the job that he's both interested in and also right for. "In the meantime," he adds, "I do other work to fill in the hours and feel fulfilled."
Like many millennials, Lerman is no stranger to the side hustle, and says his long-term plan isn’t just acting. He told Blackbook in 2011 that “his real passion is filmmaking” and he’d like to write and direct in the future. Speaking to me now, he explains that while writing is a “very unnatural process” for him, he wants to help new writers by acting in their movies or signing on as a producer — a title he earned with his last two films. “I just want to find good scripts and contribute to a film culture that I care deeply about," Lerman says.
What he seems to understand, like so many other people of this generation, is that the old ways of doing business aren't always the most fulfilling. He wants to be an actor, but not at the expense of his own happiness. He'd rather toil away doing smaller films he's proud of than go off and make a blockbuster movie that doesn't interest him. Earning the most money isn't his ultimate goal — it's career satisfaction that he's looking for.
"There are a lot of artists that inspire me in different ways," Lerman says. "But at the end of the day, I'm not trying to emulate somebody else’s career path, I can’t. I have to be me." Spoken, like someone who won't be giving in to anyone else's expectations anytime soon.