Justin Theroux has many professional titles: He’s a screenwriter of films like Tropic Thunder and Iron Man 2, he’s an actor in projects such as Mullholland Drive and HBO’s existential series The Leftovers, and he’s even a book illustrator. But one bullet point on his resume sticks out. Justin Theroux is a guy who dies on-screen a lot. And it turns out, all this offscreen death results in real-life injuries.
“I’m sure I went to the hospital at least once,” Theroux told Inverse during a phone call about the third and final season of The Leftovers. “I always fuck something up. I think every season I do.”
Theroux also discussed his writing career, the seventh episode of The Leftovers Season 3, Twin Peaks, and dick scanners.
Spoilers for the seventh episode of The Leftovers Season 3 are below.
So tell me more about these injuries.
I’ve gotten stitches three times. I’ve gotten my nose broken, I’ve broken some bones in my hand. I got some stitches in my head, stitches in my lip.
Is this usual for your projects?
No, I think what happens is when you’re doing a television show, the hours are incredibly and ridiculously long. They always happen late in the season, when everyone’s ass is dragging on the ground, mine included. Slip-ups happen.
In the seventh episode of The Leftovers, your character dies three times. Kevin drowns twice in order to reach the afterlife dimension that first appeared in Season 2’s “International Assassin.” He also tears his own heart out while he’s in that alternate universe. Did any slip-ups happen during those sequences?
When I was drowning, even though I didn’t really drown, it was horrible. Because you can’t really fake it. It sounds like I’m being a little princess-y, but lying down backwards in water resembles waterboarding in a way. It shoots water right down your nose. There was a [safety] system, because they kept wanting as long shots as possible. There was a scuba diver down there. He would rush up and jam a respirator into my mouth, and I could take a breath. But even with those safety devices in play, it’s still no fun. Your brains feel like they’re fizzling with the water.
Death scenes aside, you’ve also done a lot of naked scenes in odd locations. In Season 2, you slithered out of a bath tub, and in Season 3 you washed up onto a beach. Which was easier to film?
Definitely the bathtub, because I can control the temperature of the water. It looks like it’s a beautiful, sunny day in Melbourne, Australia, but we were actually shooting in the winter. We had a lucky sunny day — but boy was that water cold. There was some worry about hypothermia and all that. It wasn’t water you wanted to stay in very long. It was also on the freakin’ beach, so not a fun place to be naked in public.
You got to play two different characters in this alternate universe: an assassin and the president. Which did you enjoy playing more?
I think I enjoyed the assassin more just because on the heels of all our Trump news, “crazy President Kevin” launching weapons is horrifyingly prescient. [The assassin] is a little more fun, purely in a 10-year-old boy, “I want to be James Bond” level. They’re both written so well. It was fun to play both. It was another brilliant stroke from Lindelof.
Speaking of ten-year-old boy, the penis scanner Kevin uses to enter the bunker facility was a fun detail.
Yeah, I know. Damon [Lindelof] actually put that in there just to — he did it in the last “International Assassin” one, too. He knows that it kind of makes me cringe. I think it’s his way of needling me from Los Angeles.
It’s interesting that this surreal episode is airing right at the same time Twin Peaks has returned to TV. Obviously David Lynch has been a big part of your career.
I’ve always said Lindelof and Lynch — they’re not on the same planet, but they’re definitely in the same orbit. I think Damon himself would say there would be no Leftovers if there wasn’t a Twin Peaks originally. It’s that kind of storytelling. It’s niche storytelling, but it’s storytelling a lot of people can embrace, being slightly avant-garde.
Would you work with Lynch again?
I would love to — I don’t know if he’s got another season of Twin Peaks or what he’s got cooking, but I would hope to.
What’s next for you?
The avant-garde Lego movie I’m working on, I’m voicing Lord Garmadon. And I’m just sort of reading stuff and wanting to get back in the writing chair. I took a long break from [writing]. The Leftovers has given me more confidence that you can always write a little further outside of the box. I would never pretend to be able to say me and Lindelof are gonna team up and write something together. I think his brain just works in such zig zags, but mine doesn’t. My takeaway from his kind of writing is you can always go deeper, richer, weirder.
You can always throw in a dick scanner.
Yeah, you can always throw a dick scanner in there and attach a key to someone’s heart.
The third and final season of The Leftovers is currently airing on HBO.