Justin Theroux is an insanely talented actor that has been on the indie and big-budget movie scene for quite some time. He’s most memorable for his devilishly charming facial expressions, ridiculously sculpted, statuesque bod, and a penchant for wearing a lot of bracelets. So, it may come as a shock to some that your boi just hit the big 50, an age I’m told is high, but as someone who just had a two-hour visit to the movie about “the beach that makes you old,” I can assure you that 50 is merely another benchmark for this well-proportioned thespian of the stage and screen. To celebrate his very existence, I thought I’d take a trip through his filmography, which is filled with, “What the hell, that was HIM?!”s from top to bottom, as well as a few entries that have not only been some of my favorite projects but also contain some of my favorite performances from the Chocolate City-born dish of a man.
One of Theroux’s earliest roles was as Cowboy (Clarence) in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, a cornerstone VHS on any late-90s movie shelf. From early on, Theroux’s ridiculously good-looking attributes and clever, in-the-know persona led to some truly funny moments, his entire role in RAMHSR is a perfect example. Theroux pretty much plays off of Janeane Garofalo in every scene they have together - both super fun and fairly easy from an acting standpoint - and he always looks like he’s equally having a great time being in a movie, and simultaneously acting the hell out of a one-joke character. Ironically, just a few years later, another one of Theroux’s best-known performances also centers around a cowboy.
This time, one that he has to seek out, in Mulholland Dr. The bicentennial knockout once described discussing theories and motivations in director David Lynch’s projects as just, “frustrating yourself,” stating that more often, there really isn’t any “connective tissue” intended to be traced. This is just such an articulate and uncomplicated way of explaining what is so entertaining and special about much of Lynch’s work. To his credit, Theroux’s turn in Mulholland Dr. is one of my favorite performances of the entire Lynch empire. He plays his character, Adam, with just the right level of posh douchiness, as an on-the-nose noir-novella caricature. This is all glued together by Lynch’s indomitable ability to make the ridiculous sing and seem tangibly realistic, and Theroux proves to be the perfect vessel for that sort of energy.
A personal favorite, Mary Harron’s American Psycho, features an awesome, scene-serving performance from Theroux, as well as fellow, nifty-fifty co-star Josh Lucas. Both actors pretty much act as set-ups and conversational foils to our lead, Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman. They get the soup stirring at the top and middle of their rare scenes to really bring out the ridiculous commentary on these ridiculous men. Theroux’s greasy, slicked-back hair, beady, coked-out eyes and faux high-class utterances of lines like: “Speaking of reasonable…” and “I mean, do you know anything about Sri Lanka?” add to the spicy sauce that is American Psycho’s whole vibe, and from my standpoint, they are some of its best ingredients.
When speaking of the career of Justin Theroux, one would be remiss if they didn’t at least mention a few of his more legendary supporting roles, such as the secondary villain (read: muscle) in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, playing a character named (.......) Seamus O’Grady. You can guess from the name what might make this performance a bit of a stand-out. Also of note, he played Joe on Six Feet Under for a single season run as Brenda’s rebound from Nate while the two were briefly separated. If you're familiar with the show, he’s the one she kept hitting with a spoon while tied to a bed. Again, you can see the appeal. He’s also got a great scene-stealing character (“Keats”) in The Baxter, and an epitome of man-ness in Seth from Wanderlust, where his laid-back, good-looking persona is weaponized against Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston (hey now!).
Another fascinating aspect of Theroux’s career is his many turns behind the camera in various parts of the filmmaking process. This is pretty standard for an individual as talented as he is, as creative as he is, as friendly as he is, (and for someone who has been working in Hollywood for as long as he has) but it’s the projects he chooses that is the most interesting. Theroux’s directorial effort, Dedication, back in 2007, seems to have scorned him a bit on the main chair. In interviews, he’s cited that the film was a blast to make. He was really proud of the cut he brought to festivals, which received pretty great reactions from most there. Unfortunately, as was typical of many an indie movie in the 90s and 00s, Harvey Weinstein (*thunderclaps*) got his hooks into it, and he pretty much re-edited the thing top to bottom, yielding a version that Theroux has said he is very much not a fan of. In keeping with the “oopsie-daisies” of film history, JT was also the single-credited screenwriter for Iron Man 2. Take a moment with that fact. In hindsight, as has been discussed several times in many areas of the film talk world, the issues with Iron Man 2 have become more and more revealed as failures on the part of the young Marvel Industry as a whole not understanding what they should do with the new power they had unleashed. Assuming Theroux wrote the line, “That is not my bird,” and envisioned Tony Stark in full, neck-down Iron Man suit, eating a donut while resting in another giant donut, I say Okay. But it’s his involvement as the co-writer in the forever funny (yet slightly aged) Tropic Thunder that is hands-down his largest accomplishment to the page behind the movies. Tropic Thunder is one of those new-age classics (in my opinion). At merely 12 years old it already holds such weight as both a work of individual art and a time capsule of the movie industry at the time, both in formation and evolution, much like The Dark Knight was that very same summer. It’s funny, the film is loaded with an amazing cast and awesome set pieces and it’s got the third-best Tom Cruise performance of all time (Magnolia and Collateral, if you’re wondering).
When he wasn’t popping into the most popular franchise of all time for little more than a side-glance joke, Theroux was putting a few years into probably his best work to date: The Leftovers. I’ve spoken endlessly about my love for the three-season HBO show, mainly on the Story Screen Presents Cathode Ray Cast episode covering the entirety of The Leftovers with Bernadette Gorman-White. I stand by everything I’ve said in that wine-fueled conversation. (It’s seriously a great ep; give it a listen when you can if you haven’t.) Once again, Theroux’s ability to balance pathos, charm, and humor is a weapon to wield across every episode of The Leftovers. The role of Kevin Garvey is a tricky one starting out, and believe me, it only gets trickier the deeper down the rabbit hole the story goes over its 28 episode run. Anyone who has watched this show in its entirety has been nodding their head the entire time they’ve been reading this article because to see what Theroux does in that show so seemingly effortlessly is to know just how special and gifted of a performer he truly is.
Recently, the fit AF cuddly bug has been turning in his usual array of supporting and lead roles. Both in Mute and Maniac, he plays egregiously characterized and over-the-top scene stealers. He tosses on make-up and accents to hide his general libidinous presence, while once again getting Dad Ripped™ to play Allie Fox in The Mosquito Coast reboot series on Apple TV+. The series is based on the book written by Justin’s very own uncle, Paul Theroux. It might be most memorable for its 1986 film adaptation starring a Super Saiyan-level powerful Harrison Ford. The series is well worth the watch, following the happenings leading up to the events of both the book and the previous film.
It’s loaded with a great cast, has a real smooth episodic attitude to it, (it very much reminds me of the peak of Breaking Bad, to be honest) and of course, it showcases some more amazing tools Theroux has in his arsenal, as his talents continue to grow and develop. He also recently appeared in the Hulu Original, False Positive, where he acts as the sort of John Cassavetes to Ilana Glazer’s Mia Farrow. It’s a pretty fun movie, which really soars from its performances by Glazer, Theroux, and an off-the-chain good Pierce Brosnan. It was really just a reminder of how Theroux understands his role within certain projects and is able to give his characters an insane depth of realism, whether it’s really called for or not, and without ever being too distracting. That’s tough stuff, man.
On the horizon, Justin’s got an amazing-looking HBO limited series, The White House Plumbers, coming up, of which he is also acting as executive producer. The series has been filming in our area (Dutchess County, NY) for some months now, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting most of the cast and crew here and there. (A certain star was even nice enough to buy out a full screening of In the Heights during its opening week at Story Screen Beacon Theater for the series’ entire crew).
But alas, I’ve yet to have the opportunity to embarrass myself in front of the dude that would definitely make a pretty interesting choice for Reed Richards. (I’m still in the Phoebe Waller-Bridge camp, but Theroux would be a very acceptable choice). Anyway, Happy Birthday to ya, you dignified faculty of a trouper. I very much look forward to everything you’ve got coming up, as well as continuously revisiting everything you’ve already given us. Cheers, and don’t let the number get to ya. After all, it’s just that anyways.
Founder of and programmer for Story Screen. Lover of stories and pizza in the dark. When he isn't watching movies, you can find him reading things about people watching movies. He currently resides in Poughkeepsie, NY, and most assuredly is going through a French Connection phase.