FIGHT YOUR FOR­TIES

Justin Th­er­oux is a man with good in­stincts – both in life and in his train­ing. MH caught up with the ac­tor-pro­duc­er­writer to find out why pa­tience, tenac­ity and calm fo­cus are the keys to go­ing the dis­tance, what­ever you’re up against

Men's Health (UK) - - Front Page - Words by Mike Zim­mer­man – Por­traits by Ben Watts

Box­ing With Justin Th­er­oux

I’m feel­ing an ex­ces­sive amount of eye con­tact,” says Justin Th­er­oux. So he punches me in the face. For the record, I wasn’t star­ing into his hazel eyes – I was watch­ing his box­ing gloves, po­si­tioned just be­low his eyes to pro­tect “home base”, the point of his jaw. The funny thing is, though I do make ex­ces­sive eye con­tact with those gloves, I never see the jab com­ing. It’s a quick right; he tags my left eye and nose with a sharp sting. He pops me again a few times. He’s punch­ing at will now, and there’s noth­ing I can do about it.

Per­haps this shouldn’t be sur­pris­ing. Be­fore to­day, the clos­est I’d come to box­ing was when I was nine years old and watched Muham­mad Ali spar. I’d never had my hands taped, put on head­gear, or stepped into a ring with any­one. For the 47-year-old Th­er­oux, on the other hand, box­ing is his pri­mary work­out.

We’re at Gotham Gym in New York’s West Vil­lage, not far from where the ac­tor lives. Sun­light streams through the front win­dows, but the dozens of box­ing gloves hang­ing from the ceil­ing an­nounce: “This is where peo­ple come to work.” De­spite the chasm in abil­ity be­tween us, Th­er­oux is quick to of­fer re­as­sur­ance. He re­counts a story about spar­ring with a fe­male trainer who was about 6in shorter than him. “I hate getting hit,” he says. “But she’s so fast, far bet­ter than me. A cou­ple of times, she re­ally rang my bell. I was a com­bi­na­tion of hurt and pissed… Am I gonna cry, or knock her head off? But I couldn’t touch her. She was too quick. I see that a lot: peo­ple get emo­tional, and that’s the point. Just keep breath­ing, re­main loose, not tense.”

Getting Lucky

Both in and out of the ring, Th­er­oux han­dles him­self just fine. He’s cruis­ing through his for­ties look­ing strong and en­gaged. Cru­cially, he has fig­ured out how to en­gi­neer his life so that work is more re­ward­ing than it is soul-crush­ing. A lot of this comes down to his range: he’s an ac­tor, writer and pro­ducer. He played a douchebag di­rec­tor in Mul­hol­land Drive, a psy­cho with a six-pack in Char­lie’s An­gels: Full Throt­tle and Evil DJ in the Zoolan­der films. He also co-wrote the se­quel – and was a screen­writer on Tropic Thun­der, Iron Man 2 and Rock of Ages. That “full re­tard” speech in Tropic Thun­der? All his.

More re­cently, Th­er­oux has gone heavy, head­lin­ing HBO’S post-rap­ture drama The Left­overs for three sea­sons and tak­ing parts in The Girl on the Train and the un­der­rated Net­flix movie Mute – a neo noir that me­an­dered through a sleazy, Blade Run­ner- in­spired dystopia. Which ex­plains why he was grate­ful when he was

“I grav­i­tate to what I’d en­joy, as op­posed to ‘good ca­reer de­ci­sions’”

of­fered a part in the new com­edy The Spy Who Dumped Me. “I can tell you I am a spy, and I do dump some­one,” he says. “This lit­tle bon­bon popped up, and I love Mila [Ku­nis] and Kate [Mckin­non], so I was like, ‘ Yeah, let’s go to Bu­dapest and do this.’ I get to shoot things, blow things up and be a spy for a while.”

Ask him about his for­mula for life and work, and Th­er­oux of­fers a sim­ple plat­i­tude: “I’m lucky.” Yet there’s ev­i­dently more to it. In the early 1990s, after com­plet­ing a drama and visual arts de­gree, he be­came a stereo­typ­i­cal young New York artist, bounc­ing be­tween act­ing jobs and paint­ing mu­rals in night­clubs, then ex­pand­ing into mi­nor film roles and, even­tu­ally, big­ger parts. “When I was in my early twen­ties, I was im­pa­tient,” Th­er­oux says. “I al­ways wanted things to hap­pen the way I wanted them to hap­pen. And that has gone away. Not com­pletely, be­cause there are still things I want to hap­pen in the time I want them to hap­pen. But I don’t lose sleep over things the way I used to.

“I grad­u­ally learned that if you do the things you want to do, you’ll pro­duce bet­ter work,” Th­er­oux says. “When you’re do­ing things you don’t want to do, the work suf­fers. How could it not? You’re not in­ter­ested. I grav­i­tate to­wards the next thing I think I’ll en­joy, as op­posed to things I think would be smart to do, or a ‘good ca­reer de­ci­sion’.”

He has also learned to have enough pa­tience to en­gage in what might be called de­lib­er­ate spon­tane­ity – the art of po­si­tion­ing your­self so you can take ad­van­tage of op­por­tu­ni­ties. “I was talk­ing to some­one re­cently about bucket lists, and I was, like, ‘I don’t have a bucket list.’ In ideal cir­cum­stances, [what­ever is on] the bucket list just starts to hap­pen, if you’re lead­ing your life well. For in­stance, I hap­pened to be driv­ing by a sky­div­ing school once and de­cided to go sky­div­ing. A split-sec­ond de­ci­sion: it wasn’t any­thing I’d planned. I al­ways wanted to ride a mo­tor­cy­cle across Europe. I’ve done that three times now.”

Per­haps the best win­dow into Th­er­oux’s mind­set might be his at­ti­tude to tat­toos. He has quite a few and is open to the idea of getting more, but his ap­proach is dif­fer­ent from what you might ex­pect. “I don’t put a lot of thought into it,” he says. “I never had a stage when I was, like, ‘I want to get a tat­too, it has to be mean­ing­ful, it’s also got to have a yin and yang in it, and be a homage to my mother.’ There are a lot of peo­ple de­sign­ing their own tat­toos who are frus­trat­ing the tat­too artists. I’m real easy. I’ll say, ‘ What should we do?’ And they’ll say, ‘I dunno, what do you wanna do?’ So it’s a mat­ter of when the mood strikes.” Th­er­oux re­cently got some size­able ink on his back as a trib­ute to his de­ceased pit bulls – a rat for one dog and a pi­geon for the other, two denizens of the New York parks. Th­er­oux’s is a life of di­ver­sity by de­sign.

Take It Easy

If it sounds like he glides from one suc­cess to the next while think­ing golden thoughts, that’s not quite true. Yes, he wrote Iron Man 2 and Zoolan­der No 2, but nei­ther se­quel will ever be men­tioned in the same breath as The God­fa­ther Part II. Th­er­oux has been jug­gling projects since decades be­fore the gig econ­omy ex­isted. An ac­tor and writer lives the life of a free­lancer, with all of its pit­falls. Does he ever have doubts?

“Sure,” he says, “though I think doubt is a good thing. We all doubt our­selves when­ever we set out to do any­thing new. But that mo­ti­vates us to make it good. It can be de­struc­tive if you let it creep over the en­tire process, but I don’t dwell. I doubt things, but I hope things, too. That’s when you give what­ever you’re do­ing the best chance of suc­cess, by work­ing harder or prac­tis­ing or rewrit­ing. That’s how I deal with doubt.” Then he smiles. “Or I just pre­tend I’m not doubt­ing my­self.”

Th­er­oux also un­der­stands how to han­dle sit­u­a­tions that aren’t work­ing. “I get up and do what I do,” he says. “When I’m in a bad sit­u­a­tion, I’m still aware there’s some­thing to be gleaned from that ex­pe­ri­ence. You just have to find some nugget that makes it worth­while. Oth­er­wise, you’ll give up. Bad work ex­pe­ri­ences are in­struc­tive: first, they tell me what I shouldn’t re­peat. Sec­ond, they re­mind me how things are done wrong and how I could do them bet­ter.”

Out­side of work, Th­er­oux fills his life with the things he loves: mo­tor­cy­cles and dogs, among them. If you ask him about his favourite bike, he’ll rat­tle off a para­graph in one breath. (It’s a BMW F800 GS, by the way.) He is also par­tial to pit bull ter­ri­ers, and is tak­ing cus­tody of a new res­cue a week after our interview. He tells me he is drawn to the com­pan­ion­ship they of­fer, but there’s clearly some­thing big­ger than that, too. “Dogs drive you crazy,” he says wist­fully. “It’s like hav­ing a tod­dler that’ll never speak. Then, to­wards the end of their life, they get very sweet and ten­der, and break your heart.”

There are many rea­sons to envy Justin Th­er­oux: the good looks, the var­ied ca­reer, the at­trac­tive paramours, the com­fort­able life­style. But, as our interview ends, it strikes me that it’s his easy peace of mind that is per­haps most aspi­ra­tional in our dizzy­ing, high-pres­sure world. “There’s noth­ing I’m dy­ing to do – noth­ing gnaw­ing at me,” he says, be­fore laugh­ing. “There are things I know I will do. I just don’t know what they are yet.” Keep mov­ing, re­main loose, not tense. Th­er­oux’s lat­est film, The Spy Who Dumped Me, is in cinemas now

THOUGH EASYGOING TO A FAULT, TH­ER­OUX PULLS NO PUNCHES TO SUC­CEED

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