We first met Patrick Fugit when he was chasing after Penny Lane as a nerdy boy-journalist in desperate need of defiling in Cameron Crowe’s loosely autobiographical rock odyssey, Almost Famous. Since then, the 28-year-old actor has played a dead romantic (Wristcutters: A Love Story), a castrated meth addict (Spun), and a reality TV pioneer (HBO’s Cinema Verite). This season, the motorcycle-loving, Zeus-fearing, non-Mormon Utahn returns to the spotlight in Crowe’s family drama, We Bought a Zoo. But first, he’s petitioning for the wipe-out of a very specific species: the calamity.
BULLETT: It’s been more than a decade since you last worked with Cameron Crowe. Did you notice a change in your dynamic?
PATRICK FUGIT: If anything, it matured. Cameron doesn’t communicate much through words, which is funny given that he’s such a brilliant writer and director. Instead, he communicates in large part through body language. There was always this dynamic on the set of Almost Famous where I would do something in a take and think, I should have done it that way. He’d yell, “Cut,” and he’d sort of giggle, which meant you’d done good. He says so much with a single giggle. I think it would take me a long time to get to know what’s going on in his head. He has a boyish, intoxicating joviality, but he’s also a mystery—at least to me.
I hear you’re a nature enthusiast. When you “get back to nature,” do you feel like you’re escaping something or returning to something?
Returning. I grew up in Salt Lake City, and if you’re not Mormon, which I am not, then you’d better be recreational. My family is really outdoorsy, and so we went on a lot of camping trips and a lot of hikes. When I was 15 or 16, I bought a dirt bike and we all went out on mountain-biking adventures through the desert. I still love getting back to the desert. It’s so freeing to exist in a place that doesn’t give a shit about you—you’re irrelevant. Any person can go out there, no matter who they are or what they do, and they will either survive or extinguish based on their instincts and skills.
Do you think you’re more intuitive or rational?
I’d like to say I’m guided by rationalism, logic, and common sense, although I think I’m a very emotional person. I’ve always been interested in people who have an emotional reaction and can use it to work through panic. People who panic freak me out. My brother and I call a person who panics a fucking calamity. It’s like when you see a girl crossing the street who can’t walk right in her heels, whose purse is falling down, who’s talking on her phone, and who’s trying to run across the street before the light turns green. She’s running around trying to make the light, dropping things, and we’re always like, “Jesus, that bitch is a fucking calamity.” There are more calamity bitches in LA than there are in New York. In LA, you almost run over a calamity bitch every time you get in the car.
You’re looking at one! And yet I’m nodding along, like, Yeah, I hate those bitches.
[Laughs.] Even though our instinct is to react emotionally, we have to learn to control the urge. I don’t know that being cool and collected is ever instinctual—unless you’re a sociopath.
When was the last time you were in awe of nature?
My dad, my brother, and I went out on a dirt-bike ride in Salt Lake City this summer, and we stopped on top of a hill and it got real quiet. We shut off the engines and just stood there, watching the sun go down, and I remember thinking how irrelevant we are in the bigger picture, but how important we are to each other. I remember looking at my father and thinking that he might not be able to do this for many more years. It was a really special moment.
As you get older, do you see your father as a man, rather than just your dad?
That’s a really important part of any guy’s life—when he realizes that his dad, like everyone else, has faults and neuroses. It’s also crazy when you realize, subconsciously or consciously, that you get a lot of your own baggage from your father. And so, yeah, I have started looking at him in a new light, as a man who has fucked up, and as a man who has done good. My dad was always a lot faster than me at riding, but now I’m faster than him. He went down pretty hard recently, and he said, “Man, I don’t bounce anymore—I just crash.” Father-son relationships are like student-teacher relationships: they don’t succeed until one surpasses the other.
When riding, are you very much aware of your mortality?
I’m out there to experience a heightened state of living and being. It’s like an endorphin rush, or a drug. It’s like that moment when something almost happens, and you experience what could happen to you without penalty—it’s exhilarating. It’s what being fucking alive is all about.
Are you afraid of dying?
I’m scared of being eaten by a shark and drowning, but I don’t think I’m scared of death. I’m more scared of dying tragically. When I think about it happening to the people I love, it’s more disturbing than scary. It’s also disturbing that the people who know me will experience my death without me there. I won’t be able to say anything or do anything.
Have you ever tried to imagine what God looks like?
I used to picture God as a Zeus-type character until one day I asked my mom, What does God look like? She said, “When you close your eyes and they sort of form patterns, those little circles, that’s God. God is everywhere.” That’s what I always believed, but now I don’t know what I believe. I’m not searching for God.