In recent years, Jack Huston has come to be known as the mangled but endearing half-faced war vet, Richard Harrow, on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Imagine our shock when we sat down with Huston one particularly rainy Sunday and found nothing but unrestrained laughter and charm, and a serious Anglo-accent we could not shake off. “I know. I’m so British,” he said laughing, before getting into his newest project Not Fade Away. The movie, Soprano’s showrunner David Chase’s first feature, tells the story of a small time suburban band trying to make it in the 1960s, rock’s golden era. In it, Huston plays Eugene, a self-adoring big fish guitarist in small pond New Jersey, sans ‘stache and with major bravado. Read on to hear about Huston’s oh so popular facial hair, learning to play guitar on a $300k Les Paul, and Richard Harrow’s seeming immortality.
What drew you to the character of Eugene?
Initially, I was drawn to it because of David Chase. Then I read it, and thought it’s so much fun playing such an egomaniac, the self-professed greatest guitarist in this town, and who truly thinks he is a celebrity and completely disillusioned. I always like taking funny risks when you put yourself out there. I don’t like people glorifying things. He’s sort of fundamentally flawed character from the beginning. At the end of the movie a lot has changed, he’s sort of one of the people you like. He’s quite honest about all the stuff he was doing and actually really cares and wants to be friends and tries to help.
Is this your first mustache-less role?
Good question. I’m like the fucking go-to guy for mustaches. [Laughs] This is no joke. I wore a mustache, might have been first season of Boardwalk, and [from then on] people would literally say, “Hey we think you should have a mustache in this.” And I was like, “Seriously?” Now, I’m trying to escape the mustache. Then, I was like, “Fuck it. No one has it anymore.” You’re making Boardwalk Empire, and I do seven months of that, it’s very strange outside of the show, which is set in the 1920s, to walk around with a mustache. For some reason people yell out stuff to me: “Love the ‘stache dude!” or “Ah man look at the ‘stache!”
Did you play any instruments before this film?
I played the trumpet years ago, when I was a kid. The guitar, I could probably strum an E-chord, but no we didn’t, none of us did. None of us played. For someone like David, who’s so specific, it still blows my mind that he cast three guys who couldn’t play. First of all that’s what they said. I remember Steve [Van Zandt] and David said, “We started casting this movie saying, we’re only going to see musicians.” Then they said, “We can’t do it with just musicians. We have to look at other people.” We had three months and we did six to eight hours of practice a day. We were playing a lot, and even now we still play. On my birthday, the best gift I got was this awesome Les Paul vintage guitar. It’s like my favorite thing. I just adore it. It’s taken on a life of it’s own.
How was it working with David Chase?
There’s no one like him, really no one like him. His brilliance, you can’t put him in any type of box, like how his mind works, how brilliant he is. He’s one of those people, I hope that we’ll stay friends. I think we all felt this camaraderie of coming together. Really I could not say enough good things. We see each other now, and we go for dinner, us guys, and it’s the coolest. We’re actually all going to be very sad post-Tuesday, because that’s the premiere.
And then it’s all done?
Yeah. We had dinner last night, all of us, and it was really sad. David made a speech. It was very beautiful and I think he called us fruit pickers—that thing where you go and everyone moves onto the next harvest. It’s very sad because you sort of become attached to all these people. It’s the most wonderful analogy. It just came off the cuff.
Will there ever be a happy ending for Richard Harrow? Or is a happy ending for him coming out of a bloody massacre on top?
It’s interesting. What is his happy ending? Maybe that was his happy ending by far, getting to kill all those people. I really have no idea. It’s probably the best part about it—that we don’t know. Tragic characters normally end in tragedy. It’s sort of one of the rules of Shakespeare.
Have you expected him to die in every season?
I do. Every episode, I look at the script and go, is this it? I was sort of convinced he would die this season, but they have more in store for me, which I’m very happy about. He’s utterly tragic and beautiful. I love him dearly. He’s sort of my alter ego. I have him deeply rooted inside of me. He breaks my heart, but in a very personal way. I’m looking forward to seeing what they’re going to do next season.
Is there still that fear that ‘I’m not going to make it, It’s not going to happen.’
Every day. There is that old saying that you’re only as good as your last picture. I think that’s really true, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, because it gives us the determination to try to prove ourselves, and things won’t always be good. You can’t always be good. Some people can, like Daniel Day-Lewis, probably. But he’s an anomaly. There’s a lot of fear, but fear is very healthy because you can turn it into something. I still get nervous, and I still doubt myself constantly. I just think the best thing to do is just go head on and take risks. It’s always the best thing. That’s why I choose these weird people that I’m probably going to fall flat on my face with. I always think every movie or TV thing I do, I constantly think, “God. It’s the end of my career.” Every single time.
Tell me about playing Jack Kerouac in your next film Kill Your Darlings.
That’s one of those movies that was incredibly daunting.
Did it take a lot of work?
There’s actually not that much video of Kerouac, especially not young. There’s some Latin interviews where he’s a lot older and drunker and a little more bushy. The young part, I think, once I started I reading, I realized I only wanted to read to the part when the movie ended, and I wouldn’t read anything past it. I knew a lot about him anyway, but I said I won’t even get into my head about that, which gave me a bit of the artistic license to turn him into my own creation of Kerouac, if that makes sense, because we haven’t seen him until later.
I have a baby on the way.
My first. 3 months.
Boy or Girl?
Girl. I literally wanted to know the day we could find out. I was actually meant to be doing a film right now. I just finished a film in Berlin called Posthumous with Brit Marling and a wonderful director called Lulu Wang. That’s something I’ve never done before: a romantic comedy.
Not Fade Away hits theaters December 21. See the trailer here.