At age 20, Logan Lerman is a showbiz veteran. After a string of kiddie roles alongside top leading men like Christian Bale (3:10 to Yuma) and Jim Carrey (The Number 23), Lerman made the leap to topline star in the young adult fantasy Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief. But even Lerman, a self-professed cinephile bordering on fanboy, knowingly refers to a good hunk of his filmography as “mindless.” So when the surprisingly dark adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky’s beloved 1999 tome to adolescence, landed in the LA native’s lap, he jumped at the chance to play Charlie, the withdrawn high school freshman who befriends a pair of misfit seniors, played by Ezra Miller and Emma Watson. We caught up with Lerman at the Toronto film festival, where he spoke about meeting the Harry Potter star, growing up in Beverly Hills, and using fear as fuel on movie sets.
I read that you tortured yourself to get inside Charlie’s head. Elaborate on that a little bit.
Ya, I read that quote.
I tortured myself? Did I really say that?
I think so, ya.
Sometimes you speak… in interviews and all that. I don’t know about tortured, but it was a lot of prep. I don’t want to use the word tortured though. I worked hard at trying to figure it out. Stephen wrote a beautiful script and I just wanted to portray his character the right way and give him a nice arc. I wanted to give him the amount of attention it deserved, which was a lot.
People really hold the character near and dear to their hearts. Did you feel pressure to do him justice, do the book justice?
Not a lot of pressure. I didn’t really put him on a pedestal but I liked the script, and I wanted to do something with it. It was an opportunity for me. I was kind of stuck in a world of making films that were kind of mindless, didn’t take as much thought. He was one of those rare characters that you find at my age. There’s not a lot of great material out there. There’s more now as I’m getting older, but especially at that time, that was like two years ago so there wasn’t much out there then, nothing that I could find. That was one of the great characters, great scripts that I read.
As you get older, do you expect more complex roles to come your way?
Ya, which is nice.
What goes through your head when you get something like Perks? Where you stoked on it right away?
It’s excitement, and then it’s fear. And fear is fuel, man.
When you say fear, what exactly are you scared of?
I read it and I was like, Fuck, how do I do this? What am I going to do? I need to start researching. So what do I do, right? I read the script again, over and over. If you don’t like lines, you just rewrite it, you kind of switch it around, you write down questions, you ask questions and you watch films. I watched a lot of movies that helped.
Did you have preconceived notions of what Ezra and Emma would be like? How did you guys bond or break the ice?
I really didn’t have any preconceived notions, I really had no idea. And then you meet Ezra and you’re like, shit man he’s a crazy character.
Is he as eccentric as he seems?
Ya, but we got along right away and everything was great. And Emma I met way before we started filming. I flew out to England when I was in Germany and I met her just to start the relationship and we started talking. It’s a great young cast in this film. We all became very close and very supportive of each other throughout this process.
You guys deal with some heavy issues in the movie. Did it ever get tense on set?
Sometimes. I’m pretty controlled but there were moments where it was a little hard to control yourself.
Let’s talk a bit about your own school experience, you went to high school in Beverly Hills?
Ya I went to high school, it was much different than Charlie’s experience. I wasn’t as introverted as him. But I related to him a lot and I knew a lot of people that were closer to his personality.
Is that how you channeled him? By thinking about those people?
Ya, and then I related to a lot of it personally as well, and also referenced movies and other things.
Beverly Hills must be an interesting place to grow up. Did you enjoy it?
It was home. But I grew up all over, really. I started working when I was really young. I travelled around and got a good perspective on what it was like in the rest of the country. That made it easier to get out of the L.A. bubble.
But I’d imagine it made acting very accessible.
Ya, which was very helpful starting off. And it’s so weird to think that I started off at a young age but ya, it made it easy.
I understand you’re a huge film buff. I love the dichotomy of you being a fanboy but also having the keys to the castle, so to speak.
When you’re on set with people like Paul Rudd and Emma Watson, how do you separate that side of yourself and not just geek out?
I just try to repress the urges to want to say something, you know? Like, Dude, I love your movie. I try to hold back on those feelings, those instincts that I want to pick their brains about their past movies.
Does being on set ever feel like makeshift film school for you? Do you try to soak everything in?
That’s what it’s about. That’s why I like being on set. That’s why I like acting. It allows me to get inside and see each medium that’s involved in filmmaking. I mean, just how everybody goes about controlling their departments. It’s really cool.
What do you think are some keys to being a great director? It just seems like one of the most difficult jobs in the world.
Understanding each department, I think that’s a key. Being able to dictate your vision so clearly to every medium.
Because you constantly have people in both ears just needing answers.
Ya exactly. You might have a vision but you have to be able to dictate that vision to props, art department, obviously if it’s a bigger movie there’s effects, and everything that’s involved in making a film. You have to be decisive.
What kind of movies do you see yourself making as a filmmaker?
I don’t know. It’s not genre specific.
Have you started writing anything at all?
A little bit but not as much lately. I used to write more than I do now. I kind of lost a little bit of my confidence in that area. And it’s time consuming.
Did you get a chance to see any films in Toronto? I know you’re a big fan of PTA.
No dude I want to see it! Nah, there’s no chance to see any movies.
That’s a bummer.
It’s a huge bummer, but yeah I really wanna see The Master.
Could you imagine one day your agent hands you a script by PTA?
Holy shit. That’d be incredible. The initial feeling of something like that would be insane. It would be a dream.