The ‘Perks’ of being Logan Lerman

Even in a crowd of Oscar contenders, ”Perks of Being a Wallflower‘ and Logan Lerman‘s breakthrough tour de force deserve to stand out. But like Charlie, its shy, titular high-school hero, this gem by first-time director Stephen Chbosky is fighting to get noticed, especially in a field of films with much more hype and higher-profile stars.

Jon Weisman of Variety writes, ”As an Oscar contender, ‘Perks’ is barely percolating,” but he calls it ”a terrific movie… that deserves the chance to prove itself in awards season.” In his Oscar predictions, Anthony Breznican of Entertainment Weekly urged Academy voters to consider ”Perks” for Best Picture: ”You don’t have to be a kid to love Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of his own coming-of-age novel.” He also singled out ”Perks” co-stars Emma Watson (”Harry Potter”) and Ezra Miller (”We Need to Talk About Kevin”) as supporting Oscar long shots.

But could ”Perks” become this year’s ”Juno” (2007), a heartfelt little movie about a teen outcast that slips into the Best Picture race? Weisman says, ”We know a small cadre of passionate fans can push a movie to an Oscar nom,” so this film would need to ”find the right friends.” (Coincidentally, producers Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich and Russell Smith, who worked on the Academy Award-nominated ”Juno,” also are the producers of ”Perks.”)

No matter how it plays out, ”Perks” marks a ”big coming-out for Lerman,” who’s best known for ”Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” says Kris Tapley of In Contention. ”He gives a shattering performance of tenderness, emotion and charisma. He deserves consideration for Best Actor.”

Based on seeing Lerman’s work in ”Perks,” Darren Aronofsky cast him as Russell Crowe’s son, Ham, in his biblical epic, ”Noah.”

We sat down with Lerman, who’s now 20 and just wrapped up shooting ”Noah” in New York, to discuss his performance in ”Perks.” He also chatted about his favorite films and working with three Oscar winners who have played his dad.

Wayman Wong: Congrats on ”The Perks of a Wallflower.” Some critics have compared it to John Hughes’ movies, like “The Breakfast Club.” But it’s really much closer to ”Ordinary People,” the 1980 winner for Best Picture. They both deal with a sensitive, shy teenager who’s wrestling with demons and tragedy from his past. What do you think?

Logan Lerman: Yeah, that was my original reference for this film and my inspiration. Conrad [from ”Ordinary People”] and Charlie have a similar arc. I love ”Ordinary People” and Timothy Hutton was very moving.

Wong: I think your performance is every bit as Oscar-worthy as Hutton’s. How did you get into Charlie’s dark mindset?

Lerman: Thanks. There was just some connection I had with Charlie. Feeling his isolation was a big part. I flew out to Pittsburgh, where we shot, earlier than the other guys and spent a lot of time alone, studying the script. I also studied other movies, but not Hollywood ones, but documentaries. And I found one that was so haunting:  ”Gladiator Days.” It’s creepy as fuck, and it’s about the anatomy of a prison murder. Whenever I thought of it, I got horrifying thoughts. The footage was scarring and scared the shit out ot me. It just helped for Charlie’s character.

Wong: Charlie goes on such an emotional roller coaster, from getting his first kiss to learning to love himself.

Lerman: It’s such a well-written script. That’s what attracted me and everyone else: Stephen’s writing. He captures your imagination. When I read, ”We accept the love we think we deserve,” it was one of those fucking brilliantly written lines that really stuck with me. I was lucky to find this script and I’m so proud of this movie.

Wong: What’s your favorite scene?

Lerman: When we’re all sitting in a circle and playing Truth or Dare. Maybe I have a dark sense of humor, but it was very funny when Charlie’s very depressed and Patrick asks him: ”How’s your first relationship [with Mary Elizabeth] going?” And Charlie says, “It’s so bad that I keep fantasizing that one of us has cancer.”

Wong: Ezra Miller’s a riot as Patrick, Charlie’s funny gay pal, and you two have such a fun camaraderie.

Lerman: Patrick’s my favorite character. He’s so cool. For an actor, there’s a lot of meat on the bone. It’s a standout role, and Ezra did such a great job. We instantly hit it off and became very close friends, just like the movie.

Wong: You also had terrific chemistry with Emma, who plays Sam, Charlie’s beautiful crush.

Lerman: I really like her. Emma’s passionate and hungry for good work and complicated characters. She’s incredibly smart and capable of anything. Sam was just an amazing role for her. And fortunately we’re working together again. Darren [Aronofsky] had seen ”Perks” early and cast us as brother and sister in his ”Noah.”

Wong: And ”Noah” has three Oscar winners: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly and Sir Anthony Hopkins.

Lerman: I really like their movies. I don’t actually work with Sir Anthony, which is upsetting, but I’m a huge fan. And I was so excited to work with Ray Winstone, who’s brilliant. I don’t want to say too much about ”Noah,” but it’s really cool. It’s an epic Aronofsky film. I love all his movies. The ones I’ve seen the most are ”Requiem for a Dream” and ”Black Swan.” He’s got a great crew and there’s a real family vibe. They’re a team.

Wong: Speaking of team efforts, you got a 2008 Screen Actors Guild nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Cast for ”3:10 to Yuma,” along with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Did you go to the SAG Awards?

Lerman: No. I don’t know why. It might’ve been my insecurity. I thought: ”Oh, they wouldn’t want the kid to show up.” I’m a little shy at those events, but I was totally honored. It’s probably my favorite movie I’ve done so far.

Wong: You’ve also played the son of three Academy Award winners: Crowe (”Noah”), Bale (”3:10 to Yuma”) and Mel Gibson (”The Patriot”). What have you learned from working with actors of their caliber?

Lerman: I learned a lot from Mel. I’m kidding! (Laughs.) I was fucking 7 years old then, so I don’t remember shit about that. But I’ve learned a lot from Russell and Christian. I’m not good at singling things out and I don’t want to sound pretentious, but they’re really talented actors who create a nice atmosphere for everyone to work in.

Wong: Let me ask you about another Western: ”Brokeback Horse,” your gentle takeoff of “Brokeback Mountain.”

Lerman: That’s just a dumb video. I was 14 and we did that with friends on the weekend. Is it still on YouTube?

Wong: Yeah, and it’s racked up over 140,000 hits.

Lerman: Are you serious? I love ”Brokeback Mountain.” It’s got great performances, like Heath Ledger’s.

Wong: You’re a real movie buff. You’ve said that your favorite films include ”American Beauty,” ”Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and ”Defending Your Life.” And you once tweeted a salute to the late Sidney Lumet, ”the genius of ‘Network”’ and so many other classics. What else have you seen lately that’s impressed you?

Lerman: ”Argo” is the best movie I’ve seen this year. It was the most consistent from beginning to end. And I just saw ”Flight” and wasn’t expecting it. It smacks you right in the face. That is the craziest movie I’ve ever seen.

Wong: Finally, Paul Rudd, who plays your teacher in ”Perks,” is on Broadway in ”Grace.” Wanna do any theater?

Lerman: It would be fun, but you really have to be passionate to do it eight shows a week. I’m just a film guy. I do enjoy going to Broadway shows, though, and I just saw ”The Book of Mormon.” I fucking loved it. And I really want to see Paul in ”Grace.” Theater is something I’d like to do, but right now, I’m passionate about movies.

(Wong edits entertainment for the New York Daily News and is an award-winning playwright.)

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