Logan Lerman Is Building a Legacy

mandatory credit photo by chris pizzelloinvisionapshutterstock 10525996c logan lerman, a cast member in the amazon studios series hunters, poses for a portrait during the 2020 winter television critics association press tour, in pasadena, calif 2020 winter tca hunters portrait session, pasadena, usa 14 jan 2020
Logan Lerman is Building A LegacyChris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Everyone knows Logan Lerman—if not by name, by face. Entire classes of high schoolers at the mercy of zealously spunky English teachers are familiar with Charlie, the quiet, vulnerable teen in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. A generation of readers could pick him out of a crowd as the leading Greek demigod in Percy Jackson & The Olympians. Lerman, 30, is the actor who makes your mom pull up IMDb when she watches Bullet Train (“I know what else he was in!"), before listing aloud his acting credits aloud mid-movie. Which, by the way, is an impressive filmography spanning about two decades. His most recent leading role? Jonah Heidelbaum in Amazon Prime’s Hunters, playing a Jewish teen who goes from unnoticeable nerd to lethal Nazi hunter in 1970s New York City.

I call Lerman on a day that’s unseasonably warm on my end in New York, and unseasonably rainy on Lerman's turf in Los Angeles. There's an air of familiarity. Lerman acts like an old friend who would always pick up the phone, no matter the time. He asks how my holidays were. He shares a strange quirk of his: “I do this weird thing,” Lerman says, “where I’m constantly checking the weather for different cities all around the world.” He pauses before responding to most of my questions, giving thoughtful answers, probing instead of placating. It’s easy to tell Lerman's sincerity, given his tone when he admires his very-famous Hunters costar Al Pacino, and the sheepishness when he reflects on the admiration he receives from roles he played a decade ago.

Lerman wears many hats, and rarely the same one twice, especially after a nearly decade-long break from taking lead roles in major motion pictures. He picks his roles intentionally, from the charming teenage social outcast Charlie on one end, to the vengeful teenage Nazi hunter Jonah on the other. “Usually I think everything I do is bad,” Lerman says. “I have a terrible sense for these things.” It's a nearly nonsensical admittance from the man whose face I’ve seen at least once a week across various social media platforms for the past 10 years fancams and thirst tweets and viral venerations—but a modest one, too.

With Hunters Season Two premiering on Amazon Prime today, Logan Lerman talks through his past, present, and future with Esquire. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

ESQUIRE: What was it like stepping back into Hunters and the role of Jonah, especially since he’s such a darker, tougher, rougher version of himself than the teen from Season One?

LOGAN LERMAN: It was great. I liked this version of Jonah much more than the version that I was playing with in Season One. It felt newer emotionally, what Jonah was going through, and that was exciting for me. I was really interested and excited to work with these people again, that I enjoyed working with on Season One. I was really excited for the Season Two version of Jonah from the get-go. I was like, OK, we'll get through Season One, establish this character, and then I can play with the fun stuff once we get there.

How did you react to the plot twist at the end of Season One? Did you know about it the whole time?

Yeah, I already knew. I was one of the only people that knew that twist, and for some reason it was a secret for everybody else. I knew already where the story was going, and I knew Season Two, and I knew it was going to happen. It was surprising when I found out initially, but I was excited to see how others would react to it. I thought it was a cool idea playing off these grand conspiracies.

For a show that takes place nearly half a century ago, the heart and sentiment of the story feels relevant today. How do you think the series speaks to the way antisemitism manifests now?

Hmm. Honestly, I don't know. I really haven't overthought the bigger picture, relating it to anything other than more general, broad-stroke ideas, which are just anti-fascists and things like that. This is not a show where I was really socially tying it into a bigger picture conversation. It's more just action and fun. I think for me, the thing that stood out was more symbolic. The idea that there was going to be a show with Jewish leads and Jewish characters leading an action show. I think it says a lot for the symbolism of it, a young Jewish character kicking ass and being the action hero. I thought that was really cool. In terms of bigger-picture antisemitism conversations, or how this ties to modern politics and political events, I personally look at this show and try not to overthink it. I think it's just fun.

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It feels alternately intense and lighthearted.

It's lighthearted, it's silly, it's big, it's action. It's everything. It's dramatic, it's melodramatic—it's everything! To me, seeing these characters—a young Jewish guy from New York, becoming this Nazi hunter—it's really interesting. I can't think of a lot of Jewish action heroes, and I'm sure that there are some, but I just can't think of a lot of mainstream ones. That alone to me seemed like it had value, and it just seemed cool and fun.

For people who are about to watch Season Two, can you give a little tease of what to expect?

Oh, well, just that. It's just bigger. It's got more bang. It's a fun ride. And it's definitely one that you can lose yourself in and enjoy, hopefully, for eight hours or whatever it is. I wouldn't over-intellectualize the show, in my opinion.

I’ve gotta know: You have to have an insane Al Pacino story you can share, right?

There's good little anecdotes. We didn't work together in Season Two because we had completely separate storylines, and we really don't overlap. Whereas in the first season, we spent every day together for months and months and months. When meeting one of [my] heroes, I don't go in with expectations, and I don't have assumptions for their character and who they are. But he's such a modest, humble, generous, funny, kind, warm presence. In a lot of ways I found him to be an educator. He's someone who loves to talk about his history and his craft and his work. All around, just spending time with him was one of the most special experiences in my life. But unfortunately, we didn't get to spend too much time together on Season Two.

Still, that's very heartwarming. Those are very kind words.

It’s honest, though. Not that I would say anything bad about somebody that I was working with, but I just wouldn't say anything at all. But he's really just a great person. I learned a lot from him in so many ways, but the thing I value most is the person that I'm spending time with and if they're generally decent, good people. That's always the most valuable thing to me in my interactions with anybody.

Your filmography has been extremely wide-ranging, but it feels like you never step into the same character twice. What do you consider when taking on a new project, and what excites you about a project?

Well, thank you, first of all, that's so nice. Sometimes I feel like I'm...I don't always feel that way. Sometimes, I'm like, God, this feels repetitive. But that's usually what I'm looking for, is something new to explore. A new feeling, a new experience, a new side of myself. Just a different world. I'm usually looking for the next thing to be a challenge and something that I haven't done before, but sometimes it's not always like that, because there's other factors to consider when choosing what projects to be a part of. But really, at its core, the thing that guides me the most is just wanting to do something new that challenges me. I find it the most thrilling and it's what I'm chasing in my career, that feeling of doing something that's a little bit dangerous or a little scary, or a little uncomfortable.

Has your taste in projects changed over the years?

Of course. I think taste changes as you get older. You're learning more about yourself. You're discovering new things. You have new opinions. So I think that informs one's interests. I would say the roles or the things that interest me now I'm sure are very different from what they were when I was a teenager or in my twenties.

Funny you should bring up your teens and twenties, because I want to talk about that era. You really came on the scene when social media was just getting started, yet over a decade later, these roles have ardent fan bases. Why do you think fans have stayed so dedicated to these projects for so long?

I have no idea. [Laughs.] I'm just really grateful for it. It's nice to see, when you put everything out on the line when you're making something and giving everything to it, and it's a very vulnerable experience. You don't know if anybody's gonna talk about it a month later or want to see it again, or if it's gonna stay in the zeitgeist. When I meet people in public today and they're like, that movie meant a lot to me, it just feels really good to know that somebody really appreciated it. It's a really special thing. And that's something that I think gives me an extra push to keep trying and to try and explore different sides myself, and find roles and scripts that I think are special. It's validating in a way, too. By the way, I don't ever have a sense, when a project is complete or even if I've seen it before it comes out, if it's any good or not. Usually I think everything I do is bad.

Oh, no.

It's a really strange thing. I have a terrible sense for these things. Usually, I let a project go when I'm done, when we wrap filming and when we wrap production. I wait for the response from people, and that really shows me whether or not the thing that we worked on is good. I just have a terrible sense for these things.

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Many of us first met Lerman in 2010’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians. But don’t get your hopes up for a cameo in the upcoming Disney reboot.Fox

At least from my perspective, I think you have one of the strongest filmographies out there. Not to use Twitter lingo, but there was never really a flop era to be had there, you know?

That's very nice. That's sweet, thank you. I don't feel that way, so I really appreciate it.

What's something you wish someone said to you when you were getting started in acting?

You know, actually, I was really lucky that I worked with people that gave me good advice. I worked with an actor years ago, when I was a kid, who told me an actor should never be bigger than the movie they're part of. And that always stuck with me. But nowadays, the industry's changed so much. You kind of need to be bigger than the movie to get the movie made. So it's this interesting balance, but that was always the mindset that I had pursuing or promoting a project. And the advice that I would give somebody is just...give your time to it. That's it, more than anything. It's just giving your time to your work, really investing as much as you can, and from there, exploring where your mind takes you in that process. I've given my trust in that process, which is to give everything you can to it.

It feels like everyone has seen a Logan Lerman movie at some point, no matter how old or young they are, or what genres they like to watch. What are you really looking for now when you consider the next steps in your career?

What am I looking for? Here's the thing: there's an element of looking for the next thing or being picky and finding what you want, but then there's also a finite number of opportunities. There's the weighing of options. There's not always going to be the perfect thing. It's never going to be exactly what you want. Sometimes that happens, but it's rare. So I always just am grateful to be working, to have the opportunity to continue doing what I love and be a part of production and be on set. My goal, always, is to find a director that I love and hopefully support their vision. And on top of that, there's the character. Finding a character that feels new to me, that feels like a world that I want to explore, or a person that's a part of a world that I want to explore, or a history that I'm interested in.

I have to ask about the Percy Jackson reboot, which I know you’ve been asked about ad nauseam, but is still notably without a casting for Poseidon. Any chance we’ll see a cameo?

Oh, no. No one's hit me up about it, and I don't think I'm right for that anyways. But I also just don't even know if it's interesting to me, in terms of: I don't even know what that would be. But there's not a secret that's waiting to be announced or something like that. I do get asked a lot about it, and I hate to disappoint and be like, no, I don't know anything, and I'm not involved, but that's the truth. I don't know anything about it.

You're kind of like the Tobey Maguire of this franchise. The OG, and then there'll be other iterations to come.

I get people asking me all the time if I'm gonna play Poseidon, and I'm like, am I old enough to play Poseidon? I don't think I'm old enough for that one! I wouldn't cast me in that role if I was part of the creative team. I don't know, these are all hypotheticals, so I have no idea. I'm just so in the mindset of what I'm working on right now too, so whenever I get that question, I'm like, I have no idea. There are so many things I just don't know about that project. But what I do know is that Rick Riordan is doing it, and that's pretty cool for the fans of the Percy Jackson series. I'm excited for those fans to get that version of the story told and see what they do with this.

You just mentioned being in the mindset of the project you're working on—tell me about that.

It's a series called We Were The Lucky Ones. I'm really excited about it. It's a true story of a family that was separated during World War II that are trying to find each other. We're in the middle of it right now. So far, it's been a really special experience, and fingers crossed—I hope it's good when we're done with it.

I'm sure it will be. Get out of that mindset of imposter syndrome! I'm sure it'll be good.

It's not even that! From my vantage point, I'm in front of it, so I just don't know, you know? I'm not watching anything. I don't know what the work really is. I just react to the process and people I'm working with and the feeling I get when I'm there. And it feels like a really special project, so fingers crossed we do something good.

Before I let you go, is there anything you wish I'd asked?

Oh, no. Nothing I wish. It'd be funny if anybody does go into an interview wishing that somebody asked them a question. I mean, that's overthinking. They're like, "Here's my anecdote that I want you to write about. "No, I'm not like that. I just honestly hope that people see the show, and the people that do watch it, I hope that they like it.

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