128 Minutes With Josh Lucas

Photo: Patrick McMullan

Josh Lucas is stripped down to his black soccer shorts, stretching, preparing to play a game with FA (Free Agents) United, a team that consists of random people who sign up via a web page. He claims to be out of shape—he frequently leans over to catch his breath, and he wears copper bracelets for joint pain—yet still he manages to score two goals in his team’s 3-1 win.

For six of his seventeen years as a New Yorker, Lucas has lived in a former squatter’s building not far from where we are, at the Lions Gate Field on Grand and Chrystie Streets. Wander around with him and you’ll get a dose of Lower East Side boosterism as he rattles off knowledge of the neighborhood’s seventeen art galleries and various historical points of interest. Not far away is the naughty-vaudeville club The Box that Lucas co-founded. An inconspicuous life isn’t too hard for him these days: For a while, he seemed poised to be a leading man, following his turn as Reese Witherspoon’s roughneck love interest in 2002’s Sweet Home Alabama, then a starring role in Poseidon in 2006. But after that film sank, he went back to doing independent movies. “If you completely stop doing big movies, at a certain point your name and your value dissipate,” he says, not at all unhappily. “Doing smaller, independent films that I loved was probably more detrimental to my career than doing Poseidon.

This month he’s in the decidedly non-indie romantic comedy Life As We Know It, in which he plays a doctor who dates Katherine Heigl. He freely admits that the baby in the movie gets more screen time than he does. That’s a different Josh Duhamel—in his boxer briefs in the ubiquitous posters around town. “Doing press on Life As We Know It, I’ve consistently had people say, ‘Where did you go?’ ” he says. “I did eight movies I love. Eight. That I love.” One of them, Peacock—Ellen Page’s follow-up to Whip It—went straight to DVD.

So he has other interests. The Box is opening an outpost in London. He is an investor in a company called Filthy Food that sells high-quality drink garnishes in phallic tins and a “very funny and sexy” olive stuffed with a cornichon and intended for a dirtier martini (the Bowery Hotel uses them). He’s taking his rescue dog Loki to agility training so he can learn tricks like jumping through hoops. He’s narrating the new Ken Burns documentary, The Roosevelts. And he just started two continuing-education classes at NYU: Understanding Painting and something called the Committee of Sleep, about dream psychology. Lucas wants to get to the bottom of a “very elaborate” series of dreams he’s been having “about the concept of love. Not sex, but about love.” Family members and ex-girlfriends (whose ranks include Rachel McAdams and Salma Hayek) appear in his dream cycle. He was fascinated to learn that what he’s been experiencing is a lot like the nightmares of trauma victims. “Love is associated with trauma,” says Lucas, who is single. He also met fellow adult-education student James Franco through a film professor and did a small movie with him last year, William Vincent, that’s unlikely to be a box-office smash. He has more indies coming. They include Red Dog, about a popular mutt living in remote Australia, and A Year in Mooring, a nearly silent movie Lucas also produced, about a man in emotional turmoil alone on a sailboat as a storm rolls in.

Still, “at a certain point you’re like, ‘I want to be part of movies that are seen,’ ” he says. His next shot at commercialism is The Lincoln Lawyer, in which he plays a D.A. to Matthew McConaughey’s ambulance chaser. In their earlier careers, Lucas and McConaughey used to get mistaken for each other, and Lucas signed on in part to see if they could differentiate themselves in side-by-side scenes. “Of course,” he says, “on-camera, we look nothing alike.” Lucas watched a lot of boring court cases for research and got a jury-duty summons he wanted to serve before he was due on set, but couldn’t.

He got chosen despite the judge and both lawyers recognizing him and his well-known liberalism. (In 2008, he wore a Barack Obama T-shirt for 45 days straight.) He was heartened to discover that the real-life case was just as over-the-top as the one in his movie. The D.A. was “this very quiet, precise, elegant, prepared woman,” the defense attorney quoted Shakespeare, and the defendant was a “very, very bad man” prone to violent outbursts and attempts to intimidate the jury. “It was one of the most dramatic, interesting things I’ve done in my whole life,” he says. “We didn’t want to leave.”

Postgame, he’s off to pick up his mom, a former nuclear-disarmament radical who’s flying in for the Life As We Know It premiere. His next game is with the Box Cutters, a team of Box employees he captains. He’s given up on getting them to practice. “Everyone was like, ‘Well, are we going to practice, or are we going to drink beer? Because we can’t do both.’ Drinking beer won.”

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128 Minutes With Josh Lucas