Logan Lerman on ‘Fury,’ the Hell of War Films, and Paying Dues

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 Richard Guaty

He looks like a kid. He plays a kid. He even calls himself a "kid." But there's no doubt that Logan Lerman, star of Fury, is a man. Fresh from a trip around the world, a required respite from Hollywood he says was needed after the brutal filming circumstances of David Ayer’s World War II no-holds-barred tank drama, he talks about his new found love for the foods of Spain. In fact, it seems like he’d rather talk about anything but the cold, damp months he spent shooting the film in the countryside of England.

"I had a great time," he offers quickly when asked what the experience was like, but then pauses. "Actually, let me rephrase that… I had a great appreciation for the time I had making this film." Nobody can blame him for this shift. Just watch the film, it's all up there on the screen. It looks like the farthest thing from a "great time" possible. In an era when the magic of movie-making is public knowledge, from sound stages to CGI, it seems almost seems a disservice that the opening credits of Fury make no mention of the fact that those available tools were, for the most part, avoided. The tanks? Real. The dirt? Real. The bags under their eyes? Real. The blood? Even some of that was real, Logan’s costar Shia LaBeouf having used a knife to cut his own face in the pursuit of authenticity.

Lerman may not have wounded himself physically like Shia, but his soul-baring and earnest performance does not come without opening yourself up emotionally beyond the norm. It pays off and it’s through his eyes that we are introduced to the 2nd Armored Division in April 1945, though any of the formidable cast of Fury – Brad Pitt, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal or Shia – could be called protagonists. While admittedly happy after leaving behind his Sherman Tank home when filming wrapped, the friendship between his onset band of brothers seems poised to endure, though the group dynamic doesn’t look likely to change. "They still like to give me shit," he grins.

Following his part in the Darren Aronofsky epic Noah with Russell Crowe, his recent choices in projects and collaborators has the markings of a young actor who’s looking beyond easy money and more in pursuit of good work.

What kind of research did you do to prepare for this experience?
First I reference a few films. One of the ones that I most looked to was Come and See, which is a Russian war film. I felt it had the similar makings, a kind of fever dream, really bad day situation. In the beginning, we were doing base visits to meet with troops. We all got in a car and went up to Fort Irwin and met a bunch of young soldiers that were about to be deployed and heard their stories. Then after that we met with a lot of World War II veterans.

What were the differences on their perspectives on war?
It was really interesting to hear their thoughts on the comparison between then and now. It was just a different army then. There was a lot less justification required of them for the battles that they were in, as well as unquestionably more freedom as soldiers to do whatever they wanted. You know we’re living in a day and age now that information makes its way across the world so easily. If someone fucks up, it’s incredibly likely that it’s going to be on the news. I feel like a lot could have gone on unchecked back in the day.

How were the young soldiers that you met? Were they apprehensive of being sent into duty?
They were worn out, yes, but to be honest, in the moment, I think they were just incredibly stoked to hang out with Brad Pitt. [Laughs.] They were all very hospitable. We couldn’t have been more grateful for them sharing their thoughts, even after they were already exhausted, we caught them at the end of their 10-day exam at the end of training.

Later you went through your own training, were you prepared?
It was incredibly rigorous. The last week was a boot camp with everyone together, and they were trying to break us down. They deprived us of sleep and gave us impossible tasks, for the purpose of seeing us frustrated, and what we would do in that state. We had daily checklists of what we had to do, learning everything that we would have needed to do as tankers back in WWII. We sat with historians and learned everything that there was to know about the war in Europe.

We would spar with each other every day. We would learn with techniques and then try to apply them on each other. Michael Pena is a great fighter, as is Jon [Bernthal]. Shia in the ring was interesting; he had a lot of energy, quick like a rabbit. He was hard to get a bead on. If that all wasn’t enough already, I was working with a disadvantage since I broke my arm right before we started training.

You broke your arm? Did the guys take it easy on you then?
[Laughs.] No. No. Not one bit. Well, maybe Jon.

Sounds like it was a dangerous set.
Yeah it was dangerous. But we were respectful of each other and the tanks. They're killing machines. If a turret turns and you don’t move, it’s going to take your arm off. Then the hatches weigh about 70 lbs each. If one closes on you, that’s pretty much a wrap.

You play the outsider, and there’s a lot of resentment thrown at your character. In that atmosphere, did you find the lines of the performance and how they were treating you behind the scenes blurring?
Absolutely. I was the new guy every day. Every. Fucking. Day. It was tough. There weren't lunch breaks, because of the limited amount of light we shot in continuous hours. We were doing 10-to-12-hour days and they truly treated me like an outsider for that entire time. It was difficult.

One of the things I noticed was there’s no true romantic lead. There’s no girl that you’re writing home to.
Interesting. Yes. There wasn't a lot of feminine energy on set. It was all testosterone. There was romance. But it was about a family of men. It was about how they all deeply care about each other.

Are you still close to the guys in the cast?
I’m very close with all of them. We talk occasionally, some more than others, as you can imagine. I love these guys. They’re brothers to me. We still emulate our relationships still. I'm still the new guy.

You have a lot of fans from the Percy Jackson movies, are they growing with you? Do you think they’re ready for this movie?
I'm sure they are. Most of them are getting old enough to appreciate this. They're probably in college now. I wasn’t aware of that, wasn’t thinking about it. I was just aware that I wanted to work with David and I wanted to challenge myself. I hope that people appreciate it. We put a lot of love into this movie.

What do you want to do next?
That's what I’m figuring out now. It's not going to be like this. I think I'll pass on war movies for a little bit, until I get one that’s too good to not do. When we filmed our last scene, which happens to be the last scene in the movie, it was very emotional.
Honestly, we all were kind of happy that it was over. It wasn't about who we were with, it was the mental state we kept ourselves in. I was like, "Fuck yes, I’m out of here and can finally let it go." I think I’ll wait a bit until the next war movie.