Of the places one can imagine seeing actor/writer/tabloid regular Justin Theroux (a movie set, maybe, or a red carpet), an assembly at a school gymnasium doesn’t come to mind.
But there Theroux was last week, on the basketball court of the Washington Lab School, among a panel of VIPs talking to the kids about their struggles with learning disabilities (later, he’d attend the school’s fundraising gala). Theroux, fresh off filming the sequel to “Zoolander,” (it might be called “Two-lander,” he informed the audience) is a D.C. native and a dyslexic, which means he had something in common with many of the students.
After he was done selfie-ing with his tweener fans, we chatted with him about his days on the Washington punk scene and why he’s feeling the Bern.
What do you think the kids got out of hearing from you?
I know what I wanted when I was their age, and that was someone telling me I was okay, and to give me some confidence. Seeing all these people up there, especially some of the alumni — just to have that power of example is a comforting, if not motivating, force.
Are you open about your dyslexia?
It used to be something I’d try to hide, but at a certain point it becomes exhausting, and it’s much easier to call it out and say, ‘Yeah, I’m not going to do that because I can’t do that.’ Not in a defeatist way — you learn by my age the things you can excel at and the things you absolutely can’t do. So if it’s writing, acting, whatever, I feel like I can hold my own, but if it’s working out a tip or doing anything beyond fractions it gets more difficult.
You come from a family of very Washington folk: lawyers and journalists. Do you feel like the black sheep?
I do, kind of, because I feel like I can’t do either of the things they do. My mom, in particular, is a journalist and writer, and she writes long form — I’m not good at that. Luckily I’ve found my own way in my own way.
What’s it like coming back to D.C.?
It’s always weird coming back. I remember everything so vividly, but as far as schools were concerned, it wasn’t that happy of an experience. I didn’t do well in school which of course colors the way you’re growing up. I made wonderful friends and had a wonderful time here, but once I left D.C., I didn’t go back too much.
When I do visit, I’ll see my mom and whatever family members I can. This one is a quick trip, but probably for an hour or so, I’ll walk around Georgetown and see how much has changed, and take a walk down memory lane.
What were you like as a teen?
I followed politics in that kind of young, progressive way — like I’d go to protests. At the time, it was the anti-nuke stuff. And I was very heavily into the music scene here. Those were great days for music, so that kind of saved my neck, having great records to listen to.
Did you go to the 9:30 club?
Yeah, and the Wilson Center. Fort Reno — I would go to every week religiously. That’s my D.C., not going to politicians’ houses in Georgetown.
But are you into politics now?
I wouldn’t call myself political — like I’m not forming political action committees — but I follow politics how most people do.
What do you think of the election?
It’s a hoot right now with the Republicans, but I just don’t know where it goes. It’s like idiocracy or something, where Donald Trump can be leading the pack, or Ben Carson. People who think the pyramids were used for storing grain — it defies logic and common sense.
It’s insane when you turn on ‘Meet the Press,’ and you see Donald Trump phoning in, and you’re like, ‘What planet did I just land on? Where’s Tim Russert when you need him to just say, like, ‘f–k this’?”
Bernie or Hillary?
I’m pretty Bernie at the moment. He’s the only one that I feel like is being honest with everybody. Some of his policies I’m not crazy about, or think he wouldn’t be able to achieve. And Hillary feels like she’s just always all pistons firing, and she’s very well groomed for this… so, I guess… Rubio! No. Clearly it’s going to be Ted Cruz. [Laughs] No.
As with every election, it’s the lesser of two evils, or the evil of two lessers, actually.