He’s played a time-bending teen, a moody marine, and a conflicted cowboy. Now he’s saving lives in the action-thriller Source Code. No wonder your girlfriend can’t quit him.
Did you ever imagine that the entire world would be able to pronounce your last name?
That was always the goal. When your name has that many letters and syllables, the only choice you have is to go into public life.
Is there anyone who still gets it wrong, like telemarketers?
They just sort of mumble it, like, “Hello, Mr. Blahblahblah,” as if their phone went through a bad patch. But there’s an odd mangling of the name pretty much on a daily basis.
Tell us about Source Code. It’s a tough one to explain.
Yeah, I’m going to try to only make movies that are inexplicable, so people have to go see them. It really helps ticket sales. But, really, Source Code is a weird amalgamation of genres. Ultimately it’s a story about someone who is unconscious becoming conscious of his life.
Part of the plot involves a train blowing up. Did shooting the movie make you wary of railroad travel?
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with train travel, because when I was a kid I had a horrible nightmare on a train. So maybe Source Code was a way for me to resolve some of those issues I had as a five-year-old.
Your Source Code character is in the military, but it’s a very different role than the one you played in Jarhead.
Jarhead was full-on immersion into the world of the Marines, and in this case my character is
a helicopter pilot in the Army. That’s also a fascinating subject to learn about, but definitely different. Jarhead involved, like, a month of boot camp.
Do you get marines coming up to you to talk about Jarhead?
All the time, and they have differing opinions. They say things like, “That part was bullshit, but I liked the movie.” One guy came up to me recently and said, “My friend enlisted because of that movie.” I feel like everybody involved in Jarhead would have different opinions about encouraging someone to enlist.
You probably also get geeks coming up to you to talk about Donnie Darko. Are you a fan?
Are you kidding me? I’m prouder of Donnie Darko than almost any other movie I’ve made, and I happen to be proud of a lot of them. Watching it is a rite of passage, it seems, at certain times in people’s lives.
What do people say about it?
Someone will come up to me and say, “Hey, man, I watched Donnie Darko,” and I’m like, “Oh, that’s awesome, man.” Then they’re like, “No, man, I watched Donnie Darko.”
What exactly does that mean?
I have no fucking clue! Apparently people are having a good time watching Donnie Darko. I don't want to know.
You must get some pretty strong responses about Brokeback Mountain as well.
I’ve had people say stuff to me—stuff like, “Brokeback Mountain changed my life”—and then I’ve had people come up to me and say, “I’d never see that movie.” What I find amazing is some audiences’ inability to separate characters from the actors who play them.
So you don’t go to Mexico anymore? Is that what you mean?
[Laughs] I don’t even know how to answer that. The truth is, when my character goes to Mexico and picks up that dude in the alleyway, it’s actually the cinematographer.
Wait. So director Ang Lee was just like, “We need a creepy- looking Latino guy. Hey, you!”
Yes, that’s exactly what happened. I had to do, like, 15 takes. I couldn’t hold my shit together ’cause it was Rodrigo.
When you put on plaid, do you think about your character? Do you think about my character?
Uh, no? Do you have buddies who are like, “I’m not gonna go camping with you anymore!”? Oh, man. This interview is really going south...not that far south!
Do people make The Day After Tomorrow jokes to you whenever there’s a really big snowstorm?
No. But I do feel like we’re starting to live in that movie. It’s scary how prophetic Roland Emmerich was.
Did you experiment with Viagra to get into your role in Love and Other Drugs?
What’s it like being on all those “Hottest Bachelor” and “50 Most Beautiful” lists?
People don’t realize what a rigorous testing process it is to even be considered for those lists. Those who make it really have been through a great deal.
Like you and 1986 Ted Danson.
Yes! Really, it’s an honor and the barometer for everything in my career and why I make choices I make. And I’m totally aware that there’s no irony in print.
Every woman, from our girlfriends to our sisters to our moms, is in love with you. What’s your secret?
It’s all about getting on a “Sexiest Man” list. If you can work that out, then I think you’re pretty much golden. No, you should read Maxim; that’s where I get it. And always be a gentleman.
You’ve dated some beautiful and talented women—Kirsten Dunst, Natalie Portman, Taylor Swift, Reese Witherspoon. Which of them would make the best Maxim cover?
Uh, I got nothing for you there.
Fine. What was the worst hangover you’ve ever had?
It unfortunately involved a night of mixing red wine and vodka. Not advised. Stay away.
Finally, what do you wish you could tell your 18-year-old self?
I’d say, “Lighten up, dude. Bubble Boy is a lot better than everybody says it is.”