Max Thieriot On House At The End Of The Street, Bates Motel, And The Perks Of The Family Business
Max Thieriot began his career opposite Twilight's Kristen Stewart (in 2004's Catch That Kid), and this week he finds himself romancing Hunger Games' Katniss Everdeen herself, Jennifer Lawrence — albeit against the advice of her mother, the neighborhood, their classmates and, perhaps, insidious forces that linger in secrets and shadows in The House at the End of the Street.
In recent years the former child actor has navigated his way toward increasingly interesting projects (Atom Egoyan's Chloe, Nick Cassavetes' Yellow, the Toronto entry Disconnect, and the upcoming Bates Motel series on A&E) — and one thing that helped was making a conscious decision to live outside of Hollywood, as Thieriot told Movieline recently.
The 23-year-old actor, who made his biggest recent mark starring in Wes Craven's My Soul To Take, grew up in Northern California (where his family once owned the San Francisco Chronicle) and still lives there. "I always told myself that no matter what happened, how famous I became, I didn’t want to change the person that I am," Thieriot explains. He spoke about the challenges of revealing just enough information to the audience in House at the End of The Street, if he really is in a genre phase right now, what he's looking forward to in the Hitchcock-based Bates Motel, and the single best perk of growing up the scion of a newspaper family.
You live in Northern California – tell me about the decision to stay there instead of Los Angeles.
I moved to L.A. right after I finished high school, for three years, because everybody was telling me it was important to get down there, and then I kind of just decided for myself that I didn’t need to be there to be doing this. I wanted out of some of the chaos that comes with living here and being an actor. And I spend so much time away from home anyways, filming and stuff, that I might as well make home base somewhere I want to be.
I grew up swearing that I’d never move to L.A. and yet here I am.
L.A.’s fine! But I don’t know, I love Northern California.
Jennifer Lawrence describes you as an unconventional actor type – you spend time in your trailer listening to country music, not really concerned with typical showbiz stuff. Do you feel like your approach to the industry is drastically different from the norm?
I’d say so. Different from your typical actor, for sure. I don’t know – it’s just the way I was raised. As much as I appreciate acting and enjoy it, and like it, it wasn’t something where I grew up wanting to be a movie star. So when it happened I just took it as it came and always told myself that no matter what happened, how famous I became, whatever, I didn’t want to change the person that I am. That’s one of the reasons I still live in Northern California – it helps me stay grounded and to remember all those things.
That must be all the more important given that you started acting so young.
Exactly. But I definitely take it seriously.
Well, Jen Lawrence also compared you to Paul Newman, so you must.
[Laughs] I take it seriously, but at the same time I don’t let it get to me.
You’ve got House at the End of the Street coming out but your last mainstream film was horror film, My Soul To Take. Next you’ve got Bates Motel. What’s behind this run of genre fare, and what do you feel like is pulling you toward this material?
Honestly, I don’t even know. It’s funny, when I started acting I watched some horror films but I generally didn’t like the acting in them. I’d never thought about doing one, and then I did My Soul to Take and for that was like, well, if I’m going to do a horror film Wes Craven’s the guy to do it with. When this came along, to me it plays so much more as a thriller and not a horror film, and it’s a very different movie for the genre. The character was a character that I wanted to play, as opposed to just getting into this type of film.
It’s tricky to talk about because we don’t want to spoil anything, but even as the story goes on the script reveals more and more to the audience. How tricky was that line to walk as a performer, conscious of what information is in the viewer’s mind at any time?
It’s definitely hard to play because by the end of the film you hope that the audience goes, ok, and they look back at things that took place, or different expressions, and go, wow – got it! That’s why this happened. That’s why they made that face. It’s a tough line to walk as an actor to try and have that in scenes without giving away something.
You know too much.
You do. I know too much, but at the same time I want to show them something without having them notice that I’m showing it to them. It’s all about secrets, showing them a secret that they don’t even see until the end.
You started your career with Catch That Kid, which was also one of Kristen Stewart’s first films. How did being a child actor influence your later choices?
Well, Haley Joel Osment had some and Dakota Fanning had some roles that were very different and extremely challenging, but other than that the norm was these kind of normal sort of roles which to me weren’t that challenging. There wasn’t a whole lot of variety, you know? So once I got to an age where that started to change I made a decision to try and do a little bit of everything to not stay stuck in one category.
How old were you when you were first conscious of trying to mix it up?
17 or 18. And since then it seems like I keep doing all this horror thriller genre stuff but that’s just the stuff that’s been in the public’s eye the most, because I’ve done like three movies that are waiting to come out that are all so different. In this Nick Cassavetes film Yellow I have a Southern accent in Oklahoma in the late ‘80s selling drugs and I have all these tattoos, and I put on a bunch of weight and got all buff, and in Foreverland I play a guy who has cystic fibrosis. Disconnect, which was just at Toronto and Venice, I play an internet webcam stripper, so I got buff and lost a bunch of weight and got all shredded for that, the way I felt an internet webcam stripper should look. [Laughs] I’ve really been trying to mix it up a lot since My Soul To Take. And we filmed House at the End of the Street two years ago, and since then I’ve done four movies or something. I only recently considered doing television and this last year I did a pilot for ABC for Roland Emmerich, so I’m open to that now and that’s how this Bates Motel thing came up. Alfred Hitchcock is so iconic in this business and in general and it seemed like a great opportunity to be a part of something that’s a 10 episode show, on A&E, for great producers, with Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore who are great actors.
And yours is a new role we haven’t seen portrayed before – Norman Bates’ brother.
It’s exciting too because as cool and fun and challenging as it is to play a character who’s never been played, it’s also fun to play something like this in such an iconic film now turned into a prequel to a TV show, because he’s unknown. You kind of know what you’re getting with Norma and Norman, but Dylan is this unknown guy thrown into the mix.
Yeah, how messed up must that guy be?
We know he doesn’t make it to the house later, but what happens in between? But honestly, this has all happened in the past few days, since like Friday. [Laughs] That’s when it all became official. I met with the team via Skype about a week ago, and we talked and all of a sudden the deal was happening.
What was it like growing up with your family owning the San Francisco Chronicle, having such a history with institutions like that?
It was interesting – I grew up actually hating the fact that my family owned the newspaper, because I was teased a lot at school as being the rich kid whose family owned the newspaper. It was hard because it wasn’t like the Press-Democrat, it was the San Francisco Chronicle. As a kid it seems people used to tease people over anything, and it seems like such a stupid thing to get upset, to get bummed out over something like that, but when you’re little it was like that. So I was happy when we sold the company. Like, great – now people aren’t going to give me shit. But it’s definitely something I appreciate and find to be fascinating, and obviously I’m just born into it, but I look at the history of it all and how it came to be. My great-great-grandfather started the paper in 1865 or something, and when the 1906 earthquake happened he separated himself from the Hearst family who owned the Examiner, and when the earthquake happened he was the only person to release a paper that day. He started it by literally typing it at home and selling it on the street corner. His last name was De Young and he had like four daughters so now there are no more De Youngs that are direct descendants from him… it’s interesting and kind of funny, and my family’s been doing stuff in San Francisco forever. It was also neat as a kid because the company sponsored the local sports teams, like the 49ers.
I noticed from your Twitter feed that you’re a bit of a Niners fan.
I’m obsessive about the Niners! One of my buddies from Sonoma County just got signed by them this year, so I’m like, yes – now I get to go to some games. That was probably my favorite part as a kid – we sponsored them, and the Giants, and the Golden State Warriors, so we always had company tickets and I took full advantage of that as a kid.
There was a petition to get you cast in The Hunger Games as Finnick, which would have been a reunion with Jennifer Lawrence. How far did that actually get?
They had specific people and they wouldn’t let others audition, so I didn’t get a chance to audition or anything.
You’d think making out with Jen Lawrence for what seems like forever in House at the End of the Street would give you an edge of some sort.
You’d think! I can shoot a bow better than anyone in that movie. But I’m over that now.
I found a quote you gave in what must have been one of your first interviews, for Catch That Kid, in which you give the following sage advice: “Just be yourself and try not to be too over the top.”
Does that still apply?
Yeah! I think that’s still valid. Those are two very important pieces of advice for this industry. [Laughs]