Josh%20Hamilton.jpgNew York native Josh Hamilton has long been one of the most fun-to-watch actors working in independent film and downtown theater. Fans of Noah Baumbach’s 1995 film Kicking and Screaming remember him for his iconic performance as the anxiously intelligent Grover; he also created the role of Dennis in Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth and excelled as the coolly detached Mickey in the 2005 stage production of Hurlyburly. Hamilton can currently be seen starring in the film Outsourced and, starting October 22nd, the highly anticipated new play Things We Want, written by the preternaturally brilliant Jonathan Marc Sherman. (Read Sherman's recent Times profile here.)

Soon you'll be onstage again with The New Group in a dark comedy called Things We Want, directed by Ethan Hawke. What can you tell us about the play? Well it’s written by Jonathan Marc Sherman, who is one of my oldest friends. I met him doing his play Women and Wallace in the Young Playwrights Festival when I was about 18. I’ve done about 4 of his plays over the years and this is his first new play in a while. He and Ethan and I and some other friends of ours had a little theater company [Malaparte] when we were in our early twenties so this a professional reunion for us, of sorts.

And what is the play about – without giving away too much? It’s about three brothers living together and the different ways that people are honest and dishonest with themselves about what they really want in life.

Several of the people involved in the production have had a hand in Malaparte. Besides Jonathan, how did you meet the others? Well, in addition to meeting Jonathan during the Young Playwrights Festival, and there was another actor participating in the festival named Robert Sean Leonard. And he and I became friends. Right after we did those plays he went off to do Dead Poets Society and through him I met Ethan. And after the movie we all became friends back in the city. In our early twenties Ethan, Jonathan and I drove cross country together and during that trip we decided to start the theater company. So Malaparte went on for a few years and eventually kind of dispersed because none of us really wanted to do the day-to-day running of the theater company and we were all working on other stuff too. So it just became too much to maintain. And Peter Dinklage who is also in the play went to college with Jonathan and so they’ve been friends since that time as well. And so we’ve all just sort of grown up here in the city.

You've returned to work with some of the same people repeatedly over the years. What is it that makes the collaboration so fruitful? I think it’s really valuable to work with people you know and that youre comfortable with. I think theater companies can be really fertile places to work and since there aren’t many full repertory companies here in the city I personally feel it’s really nice to work with people with which I have a comfort level. I’m also excited about this production because it’s a combination of people that I’ve known for years and then some really exciting younger actors like Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan.

Can you articulate what it is about your relationship with Ethan and Jonathan that makes for such fruitful collaborations? Well, I suppose we’re all very different and I think that can tend to… Ethan’s very sort of pro-active and energetic and excitable and I’m a little bit more reserved and I think sometimes we bring out interesting things in each other because of that. It’s so funny; you don’t really think about it that way, these people that you end up knowing and being friends with and working with in your life. You don’t really think about why. Maybe from outside people see little patterns but when you’re inside, when it’s your life, you think oh, these are my friends and people I like to work with and oh look we’re doing it again, that’s great!

You did so most recently with Ethan in Coast of Utopia. How long did Coast of Utopia run? It was about ten months from rehearsal to the end in May.

On some days you would perform all three plays in the trilogy. That was the best.

Really? Yeah, it was because it really was one long play. They stand alone as one but there was nothing like doing them all in one day. The first time we did that I was like, “Oh, so that’s how it’s supposed to be done!” Because it really is one long play. And the audience on those days were just electric. And anyone who came on those days was prepared for an event and it certainly was an event. I love stuff like that; I love long, long immersive experiences like that. I’m the weird guy who goes to a nine hour Béla Tarr movie on a beautiful day.

What have you been up to since it closed? Well, to tell you the truth I had my first child toward the end of the run so I’ve been taking the summer off to be with my new baby and my family.

Congratulations! Thank you.

According to the Times, you have a pitch-perfect cameo in Broken English, which was just released. What other movies are in the pipeline? The next movie I have coming out is Outsourced, which I shot in India last year. It was an American production but we shot it in India. It’s about a manager of a call center which is moved to India and I have to train this Indian guy to take over my job basically.

How was shooting it in India? One of my favorite filmmaking experiences ever. I love to travel so to combine working and traveling at the same time is basically my idea of heaven. And I love Indian food.

And there’s a film about Neal Cassady that you’re in. Do you know when that’s going to be released? You know I actually don’t know the status of that; I haven’t talked to them in a while. But I hope it gets released because Tate Donovan who plays Cassady gives a really beautiful performance and a lot of really good actors are in it. I don’t know when it’s going to come out though; this is a weird time for film distribution.

Why is that? I think the whole industry is very uncertain about hos films are going to be making money and how people are going to be watching films; whether it’s in their houses or on their ipods. And I think there’s a lot of uncertainty about how to market films and how to make money on them and I think it’s made everyone in the distribution business scared to acquire and distribute interesting films.

Can you please share with us an audition horror story? An audition horror story? God, most of them… I’m going to think about that and get back to you.

Is there any part that you really wanted only to watch them "go in a different direction" with the casting? [Laughs] Again, most of them. It’s funny, I got to read with a lot of actors who were auditioning for Things We Want. And it was interesting because so many actors came in and gave such beautiful auditions and their reasons for not being cast had nothing to do with how they did or they’re acting in general. There were just sort of these intangible things about how they worked with other people in the rest of the cast. And it was very enlightening to watch that process because whenever you audition and you don’t get something – which is most of the time of course – you walk out thinking, “Oh I blew it, I can’t act! Everyone is better than me!” And it was very heartening to see all these actors doing these beautiful auditions and then at the end of the day talking about them with the casting people and it had nothing to do with how they did as actors, it was about how they worked with this person or how they might not fit in with the cast.

What's the performance you're most satisfied with so far? That’s a hard question for me. I’m pretty hard on myself.

Least dissatisfied? Yes, that’s a better way to put it. You mean on stage or on film?

Stage. Well, the interesting thing about stage is that you don’t have to watch yourself. So I’ve always found that the nights where I think, “I did really well tonight!” – those are the nights people walk right by you after the show and don’t say anything. And the nights where you’re going, “Oh, God, I’m terrible. Terrible night! I don’t know what I’m doing! I’m in my head!” Those are the nights where people tell you, “Wow! That was great!” I think often when you’re satisfied and feel good about yourself it’s a bad sign because it means you’re watching yourself and commenting on what you’re doing as you’re doing it, which invariably means you’re out of the moment. Some of my favorite experiences on stage I would say have been This Is Our Youth, Kenneth Lonergan’s play. Hurlyburly was a highlight.

I thought your performance in Hurlyburly was so brilliant. Oh, thank you.

I went back and watched the film again after seeing the play because I wanted to take that ride again with those characters and I just found myself wishing I was watching the New Group production, even though I love the actors in the film individually. Well, I think one thing about the film was that they tried to open it up a little bit by taking it out of the apartment. And I think something that was so nice about that play and really effective is that it gets very claustrophobic in that living room after three hours. I think that’s how it should feel and I think maybe the film does a disservice to that a little by taking it outside.

Yeah, it does dissipate things a bit. Did Sean Penn or Kevin Spacey or anyone come and see the play? Penn did, I don’t think Spacey did. Or if he did he didn’t come backstage.

But you talked with Penn afterward I assume. Did he seem to like it? Yeah, he was great. He’s really good friends with David Rabe [the playwright] so he came on a night when we all went out. He liked it. Of course, he’s a brilliant actor so maybe he was just acting like he liked it.

Was that your first time working with Wallace Shawn? Yes, it was. That was one of my favorite things about it because he’s been a personal hero of mine for years and to get to work with him and know him is something I was just thrilled about. I loved working with him. A lot of actors who, if they hit a line and see it get the laugh or something, they’ll do it the same way every night. And Wally is the exact opposite; if he thinks something is getting to set or safe or it gets a big laugh he’ll do it completely differently just to keep it fresh.

Is he working on a new play? He’s always writing something but I don’t know exactly what he’s doing right now.

Any interesting stories about working with him you can share? One of the first times I sat down with Wally I was asking where he got his news because I really admire his politics and I was asking him what he read. And he said that he read The Gaurdian and The Nation. And I said, “Oh, you know I used to have a subscription to The Nation but I had to cancel it because I was so angry all the time!” And he said, “Yes that’s true but that’s no excuse not to read it.” And for opening night he gave everyone in the show a subscription to The Nation for a year.

That’s really cool. I think by far the most eloquent and perceptive thing said before the Iraq war started was Wallace Shawn’s essay in The Nation. I agree. He’s a great old-fashioned lefty. He’s become my political godfather.

Yeah, I’m a huge admirer of his work. Me too. I feel like people don’t really know what to make of him sometimes in the critical world here. And I’m so happy he exists.

Do you place a special emphasis on finding physical idiosyncrasies with your characters? For instance in Diggers there's a scene where Cons is making these really elaborate little cracker sandwiches. Was that in the script or did you come up with that? That was just something I did so I would have something to do during the scene. On the one or two times that I’ve smoked pot I’ve tended to get very elaborately hungry to I thought it would be a good idea to make those elaborate little snacks.

How do you get around town these days? I used to ride a bicycle but now I ride a scooter more often.

What neighborhood do you live in? The West Village.

If you had to move what neighborhood would you like to relocate to? I don’t know. I used to live in Brooklyn and I miss that. I lived in Cobble Hill.

In an article in New York Magazine you outed yourself as "a don't ask don't tell" vegetarian. Since I'm asking, can you tell us for how long and why? I’ve been a vegetarian since a pretty young age. I tried a few times in my late teens and early twenties but I was really bad about it and realized I’d gone for a month and only eaten pizza. I think it was in my late twenties that I really became vegetarian and I guess just because I really like animals and don’t like eating them that much.

What’s your favorite vegetarian restaurant? Well the one I eat at the most is that vegetarian sandwhich place called ‘sNice. I eat a lot of Indian food too. There’s a place I’ve been ordering from a lot called Lassi which is on Greenwich Avenue.

What's you idea of a perfect recreational afternoon in the city? I would say going for a bike ride with my girlfriend and a movie at Film Forum and then a snack at Ino on Bedford, around the corner from Film Forum.

How about your wildest "only in New York" story? I’ve lived here for a while. When I was in junior high school I intercepted a big drug deal. I’ve always had this weird thing where I find drugs on the street; I think I just look down a lot. This one time I think I was in sixth grade and I was walking home from my junior high school on 17th street. And I noticed these shady guys putting one bag into another bag and then putting it into a garbage can in a kind of weird way. So I watched them do that and then go into a corner store. My friend and I then opened the garbage can and discovered that it was a big paper bag filled with ounces of pot. We stuffed it into my knapsack and ran down into the subway and looked at what we had. And I mean it as a lot of pot. I wasn’t a big smoker then but we kept our junior high school high for the whole year. That could probably happen in a lot of places other than New York but that was a very New York experience for me. The guys were literally two doors away in a store for one second and I always kind of felt bad about how much trouble they must have gotten into. That’s typical me: I do shit like that and then worry about the drug dealers.