You’re shooting season two right now?

Yeah, we have a big location shift. It’s nice to be out in Big Sky Country. We moved to Texas.

What can you tell us about what’s coming up?

We’ve decided to pull up stumps and leave Mapleton and there’s a new place called Jarden, Texas. I guess the teaser does reveal that there have been zero departures in that part of the world. So I guess infer what you will. Things are looking up.

Will it be a very different show this season?

I think it will be very different. Of course, it’s still Damon (creator Damon Lindelof), so it’s still going to be charging hard at the core of a lot of psychological drama and angst. Just because they go somewhere else geographically doesn’t mean, necessarily, that things get better, but they do change in a really interesting way. It’s exciting. It’s the same thing as last year, where every script, you’re like, “Wow. This is really taking a turn, for better or worse.”

With your writing background, are you going to pitch in and write for the show?

I don’t do what Damon does at all, nor could I. I’m better at writing comedy, so whenever I get one of his scripts it looks like a magic trick to me. I just think, “Oh my God. How did he do this?” I’m so trusting of him because he’s such a fabulous writer, that usually when I read the scripts he’s worked them so hard that I have nothing that I could possibly add, you know, except for doing damage.

Justin Theroux in The Leftovers
“Just because they go somewhere else geographically doesn’t mean, necessarily, that things get better,” Theroux says of the upcoming season 2 of The Leftovers
Photograph by Paul Schiraldi

People think they know about your relationship because your personal life is tabloid news–how do you handle that?

It’s almost like you have this avatar running around in the world who’s the most dramatic person on the planet, and everything is going right or wrong for that avatar, and you can either pay a lot of attention and get really frustrated, or you can sit back and laugh and have a chuckle, you know, as you pass the magazine stand in the airport and go “Oh, I didn’t know that was happening,” which is, I think the better way to deal with it.

You recently said in an interview that working on a cop procedural show in your early career was crushing.

It was a very different time, and it was a network show in a very different format. So you know, it felt like you’re always kind of working towards a commercial, and you’re always trying to come back from a commercial, which is not the best way to make television. It’s sort of like, we all hate pop-up ads on our phones, or computers. When you’re wanting to delve into something, it’s the one thing that cable television lets you achieve, in a way where you can have long form. There are no defined chapters. There are scenes, but everything’s not bookended by a Chevy commercial. I learned a lot, actually–a fabulous education as far as just working day after day with a camera, but it can also force you into some very bad habits when you’re working that hard for that long for something you don’t feel that you love.

Your Leftovers costar Amy Brenneman has said it’s really rare to see a male lead showing as much raw vulnerability as you do and balancing it with masculinity. Does it come naturally to you to be that open?

I wouldn’t say any more naturally than anyone else. I think in life we’re vulnerable, or human beings are vulnerable, or men are vulnerable. I think it’s just a question, you know, choosing when you let that mask slip off, which I think all men do, they just usually don’t do it in front of people. But the situations that we’re put in on our show demand it. He’s lost his wife, he’s missing a son who he loves. So I think obviously our cameras are inside my house, my car, places where you go to have a little weep when things aren’t going right, and then balanced when he’s out there being a cop, where you have to throw an elbow. But I like to think of all people as vulnerable.

You‘ve often played character roles, rather than a handsome lead – was that a deliberate choice?

It was never really deliberate. It was more I’ve been lucky or unlucky enough to always gravitate towards material that I thought was interesting. One of my favorite things to play, is a sort of confident stupid man. You know? Your confident, stupid guy. In roles like Wanderlust, or like The Baxter. Guys who are incredibly confident, maybe narcissistic, and incredibly stupid. It’s something I find very funny–being on the forward foot and being dumb, because it just lends itself to great comedy. I think it’s much more fun to hide behind something– a pair of glasses and a mustache, and you know, a wig or something.

You used to paint murals for a living, do you still paint or draw?

Yeah. I’ve recently started keeping a sketchbook again, due to the encouragement of my friends, and it’s been really lovely. Actually, here in Austin, we’ve put together a little craft day, me and some of the cast, and so we all get together and do the craft of our choice. A crafty afternoon. It’s nice.

You’ve also become something of a fashion icon.

Really? That’s news to me. I like clothes. I’ve always just considered myself a New Yorker, you know. The people I know and hang out with dress similarly, so I don’t think I have anything out of the ordinary, you know, walking down Houston. I love New York street style. Guys and girls in New York know how to dress, and I just think it’s super cool, you know.