Terrence Malick’s sprawling 1998 war drama “The Thin Red Line” features an ensemble cast that includes the likes of Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, George Clooney, Woody Harrelson, Adrien Brody, and more. Justin Theroux intended to be a member of the ensemble, but he bombed the casting process in what he recently told Variety was one of the “worst” auditions of his career. To his credit, Theroux arrived to audition for “The Thin Red Line” without any script or lines of dialogue. All Theroux knew about the project was it was a Terrence Malick war movie. Any additional specifics, including what war, were not disclosed.
“I go into the room, and it’s the casting director and a couple chairs,” Theroux said. “She’s like, ‘Get behind a chair and pretend like you’re in a foxhole or something, like smoking a cigarette.’ And they’re filming it. They’re just like, ‘Get behind the chair and pretend you’re in a battle.’”
Theroux decided to tip over the chair and pretend to pull out pins from a grenade, “I don’t know what war we’re fighting. I don’t even know what the movie is about. It’s a war movie, that’s all I know. It’s like telling a painter to paint the house without giving them brushes. I don’t know. I need words to say. So that was a particular humiliation.”
Malick passed on Theroux for “The Thin Red Line,” but it’s not like landing the role would’ve guaranteed Theroux any screen time. The filmmaker infamously re-shaped “The Thin Red Line” in the editing room, creating a vastly different project than what was written in the screenplay. Adrien Brody’s role, one of the main characters in the screenplay, was almost entirely removed for the theatrical cut. Brody believed his role carried the movie while filming, but it wasn’t until he watched the film at the premiere that he realized he was sidelined and only ended up with two lines of dialogue.
“The Thin Red Line” went on to pick up seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Theroux’s latest project, meanwhile, is the leading role in the new Apple TV+ drama “The Mosquito Coast.”