Damon Lindelof and Justin Theroux collaborated on three seasons of HBO’s “The Leftovers,” but that was not the first opportunity they had to work with each other. In a new Esquire cover story, Lindelof revealed that his casting list for “Lost” main character Jack Shepard had Theroux’s name on it. When contacted about “Lost,” Theroux apparently told Lindelof he wasn’t interested. Little did Theroux or Lindelof know at the time that “Lost” would go on to become one of the defining network dramas of the 21st century. Ultimately, Matthew Fox was cast as Jack and played the character for all six seasons.
“Justin looking and sounding the way that he does, instantly the town decides, ‘We’re going to groom this guy to be the star of a Marvel movie,’” Lindelof told Esquire. “There’s a reason that you look at his filmography and there aren’t 25 movies and TV shows that he’s worked on. It isn’t for a lack of opportunity. It’s because he’s very selective about what he chooses to do. When we were casting ‘Lost,’ he was definitely on the Jack list. He wasn’t interested.”
Lindelof kept his eye on Theroux after the actor passed on “Lost” and was startled to find Theroux co-wrote Ben Stiller’s Oscar-nominated Hollywood satire “Tropic Thunder.” “Oh my God, Justin Theroux’s a comedy writer?” Lindelof thought.
By the time Lindelof was developing “The Leftovers” for HBO, he had reservations about casting Theroux because, he thought, “That guy is way too good-looking to pull it off.” But when Theroux read for the role, Lindelof said he realized, “This guy is a very, very, very good actor, in spite of his good looks.”
“The Leftovers” would emerge as one of the most critically acclaimed TV shows of the decade, but it wasn’t without at least one instance where Lindelof had to apologize to Theroux. The pilot episode of the series included a scene where Theroux’s bulge is on full display as his character runs in grey sweatpants. The scene launched many memes, to the point where even Lindelof started making it a running joke on the series. Lindelof even included a scene in Season 3 where Theroux’s character must use a penis scanner to enter a building.
“At the time, I just thought it was so funny that in a business and a culture that is constantly objectifying women, they were objectifying Justin. Now, in 2021, I look back and it feels pretty yucky,” Lindelof said, adding that he apologized to Theroux. “Justin and I were friends — are friends — but I was also his boss. It was my job to protect him instead of saying, ‘Look at how funny it is that everybody is talking about your dick.'”
“It didn’t feel great. I don’t want it to happen again,” Theroux told Esquire. “But I wasn’t traumatized by it. Look, I’m not saying objectification doesn’t happen to men — of course it does. But there’s a kind of scrutiny that’s placed on women that isn’t placed on men. I have no idea what it feels like to have someone sell naked photos of me online. That kind of violation, I mean, I don’t know if I’d get over it. And it’s happened to women since forever. I think I have more sympathy for them than for myself.”