Justin Theroux was originally going to direct Zoolander 2. The co-writer and co-star of the sequel was attached to the director’s chair for a while, but due to scheduling conflicts with HBO’s The Leftovers, he had to step down. But the actor remained very much involved in the project, as he worked on the script for years, visited the set, and, of course, reprised his role as the infamous Evil DJ.

Below, read our Justin Theroux interview.

Theroux co-wrote Zoolander 2 with Ben StillerNicholas Stoller, and John Hamburg. Stiller and the actor/writer have collaborated in the past, as the pair worked on the script for Tropic Thunder together. With this sequel, they return to male model idiots Derek Zoolander (Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson).

Here’s what Justin Theroux had to say about working on the film, how the project evolved over the years, The Leftovers, and more:

The film goes to some unexpected places. When it comes to the third act reveal, was that always envisioned from the start? 

We had a long period of gestation for writing this script, so we had a lot of time to marinate on it. I don’t think any of us had a set idea of “here’s what the movie has to do.” We struck the idea early of this Da Vinci Code-esque riddle in Europe [laughs], and Derek and Hansel having to figure it out was one of the ideas that just made us laugh: two of the stupidest men having to figure out an overly complicated plot.

Sometimes the plot is what points you in the direction of where you’re supposed to go, and the characters do that as well. We just kind of went for it. [Laughs.] If you boil the first movie down, it’s the wacky retelling of The Manchurian Candidate. You have the assassination plot and the brainwashing. Here, it’s these two guys, pop stars, the fountain of youth and… it made us laugh.

You have been working on Zoolander 2 for a while now. Were there ever any significant story changes?

It evolved a lot. We wanted there to be a good reason to make a sequel, not just to because of, “Oh yeah, people want a sequel. Let’s just give them what they want.” We wanted to really have something good to hang on it, and also create new characters to speak to the time they haven’t been in fashion. We got to write Kristen Wiig‘s character, create Kyle Mooney‘s Don Atari character, representing the moronic, hipster, absurd type. Lots of things changed while we were writing, and for the better. We always try to beat our jokes.

How much research did you and your co-writers do? Do you really dive deep into the world of fashion?

It’s like anecdotal research. There are lots of dribs and drabs of pop culture references, from tattooing to social media to Kyle’s character. It’s not research in the traditional sense, like, “What would they be wearing?” It’s more of, “What are they wearing? Can they wear more of it at the same time?” We want to go over-the-top without exploding it. It’s more this kind of ear to the ground research, as opposed to studied research.

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