Over the past several years, Jack Huston has portrayed a disfigured WWI vet, a Depression-era vampire, a Hemingway character, an Oscar Wilde character, a young Jack Kerouac and a 1960s rocker. In this fall’s “American Hustle,” he’ll appear among David O. Russell’s cast of unsavory late-’70s con men and Feds, shortly before heading to London’s West End to perform in “Strangers on a Train.”
Huston has a theory for his ability to jump freely throughout such diverse historical periods: “I seem to have a mustache in most of my roles,” he notes. “In my everyday life, it’s interesting walking around with a mustache for about three quarters of the year — I must just seem like I’m from a lost age.”
An alternate theory: The 30-year-old grandson of John Huston is simply one of the most dependable young character actors of his particular generation, capable of investing even small roles with a great degree of attention and sensitivity. A graduate of Britain’s Hurtwood House drama school (where classmates included Emily Blunt and Tom Mison), Huston first drew Stateside attention as Richard Harrow on “Boardwalk Empire,” which opened him up to a whole range of juicy parts.
“I certainly consider myself a character actor, because I don’t think I’m very good at playing myself, and I like the process of creating a character,” he says. “That’s what draws me in to a project, a grey area where I think I can put my spin on it.”
Appropriately, Huston describes a rigorous approach to research. For his part as a 22-year-old Kerouac in “Kill Your Darlings,” Huston read the Beat figurehead’s entire oeuvre, as well as a number of biographies, always stopping before his literary career was discussed. (“Because he wasn’t ‘Jack Kerouac’ as we know him at that point, he was just a young guy trying to find his voice.”) For David Chase’s “Not Fade Away,” Huston actually learned how to play guitar, and still shows up for regular jam sessions with his old castmates at Steve Van Zandt’s rehearsal studio.
Which must have made it all the more challenging to adapt to Russell’s approach for “American Hustle,” wherein Huston was called upon to continually improvise with only skeletal ideas of how his character would eventually develop.
“It really was a charged shoot, and it’s a very ambitious movie,” he says. “My audition was entirely improvised. You don’t know where the camera is going to be, so you’re always on. David is talking to you throughout. And you never know what’s going to make it into the movie and what’s not — I just hope I make the cut.”