Owen Teague

In all of his scenes in You Hurt My Feelings, yes, even the ones with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Owen Teague manages to steal the show. His character, Elliott, is an aspiring playwright who’s insecure about his writing, working by day at a dispensary, and things are less than stellar with his girlfriend. Teague renders this character, who has every opportunity to be unlikable, into someone that you’d actually enjoy hanging out with. Yes, he’s being a brat about the food in his parent’s fridge – but also, don’t you kind of want to listen to him whine a little longer?

You Hurt My Feelings is a quietly funny film, so it only makes sense that Owen Teague is quietly funny himself. He joins our call and begins to share such a charming perspective on acting and the people that he gets to work alongside and on telling white lies. I can see why he was approached by the director to take on the role of charming, though wayward, son of Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tobias Menzies. He had me giggling the whole time, and I don’t know if I’d consider myself much of a giggler.

Beyond this film, Teague has a lot of exciting projects on the horizon – Eileen (the Moshfegh adaptation of the same name) and of course, his major role in the Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. It seems like it’s just a matter of time before he becomes a household name.

In conversation with 1883 Magazine, Owen Teague talks about his love for the director Nicole Holofcener, receiving compliments from his parents, and how shooting mo-cap brought him back to what he loved about acting in the first place.



I loved You Hurt My Feelings. It is such a freaking cute movie. I really wanted to talk to you largely because of Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Of course. 


So what initially drew you to the role of Elliott?

Well, Nicole [Holofcener] and I had known each other from Mrs. Fletcher, which we did a few years ago. It’s not a show that a lot of people saw but it was a really, really good show. It stars Kathryn Hahn and it follows her rediscovering life as a mom whose son has just gone off to college and I play her friend/love interest. But it was really fun to do that with Nicole. And so when she sent me this script when they were putting it together and was like, ‘Do you like it?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I love it. Absolutely.’ She’s like, ‘Do you want to do it? ‘And I was like, ‘100%. Anything that she asks me to do, I would be there in a heartbeat because she’s just so fun, and she’s such a good collaborator. It’s really like getting together with your friend and making a movie. And of course, the cast is incredible too. Nicole told me that she had Julia playing the role of Beth, and Tobias is playing Don. And you know I’d grown up watching Julia so that was really cool. I mean, of course, I wanted to do it. 

The subject of the script too – the main themes and ideas are really easy to connect to as an actor or as anybody who makes something or cares about what they do. I think it’s a movie that kind of gets you right where it hurts a little bit. In a good way.


Yeah, I think obviously that’s something that as a creative person you can relate to – that feeling of wanting feedback but also really not wanting feedback [laughs]. But even if you’re not in a creative field, you’ve definitely told white lies to people before to spare their feelings. That’s such a universal experience. 

Yeah, totally!  


The dialogue in this film was incredible. The conversations are hilariously real. Could you tell me a little bit about your initial response to reading the script?

I mean, I thought it was hilarious. Nicole is kind of a master of comedy. I noticed this with Fletcher as well as in this movie where they’re comedies that are simultaneously extremely funny and also really depressing [laughs]. All of her comedy is so true, that it’s both funny and very sad. That’s what I mean when I say this movie kind of hits [places hand over heart]. With creative people especially but it touches everyone. When I saw it with an audience everyone was howling. I was laughing while reading the script alone in my house, which rarely happens because I don’t really laugh out loud at things unless… well, unless it’s Nicole writing it. But I was leaving the movie theater and my parents had come and they said that it was a great film. And then you think to yourself, ‘Oh, really?’ [laughs] So it gets under your skin a little bit.


I bet! Now you’re second guessing every compliment. 

Everything! I mean, I wasn’t before… but…


That’s so funny. Did you pull from your own relationship with your parents at all when filming? 



They’re always telling you that you’re such a talented actor? 

Well, I’m lucky because I feel like my parents are actually very honest. So you know if I do work that’s not great I like to think that they would tell me. And they have. But to some degree, there is also that thing of like, parents thinking that their child is extraordinary. Whether or not they actually are. I used to do all these things as a little kid – I was constantly drawing, I was a really good musician – and then I kind of let all that just slip. And so now, my mom will say, ‘Oh, you’re such a good artist’ or whatever and there’s this kind of guilt… ‘well, not really’ [laughs].

So it was quite easy to connect to the idea, whether or not it’s true, of maybe I am a great whatever or maybe Elliott is a great writer, but it’s the feeling that you have within yourself where you think that’s not true. And I know it’s not true. And I just want to hear the truth. Meaning you just want to hear somebody say ‘yeah, you’re actually not amazing’. 


So can you tell me the most recent white lie you’ve told someone?

[Appears lost in deep thought over a long pause]


Or is that between you and God? [laughs]

I’m trying to think… I mean, the thing is, I don’t want somebody to read this and go ‘Oh, wait, that’s me. What a jerk’.


[Laughing] Yep, I think that’s fair. 

But no, I’ve told people in the past, especially other people who are creative or have made something, and it’s really something that matters a lot to them. I’ll say Yeah, I loved it. And you don’t necessarily believe it, but also, it’s like, well, what do I know?


Has this experience made you rethink giving feedback to people?

I’m not sure it made me rethink it. I think it sort of simultaneously strengthened and also poked holes in my view that maybe a white lie isn’t so bad. Here’s an example… This might be a completely unrelated point of view or story, but I had dinner with some friends the other night and my friend was asking what was good on the menu. He was asking, Should I choose the salmon or should I choose this other dish? And the waiter was like, Well, I would definitely choose this other dish. My friend goes, I really shouldn’t choose the salmon? And the waiter was like, Well, I don’t like salmon. And my friend was like, Well, there you go. So, you know, my opinion could always be like, Well, I just don’t like salmon. But you might love salmon. So it might be for you. So I don’t know. I think it’s important to encourage people and to be supportive of someone who’s trying to make a creative thing. The worst thing you can do is say, Well, it sucks. And then they’ll never want to do it ever again.

That was a really long winded answer to your question.


No. I loved it. It’s all about showing, not telling. And you really painted a picture. You really showed. 

Nice, I’m glad!


Anyway, you’ve got a whole bunch of really exciting projects in the works right now. How does it feel to have so much going on with such stellar industry figures?  

It feels great. I mean, it’s fun. It’s very rewarding to get to work with people who are at the highest level because that sort of forces you to go up to where they are. Or at least makes you want to, whether or not you actually achieve that is a different matter. 

I’m lucky that I get to do it with those people. But then when it comes down to the actual doing of it, it’s so much about the work. Working with people at that level tends to be quite easy because obviously they’re extremely professional and also extremely experienced. Any other element of filmmaking or of acting or whatever, kind of falls away and it’s just like, ‘Okay, we’re here to make something really cool. Let’s do it’.


So what factors do you take into consideration when you’re choosing which projects to pursue?

Well, ever since doing Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, I feel like that was sort of a shift for me. Before that I was doing mostly really good stuff and got to be a part of really good projects and in good groups of people. But there was still this element of things being a career move, or more heavily considering the money. I was a little more calculated I guess. But now, the past couple months, there’s been some stuff that’s floated by and I’m just like, ‘Would I need to do this? No, maybe not. But I know it’ll be fun. And I know it’ll be a good time and there’s cool people involved. And hey, it’s gonna be nourishing creatively’. So now that’s really the only factor I take into consideration – is this going to be something where I grow and have a good time and get to play with a good team of people?


That sounds so rewarding.

It is. It’s nice. Of course, it may change in the future. It probably will. But it’s nice to experience these waves of creative luxury. It’s a weird industry and I feel like you kind of have to just take those moments when they come by because they’re so rare. I think Apes also kind of changed the way that I approached acting and working so now it’s more free, it feels freer now to me. It doesn’t feel like it’s so scary. You know, the act of putting stuff out there.



Well, it seems like you’ve hit such a landmark role in your career. You’ve already done something that’s spectacular and big. So I would imagine that takes some of the pressure off of you. At least that’s how I would feel. But then I’d also probably hold myself to that standard forever. 

Right. Well, I hope it’s spectacular. But I think where the switch came from for me was not the fact that I’m leading a studio movie. It was fundamentally about approaching the craft of acting in a completely different way than I ever had done before. Because I was playing an ape and it was both a performance in the typical acting realm, but also this thing where we had movement class with this guy, and I had a costume that I put on every day, which was not a physical piece of clothing, but it was a body, a form, and a different voice. It was a total reset for me. It reminded me why I started acting – why I started doing this when I was four-years-old – because it is fun and I love doing it. It reminded me that we’re just playing pretend and we’re really committed to it. And to just enjoy it.


So you’re in this dramedy, but you’ve also got a crime thriller coming up and a mystery too. You’re in Eileen, which I am very excited for by the way. 

Oh, I am too. I haven’t seen it yet. I hear it’s amazing. 


I can’t wait. I’ve heard great things also Is there a particular genre that you feel most at home with these days?

Not really. I don’t think I ever really feel at home [laughs]. I think it’s good if there’s some element of like, ‘this is terrifying’. I realized I just talked forever about how free, fun, and joyous it all is but also it can be very scary. I think it’s good if there’s a little bit of that like, ‘Oh, my God, what am I doing? I can’t do this’. 


Absolutely. I think that’s what drives you ultimately.

Yeah. So I don’t think there’s anywhere that I really feel at home, within, you know, I always feel like I’m starting from scratch.


Yeah, that makes sense. So is there anything you’d like to dig into further then, genre-wise, or any kinds of roles that you want to do more of?

I want to do more motion-capture. I hope that we get to keep going with the Planet of the Apes. I hope that happens. I don’t know if there are plans to but you know, it would be nice. Doing mo-cap really makes you look at things a little differently when you’re playing someone who’s completely different from you. The whole mo-cap thing is kind of acting distilled into its essential form and I really liked that. I would love to do more of that. Making You Hurt My Feelings with Nicole and all those folks was rewarding. I haven’t done a lot of comedy. That was really the first time I was doing something fun. 


And you were great. 

Thank you! 

So I’d love to do more of that as well. What I’d come from prior to shooting this was two incredibly, emotionally difficult films before [laughs]. One was To Leslie, and the other was Montana Story – one of which was about serious alcoholism and then the other of which is about my father in a coma. So I was like, ‘let’s do something happy” and while You Hurt My Feelings, maybe isn’t happy, it’s quite rejuvenating with its outlook on life. And so I’d love to do something like that again. And of course, you know, that group – working with any of them again, I would totally be into.



Stay up to date with Owen Teague @realoenteague

Interview Kendall Saretsky

Photography Andrea Fremiotti


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