Josh Hamilton is exhausted. He’s spent most of his waking hours the last three weeks at New York’s Lincoln Center, where he and other cast members of Eric Bogosian’s “Suburbia” are preparing for the play’s opening Sunday night.
“It’s one of the longest previews I’ve had,” says Hamilton, who’s looking a bit professorial today in his corduroy jacket and wool V-neck sweater as he relaxes on the lobby balcony of the Paramount Hotel off Times Square.
“But it’s been good because we’ve really made the play better. Everyone’s been able to say what they think and Eric’s been really good about taking it all in. In fact, he told [director] Bob Falls, ‘Treat me like a dead playwright.’ “
While Hamilton, 24, isn’t a veteran actor, he knows a thing or two about the stage. He began acting at age 13 and has a long list of theater credits, including “Life During Wartime” at the La Jolla Playhouse, and the lead in “Women and Wallace” at Playwrights Horizons — a role he reprised for PBS.
“I think, in a lot of ways, ‘Women and Wallace’ was my favorite thing that I’ve ever done,” he says. “It was great, just me and eight women! How often does that happen?”
This time out, Hamilton plays the leader of a group of five friends who, as they hang around a 7-Eleven in what could be Anytown U.S.A., tackle the issue of becoming adults.
“The play’s really about all these kids in suburbia and the ways in which they try to get out,” Hamilton explains, saying it isn’t an issue he ever faced. “I think the desire to grow up and leave home, to break away, is pretty strong — but when you grow up in New York, where do you go?”
For Hamilton, there’s always Hollywood. He made his film debut in 1993 in “Alive,” which was based on the story of an Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes. “It was pretty overwhelming for my first movie experience,” he said. “We’d take these helicopters up to this glacier and shoot for 16 hours a day. They had us on diets, we weren’t sleeping very much and we were at this altitude — after a while it became like a dream. The really amazing part was meeting the survivors. They all still live like a mile from each other. The character I play is now a doctor — he performs heart surgery on infants and deals with life and death on a daily basis. I think he’s running for president of Uruguay next year.”
His latest film is “With Honors,” in which he plays a Harvard student whose life is changed by a homeless man played by Joe Pesci. “They didn’t want to call it ‘With Honors’ because they thought people would think it was a military movie,” Hamilton recalls. “So we had sort of an on-going contest during the whole shoot to see who could come up with a better title. I came up with ‘Scent of a Bum.’ “
While “With Honors” is Hamilton’s fourth film, he admits that screen acting “is still a little bit of a mystery.”
It’s an enigma he’ll get to explore further, considering that for now, acting seems to be his life. He admits to an “unhealthy disinterest in sports” and spends a lot of time working with Ethan Hawke and Jonathan Mark Sherman in their theater company, Malaparte. The only real break Hamilton ever took was during a two-year stint at Brown University — which he left to become a full-time actor.
“I didn’t really regret quitting until I went to the graduation of my friends and watched their parents’ faces. I felt sort of bad that I wasn’t doing that,” he says.
Looking back, he’s pleased with the decision — most of the time. “The highs and lows are so extreme. Sometimes you think it’s the greatest thing in the world to do and other times it seems like a ridiculous joke. But I haven’t found anything else I love more.”