Justin Theroux is known for many things. He’s the star of the HBO series, The Leftovers. He’s also a screenwriter whose works include Iron Man 2, Rock of Ages and Tropic Thunder, which he cowrote with actor Ben Stiller. And after their wedding earlier this year, many people know him as the man who married actress Jennifer Aniston.
Theroux may soon be known for something else as well: having dyslexia and succeeding because of it.
Theroux has mentioned his dyslexia before. But on October 14, he opened up about his early struggles with dyslexia in an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air radio program.
Theroux’s family includes many writers. His mother, Phyllis, is a journalist and author. The well-known travel writer Paul Theroux is his uncle.
Theroux struggled with dyslexia, which made reading difficult for him. Speaking to Gross, he described his early years in school as “just torture.” He called his inability to read “humiliating.”
“I had a series of bad experiences at schools, just not being able to do the work,” explained Theroux, who grew up in Washington, DC. “The first time I was ever called on to read I just could not. I was called on the first or second day of this public school to read. And I remember looking down at the piece of paper that I was supposed to read. And the first word was ‘the,’ which I could read because it’s the first three letters of my last name. But I couldn’t read a single other word.”
“It was like just looking at Greek,” he continued. “I made up a bellyache excuse and went down to the nurse and was like, ‘I gotta get out of here. This is not going to work out.’ I remember calling my mom, being like, ‘I gotta go. We gotta get out of here. This is terrible.’”
According to Theroux, switching to a private school turned things around for him. “I ended up catching up on a lot of my education in high school,” he told Gross. After graduating, he went on to Vermont’s Bennington College, where he earned a double major in visual arts and drama.
Theroux has worked hard to build a career in acting and screenwriting. He appeared in Mulholland Drive, American Psycho, Duplex and other movies. The friendship he developed with Stiller during the filming of Duplex led them to team up and cowrite Tropic Thunder.
The actor says he’s still not much of a reader. “I read things in real time … as if it is being spoken,” he told Gross. “I can’t skim stuff in ways that I know certain people can.”
But he says his dyslexia has helped him succeed. “Whatever deficiencies I’ve had have ended up serving me in writing screenplays,” he told Gross. “In a weird way, I don’t think I could write novels or long essays like some of my family members.”
But his talents are just right for screenwriting. “I don’t have to write these dense paragraphs of what people are thinking or feeling,” he told Gross. “I can basically just mimic people on paper and write dialogue.”
Theroux’s wife, Jennifer Aniston, shared her own struggles with dyslexia publicly early this year. Currently the pair is cowriting the upcoming sequel, Zoolander 2. It’s scheduled for release on February 12, 2016.
Learn about other celebrities with learning and thinking differences like dyslexia.
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