Justin Theroux talks "The Girl on the Train" and writing the presidential election

Justin Theroux attends the New York premiere of “The Girl On The Train” on October 4, 2016 in New York City.

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Justin Theroux likes a good, juicy drama as much as the next actor-turned-screenwriter, but the 2016 election might be too much for him. 

The “Girl on the Train” star tells CBS News that despite his talents, he doesn’t think he’d be able to do the showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton justice as a writer. 

Suppose you were going to write something about the presidential election.

Oh God, I couldn’t write it. Did you see that thing in The New Yorker? Someone did studio notes for the election, really funny. That cracked me up. God, who knows? The f**king debates. I mean, who knows? It’s going to be painful no matter how you slice it, but even the way they’re covering it, it’s the Super Bowl meets… it should be on pay-per-view now.

It seems to be a very human impulse, presented by Emily Blunt’s character, Rachel, to constructs lives people just through seeing them twice a day. You just start connecting dots in your head.

I think humans do that, you know. I know when I ride the subway, you glance at  the person across from you and you think, “Oh, I know what that person’s like” and, “That’s a student and they’re probably studying art” and, “And their boyfriend’s probably s**tty.” You can’t help but do that. And I don’t know why we do that, I guess it’s a way of trying to make sense. Or, in Rachel’s case, a way of fantasizing herself out of her own misery or depression or whatever you want to call it.

Being an accomplished screenwriter, does that color the way you look at scripts you’re sent?

It does, I think in a positive way. I know firsthand how much work has usually gone into a screenplay, so if there’s something that rings false or a line that I would think would need a tweak or something, I will think long and hard before I even recommend changing it. In that sense, I’m very faithful to the scripts that I get -- if they’re good scripts. 

I’ve been on sets with my own material and I’ve seen people kind of go, “I’m not going to say this or this but I will say this. That’s funny, why don’t we lose this?” You just kind of grip your temples and go, “I’ve been thinking about this for three years and you’ve had it a week so, you know, let’s try it this way first.” I think it’s a bad habit for an actor to change scripts because that’s not your job. You’re not a writer, necessarily -- although there are some actors that are good at it. 

That’s one of my favorite actor cliches: “I don’t think my character would say that.”

“Well, I wrote the character.” Sometimes they have a point. Occasionally, if they’re a good actor they will spot something that you didn’t know -- you’re like “oh yeah that’s a hole.” But usually you’ve caught those holes before they’ve even gotten it. 

There’s been this talk about how all the good adult dramas are going to television, so much so that this seems like a rare exception. Having worked in both, does it seem that way to you?

To me, it’s all about what your appetite is. Certain people want to binge-watch stuff and they want 10 solid hours of whatever, not realizing that writing 10 hours of quality television is a exhausting experience. Writing an hour and a half is a warm hug compared to writing 10 hours of television. I think it’s really just do you want something you can consume in a couple hours and have a satisfying beginning, middle and end story? Or do you want something that’s going to be serialized in a way that you can keep returning to and have the comfort of every Sunday night. They’re just two different things -- watercolors and oils, you know? And neither is better or worse.

What about from an acting perspective? There are obviously different considerations.

I’ve loved doing “The Leftovers” and I’ve loved doing that character, but I credit fully the writers and the creatives on that show for me loving it, not because I’m doing anything particularly special. They created a great story and they created a great character for me, and I’m grateful for that. That being said, the other side of that coin is when you’re on one that is not well-written, you want to kill yourself because you’re locked in for as many years as they want you, essentially. So in that sense, movies are great because the commitment is usually a maximum of three to four months. You’re in, you’re out, the character’s done and dusted and you can move on to the next. 

Look at the movies Emily’s done. She’s been an action hero, she’s been a singing baker’s wife, she’s going to be Mary Poppins -- all within a span of five years, you know? And in the same five years, I’ve been Kevin Garvey -- which I’m grateful for and love, but it was so great to get this.