Actor Josh Lucas has led an unusually peripatetic life.
By the time he was a teenager, he had lived in 30 cities.
As an in-demand Hollywood star, he has worked all over the world.
Thursday night, the star of “Sweet Home Alabama” and this year’s NBC drama “The Firm” is coming back to the place where he first put down roots: Gig Harbor. He will be screening the popular Australian film “Red Dog” at the Gig Harbor Film Festival starting at 5:30 p.m.
“Gig Harbor was the first place we settled down,” Lucas recalled during a phone interview from the Virginia set of his latest film, “Wish You Well,” based on a David Baldacci novel.
“It was quite a different place,” Lucas said of Gig Harbor in the early 1980s. “We lived out on Forest Beach, which was a very beautiful place by Arletta. It was a time of nature. I would ride my bike to school. I slept outside at one point for a year straight as a goal … me and my dog … even in the rain.”
The rain took some getting used to when Lucas’ parents, anti-nuclear activists, moved their family to Puget Sound from Charleston, S.C., in the early 1980s.
“The weather was the first thing that stood out for me,” Lucas said. “I was enraged by the weather.”
Lucas recalled watching a tally on the front page of The News Tribune that tracked rainy days. “By the end, it was 72 straight days of precipitation,” he said. But after a few years, he became enamored with the beauty of Puget Sound.
Lucas’ father, Donald Maurer, went on to be an emergency room doctor and director at Tacoma General Hospital and Allenmore Hospital. His parents divorced 10 years ago.
It was as a freshman at Gig Harbor High School that Lucas became interested in acting. There was a mingling of drama, debate and sport at the school, which appealed to his hybrid interests.
“I was consciously attempting to be an enigma – to attempt to fall in between the cracks between all those clichéd stereotypes of the cliques in high school.” Lucas said.
Shortly after high school, he moved to Los Angeles to begin his professional career. Soon he was cast in a starring role in a TV movie of the week opposite veteran actor George C. Scott.
Scott was a terror on set, Lucas said. But at 19 and full of bravado, Lucas stood up to him. Scott just winked at Lucas and soon the elder actor took Lucas under his wing. After the production was over, Scott told Lucas to head to New York City to hone his craft.
Lucas took the advice and, “I got my ass kicked by New York theater for seven years.” Lucas was speaking metaphorically – with one exception.
The night before Lucas was to appear as Judas in an off-Broadway production of Terrence McNally’s controversial “Corpus Christi,” he was mugged and beaten with a baseball bat after leaving a party. He was left with a broken nose, cuts and two black eyes.
“I was more upset that I wasn’t going to be able to go on stage the next day,” he said. “It was my first big break in New York theater.”
After much pleading, the producers allowed him to play the part in bandages. Audiences just thought he was in makeup. Critics thought his black eyes didn’t look real. “I got some good reviews, but some of the bad reviews I got said my makeup looked too fake,” Lucas recalled, laughing.
Lucas’s career was steady in the 1990s, with TV appearances and small roles in films such as “A Beautiful Mind,” “American Psycho” and “The Deep End.” But it wasn’t until he starred opposite Reese Witherspoon in the 2002 romantic comedy “Sweet Home Alabama” that he became a star.
“Without a doubt, it was ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ that changed everything for me,” he said.
In the ensuing 10 years, Lucas has had his share of hits and misses. The success of “Alabama” was tempered by 2006’s “Poseidon” – a box office flop in which he starred. He has learned not get too down or too up with the vagaries of Hollywood.
“A movie like ‘Poseidon’ was terribly damaging to my career because it didn’t perform well at the box office,” Lucas said.
When a movie flops, the blame often falls on the star – deserved or not. “Then suddenly you go off all of those lists and you have to work your way back on,” Lucas said.
“Red Dog,” the film that will be shown Thursday night, was made in Australian’s mining territory in 2010. Lucas had previously worked and lived Down Under while making the Australian TV drama “Snowy River” and the 2005 action film “Stealth.” He got the part in “Red Dog” when an actor backed out at the last minute.
“So often this job is just magical mistakes,” Lucas said. “I got a call on a Friday night: Can I get on a plane to Australia the next day?”
The film tells the true story of a stray kelpie that worked its way into the hearts of a small mining community in Australia’s Outback. The dog had a profound effect on the town’s inhabitants through his quirky behavior and a now-legendary loyalty.
The movie has gone on to become Australia’s eighth-highest-grossing film of all time.
“It’s bizarre what’s happened in Australia since that movie. It’s like ‘Avatar,’” Lucas said. The dog used in the film, Koko, has become a star in his own right, Lucas said. He’s even followed by paparazzi.
“I’m not nearly as famous as Koko,” Lucas said.
Ironically, Koko hated acting, Lucas said.
“He would do every take perfectly once and then he would quit,” he said. “He would run to his cage. He refused to come back to set.”
Dogs have always had a special significance for Lucas.
“That is part of my love of ‘Red Dog.’ Without a doubt, my relationships with dogs have been as important as my relationships with any of my friends or family,” he said. “Dogs have changed my life over and over.”
Lucas met his wife, Jessica, while they were walking their dogs in New York’s Thompson Square Park.
“It was a wonderful cliché,” he said. “We were pretty much together from the moment we met.” Their son, Noah, was born in June.
Lucas is looking forward to spending time with family members and friends when he returns to Gig Harbor this week. A sister lives in Seattle and his mother lives on Vashon Island. But he’s also excited to show “Red Dog” in the place where he grew up.
“When you get to bring a film like ‘Red Dog’ to an audience – that’s the most fun of the job.”