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How Logan Lerman worked up the nerve to sock Brad Pitt

Logan Lerman talks about punching out Brad Pitt and other stories he can't tell from 'Fury'

In the brutal World War II action movie "Fury," Logan Lerman plays a raw draftee thrown into battle, enduring a 24-hour crucible of death and destruction. "It's basically one steady nervous breakdown," Lerman, 22, said of his character's hellish journey. "That's what I loved about it. For an actor my age, there aren't a lot of opportunities out there to challenge yourself like this."

The wiry, attentive Lerman — best known for starring in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and the "Percy Jackson" movies — talked about those challenges, which included, among many things, repeatedly punching costar Brad Pitt in the face.

This strikes me as one of those roles you're excited to get ... for about five minutes.

[Laughs.] And then it changes to, "Uh-oh. Now I have to do this." It was stressful, just staying in this world, living out in the woods and shooting a war movie for five months.

And it began, as these affairs often do, with a boot camp. I've always wondered if they're as tough as actors make them out to be.

I wondered that too. But in our case, it was just the five of us — Brad [Pitt], Shia [LaBeouf], Michael [Peña], Jon [Bernthal] and myself. It wasn't like a platoon, so we were never able to hide.

What did you want to hide from?

The crazy, long obstacle course with the barbed wire. The daily 4:50 in the morning inspection where if one person's bed wasn't right, they'd flip everything over and you'd have to clean it up in five minutes or face the crazy, long obstacle course with the barbed wire. Our advisors working us all day, then not letting us sleep at night. Fighting. Lots of fighting.

What kind of fighting?

Sparring. You learn a lot about somebody when you hit them in the face for the first time. It turned into a battle of egos. Who's top dog? Who's the most dominant male?

And the winner was ...?

Jon Bernthal had the most experience and is the best fighter. At the end of the day, no one [messed] with Jon.

Give me an example of how all this proved useful.

It's a condensed version of boot camp. They break you apart emotionally and then build you back up as a family. So we'd be in our tents at night, talking, sharing, getting to know each other.

You became a unit. And that comes across on film.

Yeah. But you asked for an example. There's that scene early on where Brad Pitt [playing the unit's tough leader] hands me the gun and tells me to execute the German prisoner. And I refuse. And we get into it. That's when all the sparring kicked in. Once you've punched someone in the face, you really feel comfortable punching someone in the face. You've broken the barrier.

You can do anything to them ...

Jon Bernthal put his tongue in my ear in one scene. Nasty stuff. But again, no boundaries. So in that scene with Brad, I just egged him on. I was saying horrible things to him beforehand just to piss him off. Personal, horrible things, things I learned from those nights in our tents during boot camp.

So you built that trust and then you'd use it against each other when the time was right?

[Laughs.] It was for the greater good. "I know your deepest, darkest secrets, and I will use that knowledge when I have to."

Sounds like another excuse for a face-punching.

There are a ton of stories about the making of this movie that I probably can't tell for another 15 years. I have to wait for enough time to pass to be able to tell them honestly and with the great detail they deserve.

glenn.whipp@latimes.com

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