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Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon dive into 1950s in ‘Indignation’

Logan Lerman (from left), Sarah Gadon and Tracy Letts star in director James Schamus' "Indignation."

For Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon, getting into the clothes, cars and overall settings created by the production designers of “Indignation” (opening Friday) really helped them find the characters they portray in the movie.

“On top of that, we really isolated ourselves in a bit of a little bubble and lived in our own intimate world outside of New York while filming,” says Gadon (“Cosmopolis”), who plays Olivia Hutton, a beautiful but troubled college student who becomes romantically involved with Lerman’s Marcus Messner in 1951.

“I think that isolation we experienced during filming was actually a good thing,” Gadon says. “I found that it made it easier for me to adopt the mores of the period and better focus on the attitudes that people had back then.”

In “Indignation,” based on the Philip Roth novel, Marcus is a brilliant Newark, New Jersey, kid, the son of conservative Jewish parents who’s grown up working part-time in his father’s kosher butcher shop. He receives a scholarship to a small, prestigious Ohio college, which propels him into a world far different from what he’s ever experienced.

Logan Lerman in “Indignation.” | Roadside Attractions
Logan Lerman in “Indignation.” | Roadside Attractions

Though clearly up to the rigorous academics, Marcus’ life is turned upside-down when he falls in love with Olivia and in the process locks horns with the college’s dean, played by Steppenwolf ensemble member and acclaimed actor and playwright Tracy Letts.

For Gadon, her character’s emotional and mental health issues made her realize how differently they would be treated had Olivia lived in the early 21st century, as opposed to the middle of the last century.

“We know so much more today,” Gadon says. “Back then, if you had any struggles with any kind of mental health challenges, you were shipped off to a mental institution. That’s kind of shocking, as a young woman today, to wrap your head around.

“The idea of treating depression or deep anxiety — or anything like that you couldn’t easily cope with — you would be institutionalized. It is easy to see how Olivia became kind of trapped and had this decline.”

Lerman (“Fury”) says the intense, argumentative scenes he had with Letts and Linda Emond (who plays his mother, herself struggling with a crumbling marriage) “were the greatest — and toughest — parts of making this movie for me.

“One of the most intriguing aspects of the script — after I first read it — was the realization that I immediately knew I had to do it,” he says. “Then, 15 minutes later, I was flooded with anxiety and stress, wondering how in the world I would begin to start tackling the material as an actor. To be honest, over the course of the next six months, I had several moments where I was calling my agent, saying, ‘We need to come up with some excuse to get me out of this because I won’t be able to do it.’

“Fortunately, I stuck with it, and that didn’t happen.”

Gadon and Lerman both nod at hearing the acting adage: To become a better actor, you need to take on roles that scare you because you think you might not be able to do them.

Sarah Gadon in “Indignation.” | Roadside Attractions
Sarah Gadon in “Indignation.” | Roadside Attractions

“That’s true,” Lerman says. “That anxiety pumps up the adrenaline for sure. It certainly was the case in this film for me.”

The costumes in “Indignation” were designed to match the clothes of the early 1950s.

“I’ll always remember those very pointy bras,” Gadon says with a laugh. “But I also have to add that, as conservative as that time period was both politically and philosophically, the silhouette of women’s fashions was very sexy and alluring. The clothes truly showcased a very specific, hourglass figure.”

Lerman sees “such a universality” to the movie.

“I think anyone who understands the difficulty of fitting in will relate to this movie,” he says. “It also clearly makes the point that, as much as you try as a parent to mold your children, there are so many factors they are exposed to that you cannot control.

“I know many people will get that.”