For years, James Badge Dale has been playing a tough guy in TV and film, racking up credits on 24, The Pacific, World War Z, Iron Man 3 and The Walk–for which we spoke to him last fall. But with Michael Bay’s Battle of Benghazi drama 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, this stellar supporting player steps up into a lead role with the bravado and badass-ness of Die Hard‘s John McClane.
We’re calling it: James Badge Dale will be the next charismatic character actor to inspire the kind of furious fandom that Oscar Isaac has seen in the wake of Ex Machina and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And Screen Rant had the chance to tell him so in Miami, where we discussed what it was like to play a rogue cop in Benghazi, what making the movie meant to Dale, why pressure appeals to him, and the mind-bending magic behind one of 13 Hours craziest shots.
In 13 Hours, you basically play like a rogue cop, like John McClane or Axel Foley, but, like, in Benghazi.
James Badge Dale: [laughs]
No, because you have lines like: “You’re in my world now!” and stuff like that. Was there any line in particular that made you really excited to do this script, your part particularly?
James Badge Dale: I never look at it like that. It’s so funny. I think some actors get into it like that. I’ve never been someone to count lines, look at it that way. I look at the overall story. I will say there was a scene I was very excited to do, and that was the rooftop scene with John Krasinski, and the themes of that scene, the ideas of: “What do I do if I go home? I’m not ready to go home. I don’t know how to exist in that world. This is the only thing I know how to do.” And to listen to John say, “I’m ready to transition back to that world. Why am I here? I don’t want to die here and my kids go, ‘Why was he there?’” That, to me, those words were very important.
It’s a really great scene, but it’s so funny because you are so good at…I’ve seen you do a bunch of great supporting characters. But in this it’s like you really get to be a badass. And it seems like you really reveled in that experience.
James Badge Dale: [laughs] That’s a dangerous way to think about it. If you are going in as an actor going, “I’m going to be the badass today,” you are probably not going to be the badass. You gotta twist it around a little bit.
I mean, also, you were playing a real person. So is there an additional pressure in performing something like that?
James Badge Dale: Yeah. It was a massive pressure. But I like pressure. Pressure is good. I think pressure when you work is good. It forces you to take risks and to do other things. All I can hope is that I gave Tyrone Woods the respect that he deserves.
There’s one big action shot in particular where you are in slow motion and it’s very moving and it’s a very pivotal moment for your character. I don’t want to give away too many details. But I’m curious. Does Michael tell you when you are shooting in slow motion or is that something you learn later?
James Badge Dale: No. One of the best things you can do with Michael is learn what the shot is, because he’s a genius at camera movements. He’s a genius at lighting and the things that he does. But you’ve got to be smart enough to figure out what the frame is, what the shot is.
This is a good one. OK. You talked about the slow motion one. There was one point we were using a drone. The drone…how would this work? It would be that you…the shot would start here and you would get closer. And you are doing it in slow motion. But the thing is, you can’t time that together. So what you have to do is actually…He had me start here and the drone was right above head, and the drone shoots straight up in the air and I’m running backwards. So I just slow motion run backwards and turn into firing. What you’ll actually see in the film is firing, turn, and running forward, and then we meet like this.
OK. So when people watch this they’re going to be blown away. That’s insane.
James Badge Dale: It’s beautiful! But to watch Michael come up with that in that moment, he just sat there and was like, “How are we going to do this?” And he just looks at me and goes, “Badge, can you run backwards? Can we do…?” And we just came up with it in the moment and it worked, and it worked beautifully. And I love working with Michael because I love working with excited directors. And when something works there is a big smile on that man’s face. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.
That’s amazing. I’m calling it right now. I think you are going to be the next charismatic character actor to really blow up. Oscar Isaac should watch his back.
James Badge Dale: [laughs]
I’m really curious what you have coming up next.
James Badge Dale: Poor Oscar.
Not Poor Oscar. He’s doing fine.
James Badge Dale: No, I love Oscar! Believe me! Have you seen Ex Machina? Come on, man. That’s one of my favorite movies.
It was my #2 of the year.
James Badge Dale: Really? Yeah. Wait, what was the question?
What do you have coming up next? I basically was just being like, “This is outstanding.” I feel like you are on the rise…
James Badge Dale: Thanks. Keep telling me that. Pat my back, please. We’ve got a movie coming out later this year called Spectral with Max Martini.
Yeah. I saw that.
James Badge Dale: He’s one of my favorite people in the world. He’s a funny guy.
He’s very lovely. We met and he told me he’s afraid of elevators.
James Badge Dale: He’s afraid of a lot of things, actually. He’s really like this tough guy, tough guy…
He skydives, though!
James Badge Dale: Yeah, he does. In tuxedos.
That I did not know.
James Badge Dale: Look it up. It’s online. He skydives in a tuxedo.
Just for funsies?
James Badge Dale: Yeah. I think that’s a normal Saturday for him.
OK. I’ve never done formalwear and skydived, or skydived period, but…
James Badge Dale: He does a lot of formalwear.
So what’s the movie you are doing with him? What’s it about?
James Badge Dale: It’s called Spectral. It’s a sci-fi film. It’s directed by this guy named Nick Matthew, who is another evil mad genius. We’re really excited for it. It’s going to be a cool movie. We did it with Legendary and Universal. Other than that, I’ve been taking a break. This film…I’ve been working a lot lately. After this film I said, “I’m going to sit down. I’m going to take a break. I’ve got to lose all the weight that I gained.” Then we’ll go back at it next year.
I predict next year is going to be big for you. I’m really excited to see what you do next.
James Badge Dale: That’s a very kind prediction.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is now playing in theaters.