With a scene-stealing villainous role in Iron Man 3, a heroic stint in World War Z and a key role in The Lone Ranger, actor James Badge Dale has come a long way since co-starring alongside Kiefer Sutherland in the second season of 24.
In Disney’s Old West epic, Dale plays the rugged lawman Dan Reid, and Amy Nicholson had the chance to speak with him about his barrage of recent high profile roles while also reflecting on Iron Man 3, The Grey and 24.
Your character, Dan Reid, is the law of the town and the John McClane of the Wild West—a real badass hero. But in this world, being a hero isn’t enough.
“I think being a badass hero doesn’t quite work out in real life. What I liked about this character is he’s gotta be different. The two brothers are very different. John Reid (Armie Hammer), before he’s the Lone Ranger has very clear ideas of what is right, what is wrong, and what is justice. Yet here’s me, the older brother, who’s been around a bit and he’s got different ideas. Things aren’t as simple. My life isn’t that simple. We’re not perfect people and it’s always great for an actor to get to play around with imperfect characters.”
You’re also pretty mean to Armie—
“It’s all love! C’mon, it’s older brother love!”
I’m an only child so maybe that’s why it seems mean.
“So am I.”
Still, Armie Hammer is basically the world’s most perfect human being—he’s tall, handsome, smart, charming. It must have been awesome to get to insult him.
“It was a lot of fun. And Armie is such a great guy, and I love him as an actor. We had a lot of fun just slinging it back and forth with each other—and it’s great when he’s gotta take it. You can see it in him when he’s sitting there, silently going, ‘Argh! I want to! Argh! I can’t—it’s not in the script!'”
You seem a lot more southern in person than I was expecting given that you’re from New York.
“I feel like I’m talking about the movie so much that I’m starting to slide back into it. But my family is from the south, originally—my mother is from Durham, North Carolina.”
Did you have any western skills when you showed up on set?
“Zero, man! None! I live in New York City! Let me switch back into my New York mode [puts on a tough, city accent] I rode the subway every day—you think I could ride a horse?”
They do ride a horse on a train in the movie. Not much different.
“Given what we’ve seen, yes. I could do that. But I’m not doing it. I got my Metro card, I’m fine with that.”
Stunt work with a horse seems way harder than regular stunts. It’s not just doing the thing, it’s getting an animal to go along with it.
“It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of time because this animal can feel if you’re not comfortable. And if you’re not comfortable, he’s not going to listen. If you’re comfortable and relaxed, somehow you guys start to earn each other’s respect. That’s the trick because it’s a big animal, and it can hurt people. It can hurt other people—not only yourself. You need to be able to trust me that I’m not going to lose control of my horse and hurt someone who’s standing 20, 30 feet away. Horses, man. I had to throw away a couple pairs of jeans because the horse smell is not coming out of my clothes. There’s clothes that I wore when I was in Albuquerque for four months that all went into the incinerator because I was walking around New York City and people were like, ‘What is that smell?!'”
New Yorkers aren’t used to the smell of nature.
“It’s true. We have different smells in New York: trash in the summer.”
You’ve had three big movies in theaters in just over two months. What’s going on with James Badge Dale and the zeitgeist?
“If anyone ever says, ‘This is your moment—you’ve made it,’ the first thing I think of is that it’s all downhill from here. I don’t want to think of it that way. I don’t want to think of it as a moment. It’s an odd thing for me because my experience is doing the films. For me, that was the moment.”
How were the three sets different?
“Other than zombies, cowboys, and grown men in robot suits? In their similarities, all three were huge productions with strong directors and kind of iconic—kind of? No, iconic—actors. Lone Ranger was amazing because it’s right there and you’re feeling it. You’re dirty. Me and Armie are sleeping in Monument Valley in our travelers lighting bonfires at night.”
Sounds like method acting.
“That’s a whole other conversation! Then Iron Man, you’ve gotta learn how to have fun and play and work with things that aren’t there. After every camera set-up in the scene where I’m fighting Iron Man, they removed the stunt guy who was in the Iron Man costume and I had to do the entire fight scene—choreography and dialogue—by myself. It’s kind of like you’re Edward Norton in Fight Club where he’s beating himself up in his boss’ office, only you’re doing this over and over and over again. I’m breaking new ground here! And then World War Z, what can I say—there’s zombies.”