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.”
I heard a rumor that on set, you and the zombies danced “Thriller.”
“That is true, that is true. I don’t know who has the video of it, but these zombies were all dancers—they choreographed all these crazy moves. It’s 2, 3 in the morning and I don’t know what copyright rules I’m breaking, but I was like, “You guys. We’ve gotta dance to ‘Thriller.’ We’ve gotta do it, we’ve gotta do it, man.”
Learning “Thriller” is a life skill.
“Mine was a little rough because I’m pulling from my 8-year-memory. Do you remember the first time you saw “Thriller”? I was scared. I ran behind the couch.”
You were a bit of a coward.
“Wow. Alright. Fair enough. It’s okay—I’m an actor, I’m allowed to be oversensitive.”
Is there still talk of a World War Z sequel?
“Was there ever talk?”
There was a couple months ago.
“You could, absolutely. Especially with the source material, which is such a large, rich world. I’d love to see more of it. Unfortunately, my character’s not going to be around for it.”
Before Iron Man came out, how hard was it to keep the secret about this version of Mandarin?
“That was tough, because I loved that. I loved that character. I actually got misquoted and out of context to the point where I thought, ‘Ooooh—that sounds like I gave it away.’ That’s not what I was saying, man! But I loved it. Ben’s performance—Sir Ben’s performance—is, maybe just because I’m an actor, but I just think it’s the coolest villain I’ve ever seen, man. C’mon, Trevor.”
And your character, the henchman Savin, looked terrifying when he turned bright red. What was it like to see yourself that way on screen?
“It was odd because I didn’t know that was what they were going to do. They would come up to me and Shane [Black] would say, ‘I have these ideas, Badge. There’s gonna be things happening. Flashes.’ And he would go, ‘Can you twitch? Add a little twitch in there?’ And then I saw it and I was like, ‘Whoa. That looks cool.’ It really looked cool. Those guys are so good at creating these visual effects. It was a really cool part of the character.”
People aren’t totally sure if your 24 character, Chase, is dead. If a 24 movie happens, are you interested?
“Chase never died! I’ve never heard that! Who said that? Chase is dead? No! Chase is 100 pounds overweight and living in a trailer in Valencia with one hand.”
That would be a great excuse to gain 100 pounds.
“I’d love it. Chase is a character I messed up on. If I got a second chance, I’d do it. I was young, I just struggled with him. I really struggled with him. I was 25 years old, man. I was a child—I was a pup. Oh, Chase! I kept messing up. I felt like I could do nothing right. When it came down to the point where Chase needed to be competent at his job, he was always bad at his job.”
I think that gives him a richness.
“You know what? He’s human. He’s human and he has faults. I have a lot of love for him, Chase.”
The Grey wasn’t a huge box office performer when it came out, but over the rest of the year, a lot of critics put it on their Top Ten lists and it build a lot of traction and respect. Were you surprised by the legs it’s had?
“No, because I love that story and I love that script, and I trust in Joe Carnahan. And Liam [Neeson] obviously poured his heart and soul into that performance. I can’t tell you how much I love that script. I didn’t beg Joe, but I came right about to the begging point of, “Joe, what do I gotta do to be in this?” I put every character in the film on tape for Joe. And then the character of Lewendon, who bites it, I was like, “Joe, lemme come do it.” And he brought me up and I spent a month in the snow with those guys. We had the best time shooting that film—that dark, messed-up, gritty story—just the best time. Because it meant something, it meant something to all of us. And we had a lot of good dinners. You’re in the middle of two feet of freezing snow in the middle of nowhere of British Columbia!”
I’m picturing big bowls of chili?
“Chili, wine—I don’t think they had chili up there, man? We were eating moose. I saw a moose one day. All the guys were up there and they were shooting without me because I was already dead. But every day that they would go up to shoot, I would do these long runs in the snow. Two feet of snow. I’d put my sweats on and run in the middle of nowhere. And I just turned and there’s a female moose 20 feet away. We just stopped and stared at each other. Moose are dangerous animals. They kill more people in North America than any other animal—mostly from car crashes, though. But they’re still dangerous!”
You’re shooting a movie about killer wolves and here you are alone with a deadlier animal.
“The great irony of the movie! And here I am with the real danger. I’m in the middle of nowhere, nobody knows where I am, I have no cellphone, no nothing, and I’m facing off with a moose. We look at each other. And we look at each other. And then the moose just goes back to eating the berries. That’s another moment that a New York City kid can take and hold on to. The time I narrowly escaped the rabid moose eating the cranberry bush.”
- For more, read Amy’s interview with Armie Hammer for The Lone Ranger.
The Lone Ranger arrives in theaters on July 3rd, 2013.