Dane DeHaan is one of our most gifted young actors, and even though he’s 27, the Leonardo DiCaprio-esque performer is able to inhabit teen characters like Andrew Detmer in Chronicle with intense authenticity.
His latest “high school kid” is Jason Glanton in The Place Beyond the Pines, an unconventional new drama from writer/director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine). Jason is the son of Ryan Gosling’s motorcycle bandit character, unaware of his dad’s fate 15 years prior, since his mother, played by Eva Mendes, has been keeping the secret from him all those years.
We sat down for an exclusive interview with DeHaan and discussed the nature of his latest character–we do go into somewhat spoiler territory a few times–as well as his future as yet another troubled youngster, Harry Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
ComingSoon.net: Your story and Ryan’s inhabit the same universe of rebellion as an S. E. Hinton book like “The Outsiders” or “Rumble Fish.” What is it about youthful alienation that speaks to you as an actor?
Dane DeHaan: I don’t know, but I think I understand Jason and the fact that he wants to be left alone, or I should probably say “thinks” that he wants to be left alone, and what it means to put up that kind of front. “Stay away from me.” What’s interesting is what’s underneath that, that he may look like he wants to be left alone but he probably doesn’t, he probably just wants somebody to break down that wall. That’s what AJ becomes to Jason, he’s someone who finds a way in and breaks down that wall.
CS: What’s interesting is the way Derek tells the story where he mode jerks from Ryan’s story to Bradley’s and then all of the sudden the focus is on you and Emory Cohen. It’s almost a trilogy within one film. Did you focus on the script holisitically or mainly on the third act?
DeHaan: At first I read the whole script. I always look at the whole script when I do my work, but ultimately it became throw away the first two-thirds and just focus on my stuff. Jason is completely unaware of the stuff that goes on in the first two-thirds of the movie. Ultimately it became about focusing on my third of the movie.
CS: Obviously you weren’t taking any cues from what Ryan was doing, but do you think Derek weaved some of that in?
DeHaan: I really don’t know if he did in any of that. I think he was pretty intentionally trying to keep it separate. Ryan left the day I got there. I didn’t want to watch any of Ryan’s footage, because again its about creating Jason’s reality for myself. To me Ryan is someone I’ve always looked up to in a mystical kind of way, I really have a lot of respect for him, so that kind of relationship I already had with Ryan.
CS: He has this weird shamanistic quality doesn’t he?
DeHaan: That relationship I already had with Ryan was not dissimilar to the relationship that Jason has with his father. That informed that relationship. He builds up his father as this perfect person who’s the key to his life. I’m not saying that’s what Ryan is to me, but I had a lot of respect for him, so much so that it was built up in my mind.
SPOILER WARNING: The next question and answer get into spoiler territory that may give away one of the film’s plot twists.
CS: There’s a point in the film where you start to enact vengeance for what Bradley Cooper did to your father. It’s actually a little difficult to grasp how Jason could go from ambivalence to righteous anger so swiftly.
DeHaan: I think Jason is someone who feels out of place and feels there is something deep down in his blood that is missing. He thinks that if he can find that out it will set him free. All of the sudden this burden he creates for himself, because he has a good father-figure [Mahershala Ali] and a good mother, but if he finds this skeleton key inside him it will unlock him and allow him to blaze his own trail, carve his own path. It will make him feel like he’s a part of something. When he finds out that that person he has built up inside himself and mysticized to fulfill all these expectations, when he finds out that person was murdered and wasn’t who he expects them to be it fills him with rage.
CS: The key line was when you put on Ryan’s glasses and the mechanic played by Ben Mendelsohn says, “You’re bringing him back.” It’s almost like his spirit is inhabiting you in a way. Is that part of how you interpreted it?
DeHaan: No, I mean when I filmed that scene I didn’t know those glasses were Ryan’s glasses. Robin took Jason to the trailer, I knew it was my dad’s trailer, I looked around and found the glasses and put them on. When I’m working I don’t think, “In this scene I want to evoke the spirit of my father.” I’m just gonna finally find out something about this guy, and what I find out is he seems kinda cool. The character I played in “In Treatment” was an adopted kid who was all about finding out who his birth parents were, and when he found out it was a disappointment for him too. I’m sure people have different experiences with it, but when there’s somebody who gave birth to you that’s being consciously withheld from you it’s not like, “You don’t know who your father is, but feel free to ask me questions about him.” It’s “you don’t know who he is and I’m not telling you anything about him whether you want to know or not.” To Jason it’s like, “Why not?” Probably because he’s awesome and would have changed my life.
CS: Derek is very unconventional in working with actors. On “Blue Valentine” he supposedly asked Ryan Gosling to try to sleep with Michelle Williams in real life. Did he send you on any interesting little errands to get into your character?
DeHaan: I built my bike for the movie. I built that bike myself. I learned tricks on the bike, I learned the motorcycle. I hung out with Emory. I spent time with my family as a family. All these things that Derek had a hand in, but it’s the same way I work too. I like the relationships in my life to mimic the onscreen relationships as much as possible. I like to create the reality as much as possible so I don’t have to pretend.
CS: There’s a tortured father/son dynamic in both “The Place Beyond the Pines” and “Chronicle,” but when it comes to Harry Osborn, how does privilege change the equation?
DeHaan: First of all, “Chronicle” was about a kid with an abusive father, “Place Beyond the Pines” is about a kid who doesn’t know who his father is, and they’re very different relationships. Obviously with Harry Osborn the privilege of it is another dynamic. The relationship Harry has with Norman is a different dynamic. Every son has a relationship with their father, whether that father is there or not, and that always has an effect on the person whether they admit it or not. There’s a lot of different ways those relationships are complicated.
CS: Is there a lot to be mined from this character that James Franco didn’t touch on?
DeHaan: I dunno, I mean Franco did his thing, I’ll do my thing.
CS: Do you think it’s relevant to be a fan of something, like a comic book property, in order to play a role?
DeHaan: I don’t think you have to be a fan of something to do the job. I think ultimately it’s important that I’m familiar with past takes on the Osborn story, more for like common, know-it-all ’cause it’s stuff I should know. My job as an actor is the same job, whether its a comic book movie or a gritty Derek Cianfrance drama, or a “Chronicle,” or a “Lawless,” which is to take a character and, for lack of better word, to breathe life into it. I’m a fan of acting!
CS: You really do have an intense resemblance to a young Mark Hamill. Would you have any interest in taking part in the big “Star Wars” sequels coming out?
DeHaan: My dad would really like that! My dad’s a really big “Star Wars” fan.
CS: Are you?
DeHaan: I’ve never really been a “Star Wars” fan, no.
CS: Is it something about the fantasy genre?
DeHaan: I dunno, maybe it’s ’cause my dad liked it so much. (laughs) I have no idea, it’s just never really been my thing. I’ve always gravitated towards comic book movies. I don’t read comic books, but I love the last Batman franchise, Sam Raimi’s second “Spider-Man” was pretty sick. The first “Iron Man” was really great, I couldn’t wait for “Captain America” to come out. Those are my guilty pleasure for sure.
The Place Beyond the Pines opens in select cities on Friday, March 29.