James Badge Dale trusts his instincts in ‘Lone Ranger,’ ‘World War Z’
Over the past few years, James Badge Dale has quietly and effectively become one of the most versatile young actors working today.
He was brilliantly sleazy as Michael Fassbender’s womanizing boss in Steve McQueen’s 2011 drama “Shame.” Last fall, he stole a brief but memorable scene from under the nose of Denzel Washington as a gaunt, cynical hospital patient dying of cancer in “Flight.”
And this summer, he’s demonstrating his skillfulness as Guy Pearce’s ruthless henchman in “Iron Man 3,” as the no-nonsense U.S. Army Ranger stationed in Korea who falls victim to zombies in “World War Z,” and as the strong, silent and tough Texas Ranger Dan Reid, older brother of the lawyer (Armie Hammer) who becomes the titular character in Gore Verbinski’s “The Lone Ranger,” which opens Wednesday.
“I like to work,” Dale said, in something of an understatement.
With his blue eyes, warm smile and winning personality, Dale was charmingly boyish in a recent interview at a conference room at the Walt Disney studio in Burbank. The New Yorker was in town for the premiere of “The Lone Ranger” at California Adventure on Sunday. Though he’s still reeling over the fact that he’s just turned 35, Dale could pass for 25.
Dale had a brief stint as a child actor, appearing as the ill-fated Simon in the 1990 remake of “Lord of the Flies.” But he soon opted out of acting when he became obsessed with hockey. After he was injured in the rink in college, Dale ventured back into performing, bringing the same commitment, passion and discipline he developed on the ice.
Though Dale has had starring roles in the 2010 Emmy Award-winning HBO series “The Pacific” and the short-lived AMC 2010 series “Rubicon,” he likes to search for smaller, pivotal parts that speak to him.
“I read a lot of scripts,” said Dale, who is the son of actor/choreographer/dancer/director Grover Dale and the late Broadway star Anita Morris, who won a Tony Award in 1982 for the musical “Nine.”
“I have always tried to trust my instincts,” he explained. “Early on, when I was in my 20s, I was passing on auditions. Everyone said I was crazy. But I didn’t understand the parts. I am not someone who believes that every actor should be able to do everything. There are characters that I read and I find myself gravitating toward.”
He said he approaches each role with a “full-blown” intensity.
“Part of my job is to take risks,” Dale said. “Steve McQueen hammered me on that on ‘Shame.’ He said, ‘Don’t ever play it safe. Never walk away from a set feeling you didn’t take a chance, you didn’t take a risk.”’
He had to fight for the role in “Flight” because director Robert Zemeckis had envisioned the character as someone in his late teens.
“I just think I had something to say with that role,” Dale said. “Bob took a chance on me.”
“World War Z” director Marc Forster described Dale in an email interview as a “chameleon, an incredibly versatile actor who brings originality and truth to all of his performances. He had specific ideas [for the character] which I liked and thought were great choices.”
Verbinski said Dale nailed Dan Reid at the audition.
“I remember him coming in and reading and saying, ‘That’s the guy.’ I am not sure what he does for his other parts, but he was committed to the role of this kind of classic American Texas Ranger. If he had a day off, you could find Badge at the local pool hall, sipping on a beer and playing pool with the locals.”
Dale, who had never ridden a horse before, embraced the cowboy boot camp the actors went to on set in Albuquerque. In fact, he said he created his concept for Dan during his six weeks there, learning to be a man of the west.
“Hanging out on a horse all day changes the way you walk,” Dale said. “When you hang out with guys who work with horses all day, you see their mannerisms. I started to find the character through them.”
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