This piece originally appeared in print in So It Goes Issue.4, Autumn 2014.
You may not know it yet, but Dane DeHaan is a movie star. Leading man, can’t take your eyes off him, movie star. Rising to prominence with stand-out roles in sleeper sci-fi hit Chronicle and HBO’s In Treatment, the Pennsylvania born actor went on to steal scenes from Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf in the John Hillcoat prohibition era bootlegger film Lawless and out-Gosling Gosling in Derek Cianfrance’s gripping 2012 outing, The Place Beyond the Pines. Today, DeHaan is one of the most in-demand young actors working in Hollywood. Life, the Anton Corbijn film in which DeHaan plays James Dean, is one of the most anticipated releases of recent times. In a very special interview, friends and collaborators from The Place Beyond the Pines, DeHaan and Cianfrance discuss true love, nightmares and film.
DEREK CIANFRANCE: Dane when was the first time you fell in love?
DANE DEHAAN: When I was in high school I used to say I didn’t believe in love. I would think I was going to be alone for the rest of my life and now I’m the guy who’s married to his high school sweetheart. In a weird way I’ve never been through a big breakup.I’ve only been in a long-term relationship with one person. Her name is Anna, so Anna is the first time I have been in love, true love.
DC: Wow. Growing up, did you ever have an ‘A-ha!’ moment about wanting to be an actor?
DDH: I never had an ‘A-ha!’ moment. I always knew I wanted to be an actor. I don’t really remember anything else apart from always wanting to be an actor. Forrest Gump is a movie that stuck with me. TheTalented Mr Ripley too.
DC: Did you ever see Purple Noon?
DDH: No I’ve never seen that. What is it?
DC: I’m not going to tell you, you should watch it. I preferred it to The Talented Mr Ripley. You should watch it and then we’ll talk about it.
DC: As an actor your work means wrapping your mind around a whole other person and not thinking about yourself. What’s it like when you are done being that person? Do you go through a period of confusion or identity crisis?
DDH: It almost seems pompous to say it, but it is something similar to that. There have been things that have ended that have torn through me like a death. If it’s something I have grown so close to, when it’s over it hurts, you know. I did a play once and I couldn’t talk about it for about three years without crying because it was like a death to me when it ended. That’s kind of what it’s like with these characters. It’s almost like getting a best friend and you learn everything about them and you learn how they work and you live with them and then this part of you dies and they go away.
DC: When was the last time you cried Dane?
DDH: I think the last time I cried was when I watched the JustinBieber documentary a few nights ago! That movie is designed to make you cry but you know, it got me, it really did!
DC: Do you ever get recurring nightmares? In no way related to the Bieber documentary.
DDH: Yes, I imagine ants crawling out of my skin. I will look down at my hands and there will be this giant bug in my skin or spikes growing out of my hands and it won’t hurt but it will be disturbing to look at. Sometimes I take them out and again it won’t hurt at all but it will be really weird to look at and freak me out. That is my recurring nightmare.
DC: How often do you have that one?
DDH: I would say twice a month.
DDH: It has different ways of manifesting itself. It’s not always the same dream but it’s the same theme.
DC: We had an interesting first meeting during the audition process of The Place Beyond the Pines.
DDH: Yeah, I was pretty stubborn throughout. You wanted me to audition to play AJ and I didn’t want to be AJ, so I made a tape forJason and you wouldn’t watch my tape at first because you knew I was being stubborn. I think you watched every other tape until you watched mine, so you’re stubborn too!
DC: When I finally watched your tape, I realised you were the guy; the guy to be Jason. The fact that you knew it before I did made me completely trust you forever. When I met you it was just that pure trust and admiration. I like being wrong. I am wrong most of the time, but sometimes it’s great to be wrong. That’s what I love about filmmaking – that collaboration of ideas and people. Everyone puts their ego to the side and they are on a quest after truth and then higher forces call or something.
DDH: The memory that stuck with me is when we were in the woods and there were so many mosquitoes because a hurricane had just ripped through town. They were everywhere and a woman who was doing the make-up was walking in a full body mosquito net around the forest.
DC: We had so much fun with it. Sometimes when shooting a movie, real life kicks in. Remember when you had the gun on Bradley (Cooper) and Bradley disarmed the gun from you in a second like a ninja?
DC: I used to watch that frame by frame in the editing room. It was literally two frames – him grabbing the gun and then bullets flying everywhere. These ninja moves! I remember you had to stand further back in the first take. That’s what I love about working on set, finding some truths and not having to hit certain marks. I think that’s why we connected because we both wanted that.
DDH: That kind of a set is rare where you have one take and something is too raw so you don’t do it, but on this set you should grab the gun. That’s what acting really is and that’s why we connected.
DC: You’ve got that fire inside of you to be able to do anything you want to do.
DDH: Thanks, Derek.
DC: I think you know yourself well enough, like you knew yourself well enough not to be AJ and have good instincts to turn things down and say yes to certain things. By turning things down you are also saying yes to other things. By saying no to AJ you were saying yes to your true path and I think that is a huge thing for any creative person – to trust their instincts. I have to say, with casting Pines, that was one of the challenges I had; these two movie stars that were in Act One and Act Two, you know, I have the Ryan Gosling movie then the Bradley Cooper movie and then I had to go to a third movie of these kids. When I found you and Emory I felt like you were of that ilk. Carrying that baton of being incredibly gifted craft people as actors but also undeniably charismatic and compelling human beings. Tell us about taking on the role of a real-life character like Lucien Carr in Kill Your Darlings. What approach do you take to that? How do you go about embodying a Beat who is publicly known and mythologised?
DDH: I guess with acting there is no method to the madness. Lucien Carr for example is not a well-documented person, so there is very little to read about him – I had to dig in. James Dean was obviously different; he is so hugely documented to the point of mysticism and most of it isn’t really true anymore because he is so widely written about. They are very different roles in that sense. With Lucien Carr it was trying to get a feel for who he was through his letters, but the script is very important with the James Dean film Life. On top of the script, I wanted to find the real Dean; one book I read would say one thing, and the other would say something completely different. Some say he only smoked Marlboros and some say he didn’t care what he smoked.
DC: How have you found that shift between making movies on an independent scale and then going over to a studio project? I think you’ve dealt with more extremes than I have.
DDH: The main thing with studio movies is that you have so much time. On The Amazing Spider-Man 2 we had six months and no one was ever in a hurry. If you don’t finish a scene that day then you do it the next day. With independent movies, a lot of the time you are going so fast, you’re always pushing. Time is money and ultimately they don’t have as much of that. You’re on set to be an actor and that part of it is always the same with the only difference being the resources.
DC: The movie I’m doing at the moment (The Light Between Oceans) seems very similar to every other one I’ve done in the way that there is never enough time and never enough money. You know that saying ‘a squeaky wheel gets the grease’? I’m like the squeaky wheel. I am the most annoying person in the whole world. I guess it was the same with Blue Valentine and Pines. With this one, we are pushing all of our resources to the absolute limit. I sort of like that. I honestly would get a bit nervous to take those boundaries away. I think boundaries as an artist are very important. Boundaries in filmmaking are important because if you have an edge to go to, you can get as close to the edge as possible, but if the edge is taken away from you then it’s hard to know the shape of something. I appreciate edges and I always know my budgets and my schedules inside out because I feel like I have to know the playground I’m playing in. So yes, this is slightly bigger than anything I’ve done and more period than anything I’ve done. Its heart and soul are human and present – I want it to be in the now. I don’t want to make antiquated movies.
All images by Guy Aroch