From director Shane Black, Iron Man 3 has certainly gotten the blockbuster movie season off to a pretty incredible start. This time out, brilliant billionaire inventor Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), aka Iron Man, faces a terrifying enemy, known as The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley), whose reach knows no bounds, and he must rely on his own instincts to protect those that he loves.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor James Badge Dale, who plays Extremis agent and all-around bad-ass Eric Savin, talked about how he came to be a part of the film, having to read pages from a cop movie for his audition, due to secrecy, how he finally gut a full script after negotiations for the role were finished, what it means to him to get to be a part of the Iron Man franchise, how he viewed Savin, and what he wanted to bring to the character’s physicality. He also talked about his roles in two more upcoming blockbusters, World War Z with Brad Pitt and The Lone Ranger with Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp, and the great experiences he had on each. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
JAMES BADGE DALE: Yeah, I did. Marvel is very secretive, so there was no script. About six months before production, they gave me some pages and it was from a cop movie. And then, six months later, I got a phone call saying, “Do you want to come do this?” I love that character. I had so much fun with Savin. They gave me a long leash to goof around and play with it. At one point, I asked Shane [Black], “Are we getting too weird?,” and he looked at me and went, “We can’t get too weird.” It was just playful. And to see it done, and to see it with the CGI and all the effects, is really amazing.
Was there a point that you ever did get a full script, or did you just jump in without one?
DALE: As we were negotiating, I didn’t have a script. Once the deal is closed, they let you read the script. So, I got the script and was reading it like, “Oh, please be good!,” because I’d already signed on the dotted line. And I read it and just went, “Okay, I’m going to be okay. Thank god!” It was a really funny, moving story.
Now that comic books and comic book movies are so cool, what does it mean to you to get to be a part of this big Iron Man franchise?
DALE: I get a lot more respect at comic book stores, and maybe a discount. I don’t know. My cousin is a huge comic book fan, and she became my technical advisor. I didn’t read comic books. I didn’t know much about the Marvel universe. So, she helped me out and explained the Marvel universe to me. Every time I had a question, I’d call her up and she would talk to me for about two hours, and explain the characters and all these different things. I brought her to the premiere, just to see the look on her face, and that made everything worthwhile. It’s really cool. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, to be in a theater like that and see the reactions from the audience.
Getting to play a really bad-ass villain in a comic book movie seems almost more fun than playing one of the good guys. Was it something you’d been hoping to do, or was it just a really lucky opportunity?
DALE: I always like playing the bad guys. They have more fun! I want a director to come up to me and say, “You can’t get too weird!” That’s a good thing. I loved hearing that. Let me play. I like to play around.
DALE: I really look at him as someone where it’s not his job to think of consequences. I think of him as someone who really enjoys the action. He’s very present. He enjoys the competition. He enjoys breaking things. He’s a thrill-seeker, in a way. The idea of what would happen to you mentally, if you couldn’t get hurt anymore, takes some of the thrill away from it. He’s so excited about the prospect of going up against Iron Man because that guy can hurt him. That’s good. That’s fun. Now, there’s something at stake.
Is it more freeing to play a villain that just enjoys and loves what they’re doing, and isn’t angsty or upset about it?
DALE: Yeah. It was a fun set. It was great to show up to work. I love what I do, and to play a character that loves what he’s doing works.
Were there things that you wanted to bring to the character’s physicality?
DALE: The physicality was important to me. Because the film has Shane Black’s dialogue, and [Robert] Downey’s delivery, and you look at [Jon] Favreau, Don Cheadle and Gwyneth [Paltrow], it is this heightened level with a comedic aspect to it. Everything is grounded in reality, but it plays a little heightened. I wanted him to walk in a room and have everyone look at him and go, “Wait a minute, something’s wrong with this guy.” I wanted him to look off, slightly dangerous and off-kilter, from the off-set. I called Shane and said, “I’m cutting my hair.” I wanted the shaved head. I wanted him to come in and have a very distinct physical presence. That way, as an actor, I could just concentrate on not having to try to scare people because it’s just there. And then, I could just try to have fun and smile.
DALE: The catering is really good! What surprised me was that they work as smoothly as they do, whether you show up on a Marvel set, you show up on a Gore Verbinski set, or you show up with Brad [Pitt]. There’s been a lot of talk about World War Z being all over the place, but no, that wasn’t true. That gets blown up in the press. Every movie has their share of problems. The truth is, the creative experience on World War Z was fantastic, and it looks amazing. You want to work with good people. When you’re working with good people, it frees you up. There’s nothing worse, as an actor, to show up and then feel like you have to protect yourself somehow because you don’t feel like you’re in good hands. It’s not an actor’s medium. It’s a director’s medium. We’re just one cog in this giant machine. You show up and look at all the other cogs like, “Wow, everyone is the best at what they do.” You’re in really good hands. And that frees you up to play and feel safe, and you can take chances, creatively. You can take risks. I want to show up to work and take risks. I don’t ever want to play it safe.
How cool was it to get to play the Lone Ranger’s brother?
DALE: No one knows that the Lone Ranger had a brother. People are like, “Who are you playing?,” and I’m like, “The Lone Ranger’s brother,” and they go, “Who?!” I love that movie! Armie Hammer is one of my favorite people in the world. It’s just funny playing the older brother of a guy who’s 6’7.” I’m exaggerating. He’s like 6’4,” but he’s a decent head-length taller than me. I’m looking up at him going, “Little brother . . .” He’s just a lovely guy. I loved that film. We had such a good time. I’d never done a Western, and it just had the feeling like we were breaking new ground. We were doing something new and different. Everybody on that film, loved that film. We were out in the elements. All the money in that film was on locations and set pieces, and actually allowing us to be there, in those locations and shooting outside with hundreds of extras, the horses, and the trains. That was all there. You get close over that. You come together over that.
DALE: I try to work with the worst people I can find. No. I’ve been so, so lucky. I’ve just been lucky. I feel really grateful. I was really lucky that, through my 20’s, I got to work with some amazing people, and I tried to sit back and watch and learn. Now, in the 30’s, I’ve continued to work with amazing people. You want to work with people who are better than you. You want to work with people who are going to push you and force you to take risks and to bring the level of your game up. I worked with Denzel Washington on Flight. I worked one day with that man and I had to chop up a lot of dialogue, and he was listening. But, his listening is better than any listening I’ve ever done. He is so present, and the man can give while he’s listening. He never let me drop, 12 hours in a stairwell. I learned more from that man in one day, in 12 hours, than I have in years, in drama school and all these other things we do to work on our craft ourselves. Sometimes what you get from work experience, you can’t teach in a classroom. I’ve just been lucky. I’ve worked with some good people, and I hope I get to keep at it.
Iron Man 3 is now playing in theaters.