If you’re familiar with Dane DeHaan’s body of work, you know that he’s had a fair amount of experience playing darker characters. (Amongst other roles, of course!) DeHaan really gets to put that skillset to use in Veena Sud’s The Stranger for Quibi because he’s playing a guy who absolutely revels in the opportunity to torment his targets. The “movie in chapters” stars Maika Monroe as Clare, an aspiring writer who just made the big move to Los Angeles to live her dream. A mere six days after arriving, she’s busy working as a ride share driver and that’s how she meets DeHaan’s character, Carl E. At first Carl is a warm and friendly passenger, but Clare soon finds out that he’s actually a sadistic killer.
With select chapters of The Stranger now available on Quibi, and more arriving daily, I got the opportunity to hop on the phone with DeHaan to discuss his experience with the new platform. Check out the interview below for his first impression of Quibi, the biggest different between making a movie for Quibi and a traditional theatrical release, how his worldview has changed recently, what it was like working on the upcoming Stephen King adaptation of Lisey’s Story for Apple TV, if he knew what Harry Osborn’s role would have been in Sony’s Sinister Six movie, and more! Also keep an eye out for another The Stranger interview with Maika Monroe coming soon!
DANE DEHAAN: Well, it was my introduction to it. I didn’t know what it was … my agent, my managers and lawyer and what have you knew at least generally what it was and the sales pitch version of it. But it wasn’t until talking with our director, Veena, about what it meant to her and how she wrote the story for the platform and how she feels like she can use the platform to tell the story in a really exciting, compelling way that I really started to wrap my mind around it as a whole new thing, you know what I mean?
Was there anything specific about how she described that to you that you could share? Did she think there was a pro to telling this story in the Quibi format?
DEHAAN: For her it was specific to this story that she created. I think she created a story that is scary but also fun and has these short little chapters that are designed to hook you at the end of every whatever it is, seven to 10 minute segment, and it’s targeted for the younger Quibi audience. She has all these ideas about releasing it and releasing it at the time that it happens in the story on people’s phones, so they get a ping with a certain ring tone and it’s just, Quibi had such a huge conceptual influence on her writing this story that I think even when I read it, it wasn’t necessarily something I would be excited about as its own movie, but as a Quibi and being told in these little 10 minute segments, I found it to be incredibly compelling and a really amazing idea.
How about signing on to play this character in particular? What attracts you to put yourself in that kind of head space for a little while?
DEHAAN: I just think he really fascinated me. I remember when I first read it, I think I only had like the first, maybe let’s say five episodes, so I didn’t understand why he was doing what he was doing. That was my main question that I had with Veena and in my conversations with her is, why is this guy doing these things? But she really explained it to me. In the series itself, you really learn a lot about this guy as the series goes along and his motivations are quite fascinating. They just make a lot of sense. And for me, I learned a lot about different things, algorithms, all sorts of things to why this guy’s doing what he’s doing. So he turned out to be much more fleshed out character than just your stereotypical evil guy that he seems like in the first few episodes.
Carl is unique in a number of ways, but you’ve played a good deal of darker characters over the course of your career. Do you find that there are any traits that unite them all? Or maybe even a technique that you need to use for that type of character that stays true to all of them?
DEHAAN: Not really. I’ve played a lot of, like you said, a lot of kind of darker characters, a handful of bad guys and stuff like that, but everybody still has their own motivation. A lot of times these guys are just the most interesting and fun to play. I think with Carl E, I hadn’t played a bad guy in a while and this was kind of the first one I had played, I guess since my worldview had changed and I no longer was coming from it with this theory that everyone in life has great motivation and is at their core a good person that thinks they’re doing the right thing. I think in the last couple of years I’ve come to understand that there are evil people in this world that just do bad things because they’re bad people. And I think that helped inform Carl and that’s a unique point of view that I didn’t have certainly with the last bad guy I played, which I guess was, well, I did Billy the Kid but then I guess before that it was Spider-Man, which was, at this point, like six or seven years ago.
What do you think the value is of telling stories from those perspectives? The first example that comes to mind is a movie like Joker. What do you think we really get out of getting a story from that mind-frame?
DEHAAN: Well, all sorts of different things. Well, first of all, the Joker was amazing. Joaquin Phoenix was so brilliant in that. And I think it was a truly special look into the mind of a person like that. The Joker has always been an incredibly fascinating character and obviously Heath Ledger was amazing as the Joker too. You know, that movie served its own purpose, but I don’t think it would be fair to compare Carl E and The Stranger to the Joker because for me, The Stranger is more entertainment. It’s horror with this self awareness to it that’s been built for Quibi. It’s not necessarily this in depth realistic look into, I don’t know, someone like the Joker. So I think there’s aspects of Carl E that are like incel-y and men’s rights activist-y, but really, within the context of The Stranger, in more of a pop culture entertainment, have fun and get scared watching on your phone kind of way. So I think every story has its own intention and it’s hard to say why in general it’s important to have bad guys in films, and Quibi’s, and TV shows other than, how do you have a story without conflict, you know? [Laughs] I think that’s the only real general statement I could make on it.
Oh, for sure. That’s fair! I wanted to ask you specifically about filming Chapter 1. Did you have the luxury of shooting in sequence, especially for that first scene where Carl meets Clare?
DEHAAN: Obviously Micah is in every frame of this movie so she was on set however long they shot, eight weeks, whatever it was. And it was all night shoots, so I definitely commend her for that. I was really there for maybe, they condensed my work to the first week and a half and the last week and a half, I think. My stuff was generally shot in order … episode one was the first thing we shot, which was super great and helpful and, you know, we had some rehearsals beforehand, but it’s always a gift to actually start at the beginning of what you’re shooting.
For sure. What was it like shooting that first conversation you guys had? I was wondering how much you were able to get across in one take. It plays very naturally, but there’s also a good deal of coverage with some interesting focus choices, which made me think that that conversation might’ve been broken up a good deal.
DEHAAN: We filmed a lot of it without stopping. I think our limitations were mostly the amount of road that we had and the different rigs. But, in terms of the coverage and stuff like that, I think that our schedule just allowed us to have time to get all that coverage and we really did shoot a lot of long takes with a lot of coverage. This was I think everybody’s first adventure into doing a Quibi and with a Quibi just comes more coverage because the DP is thinking of the vertical and the horizontal frame, you know? So I think our DP did an awesome job in taking advantage of that. And we definitely, especially in the car sequences, we just had a lot of different rigs, a lot of different set-ups, but when we rolled we generally did most of the scene.
Would you say that the vertical/horizontal frame thing was the biggest difference in the filming process compared to traditional theatrical films?
DEHAAN: Well, there’s all sorts of different theatrical films, too. I would liken our budget and schedule and experience to a typical indie movie. It certainly didn’t feel like I was on the set of a giant budget film, blockbuster kind of thing, or even some of the limited series I’ve done, which just seem to have giant budgets and amount of time and equipment and all that. But I guess generally it felt like shooting an indie movie. And then certainly, yeah, the biggest actual difference was just the vertical and horizontal frame.
Has working on this made you rethink using ride share apps or even just your relationship with technology in general? Does any of this get in your head at all?
DEHAAN: No, it doesn’t get in my head. I learned a lot about technology and algorithms and all this different stuff in doing this and it was certainly fascinating to know that, but I use technology a lot and at this point in my life and where we’re at in the world, I think I can’t wait to be able to use ride share apps again and be back in Brooklyn again [laughs], and just have life back and hopefully at that point – well I guess, I don’t know, hopefully or not, but maybe at that point all the ride sharing drivers will have watched The Stranger and will be a very unique and fun experience for me whenever I get into Uber.
Before I lose you. I did want to ask about Lisey’s Story because I’m a huge, huge Stephen King fan and I’m just always excited when a new adaptation is coming out. So I was just wondering, did you guys get the chance to finish filming that?
DANE DEHAAN: No, but we’re really close. We have not finished, but we’re close and, you know, we’ll finish eventually.
Why do you think an Apple TV series format was the right fit for that particular Stephen King book? Picking the right format is so important when it comes to an adaptation like this.
DEHAAN: The whole project feels really special. That book is incredibly complicated and there’s so much that goes on in all sorts of different worlds, and there’s realistic elements and fantastical elements. I think to tell that entire story in two hours would be incredibly difficult. And I think the director, Pablo Larraín, has put together a really awesome cast, but also has this incredibly cool unique vision that’s been made in collaboration with Stephen King himself who’s writing our script. I’m really excited about it. We’ve been shooting it since October now, so every day on that set is surprising to me and fun and cool and crazy and I really think it has the chance of being something pretty spectacular.
I know we’re really far removed from this at this point, but I did genuinely want to see where you could have taken Harry Osborne had we gone forward with more Amazing Spider-Man movies. Did you know what your arc would have been had those movies actually happened?
DEHAAN: Not necessarily. I think it’s pretty obvious they were all setting up for like a Sinister Six kind of situation and there was certainly talk of doing all that before all the Disney, Marvel stuff happened. But I can’t tell you I know specifically what it was gonna be. I just know that there definitely would have been a Sinister Six element to it. And, you know, at least the Goblin, if not Harry Osborne would have been involved.
To wrap up here, what are you doing to brighten your days while we’re all stuck at home?
DEHAAN: Well, I’m cooking a lot. I try to work out every day, which I think for me personally is a huge mental boost, you know? And I’m also just so grateful that I have, Bowie, my three-year-old daughter, because she’s oblivious to the situation and she is just happy to be alive and to have her around through all of this spreading her joy really keeps my spirits up, so that’s what I’m doing. My heart goes out to everyone else, for sure.