INTERVIEW: Dane Dehaan talks about filming LIFE, James Dean, working with Robert Pattinson & MORE

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Dane Dehaan spoke to The Wrap and Huffington Post while doing some promo for LIFE’s US release. Check out his interviews and be sure to watch LIFE now in theaters or streaming on demand, DIRECTV, iTunes and Amazon.

Excerpt from The Wrap:

TheWrap: Let’s talk about your upcoming movie, “Life.” Did you ever think you would get to play James Dean?
Dane DeHaan: “I never thought I would be a working actor. I definitely didn’t ever think about playing James Dean in a movie. But I’m certainly grateful that I had that opportunity and I am grateful every day for how my career has turned out.”

What was the most important aspect of Dean to get right?
“I think the most important and hardest was his humanity. Figuring out who he was as a human being. What I love doing is digging deep into a person and figuring out who they are and James Dean is such a complex person to do that with because so many people have so many opinions about him. It became this really interesting process of really digging through all the information and sorting through it, and try to figure out what was fact and what was fiction. The stuff that was undeniably fact, what does that tell me about who he was as a person? That was the hardest part.”

How was it starring opposite Robert Pattinson?
“It was good! He chooses to challenge himself and works with great filmmakers. I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to make this film if Rob didn’t want to do it as well.”

Did you audition for the role?
“They reached out to me and I actually kept saying I didn’t want to do it because James Dean has always been one of my favorite actors, and I hold him in such high regard, it was almost like holy material for me. In a way, I had too much of a personal relationship with him. I have had a poster of James Dean on my wall since I was in college. It seemed like a really daunting task, but then I started to realize that I was operating out of fear and that I always do these interviews and say, ‘I want to do the roles that are most challenging or scare me the most.’ When that opportunity actually came along, I was running away from it.”

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Excerpt from Huffington Post:

Tell me about the casting and how you got involved in “Life”?

I was sent the script, I read it and I was like, “I don’t really want to do this.” I just kept saying that because he’s always been one of my favorite actors and, to me, it’s really holy material. But they kept coming back and I started to take meetings with everybody and I listened to what they had to say and I realized that I was just operating out of fear. I do all these interviews and I say, “I want to do the role that’s the most challenging or I want to do the role that scares me the most,” and then that opportunity legitimately came around and I was running away from it. It was really my wife [Anna Wood] who pointed that out to me in the end, and I realized that if I want to practice what I preach, this is it, this is the opportunity. Why not do this? It’s a great script, it’s a great director, it’s a really challenging part — it ticks off every box. It’s just, to me, it was kind of personal so it took me a while to come to that.

You must have been a little flattered though, this is James Dean. Great actor, good-looking guy …

Yeah, totally flattered! And also, to be honest, kind of confused.

Why? 

I don’t know, honestly, I just didn’t understand. Like, why do they keep coming back to me? I had to go through a lot, even physically, to try to look like him. It wasn’t just a show up on set, 15 minutes of makeup thing. It was three months of training and an hour and a half in the makeup chair every day. So, I didn’t really understand why they wanted me, but I was flattered. In the end, especially at this point of James Dean’s career that he’s at in this movie and what’s going on and the relationships he has and how he feels about his work, I think I have a lot more in common with James Dean than I do almost any other character that I’ve played.

This movie takes place when James was on the cusp of stardom, so how did you mimic him? How did you study his mannerisms — the way he looked, the way he walked — since there wasn’t much out there of him? 

I worked with a dialect coach named Nadia Venesse, who’s really amazing, to help get the voice down. She actually found a recording of when he went back to Indiana to visit his family. He had bought one of the first-ever Spy recorders, just because he thought it was a cool toy, and he taped conversations that he had with his aunts and uncles and cousins — and [Nadia] found it. And it was really invaluable because, it’s not like he doesn’t sound like he does in movies, but that’s him acting and this was him in a real environment; it was a direct source. So I listened to that over and over again, and I studied the time period. As for the mannerisms, it was important for me to match that specific moment [with the Life magazine shoot]. And mostly, the physicality was more about who he was on the inside. Who was James Dean? Not what people think he was, but who was he actually as a person? And I think as I started to delve into that, I feel like the mannerisms came along with it.

Did you study those Dennis Stock photos inside and out?

I was pretty familiar with the photos already, but in many ways, they’re staged. Although they’re amazing photos, in a way, they’re somewhat responsible for the myth of James Dean. Because James Dean is not that cool … I mean, he’s cool! But that photo in Times Square, he looks like the epitome of cool, and then there are really interesting photos where he’s sitting behind a desk reading a book which show a different side of him. When I was in college, those were the ones that I thought were the most interesting — it was the first time I saw James Dean and he didn’t look cool. With the role, it was about reading the most I could about him. There are a lot of biographies about him and that was a bit of a problem too because it becomes more about, “Who wrote this? What was their relationship to him? What exactly are they trying to do and why does this information contrast with this information? And what information is undeniably true? And of the information that is undeniably true, what does that show you about who he was?”

It must have been so strange for you to step into that world and recreate these images you love. 

Yeah. We definitely had the book on set and I was probably the most annoying with, “Bring the book out! We have to make sure it’s exactly like it was!” I think it was fun to look at the images and see those moments — it was an interesting way to make a movie, for sure.

What did you and Robert Pattinson do to create that bond James and Dennis shared? 

It’s an interesting bond because I don’t really look at them as friends. I look at them as two artists who were both struggling in different ways, because they work in different ways, and they come across each other and they influence each other as artists. So while a lot of people are calling it a friendship movie, I don’t really see the friendship part of it. It’s not like Rob and I weren’t friends, it’s just I felt like that was the relationship we had probably because of the film. We hung out a couple of times outside of set, but other than that, it would be show up on set and really get to know each other through the process of making the movie as two artists who go about things in two different ways. And I think in that way, you don’t have to “act” the relationship, you just allow it to happen on screen.

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