Sitting on a couch in a downtown Toronto hotel in jeans and a dark grey v-neck shirt, James Badge Dale is someone you recognize, though it might take you a minute to remember from where. His film career started when he was 10-years-old with a part in 1990’s Lord of the Flies – and since then he’s graced screens both small (most notably as Chase Edmunds in 24) and big (The Departed).
This summer, however, his recognition factor is poised to go through the roof.
Dale has supporting roles in three films currently in theatres – Iron Man 3, World War Z and The Lone Ranger, working with some of the most sought-after actors in the biz. We sat down to talk about the lessons learned from his co-stars, and the man-code for mustaches.
Tell me something you learned working with Johnny Depp.
He’s a very gentle man, and I mean that in a way of just being calm. He’s calm, but he’s willing to take risks. And that is so important for an actor. I watched him act with a horse. He was doing improv with a horse. Horse is not doing what the horse is supposed to be doing. Johnny’s cool. He’s talking to the horse. Guess what’s in the film? Some of those moments. I think people are really going to be surprised by his performance.
Tell me something you learned from Armie Hammer.
Armie Hammer, man! You’d be sitting there, five in the afternoon, you’re just covered in sweat and dirt, you’ve been riding horses all day, you’re dead tired and I’m sitting there, my bones are hurting, my joints are aching, you look over at Armie and he’s like, ‘Isn’t this cool, man? Isn’t this great?’ Armie Hammer is a fearless actor. He’s willing to do anything any time, and he’s a good partner; he’s right there with you.
I heard that you really enjoyed growing a mustache for the film.
You can do a lot of things with a mustache that normally you can’t do. You get more respect at gas stations. I noticed if there was a guy who was angry wherever I was, maybe looking to fight somebody, and he’s like, ‘Who’s my mark?’ I’d see the guy look at me and then go, ‘No, I don’t want to fight him, he’s got a mustache,’ and move on to the next guy.
Was there a moment during filming The Lone Ranger when you were tested?
There were a couple – I mean the stunt work was pretty crazy. We were running on top of moving trains, jumping up, jumping down, doing all the horse work. I mean, we’re galloping, we’re moving, and I’m a New York City kid, I don’t know how to ride a horse. I spent six weeks in this cowboy boot camp learning how to ride a horse. You try not to hurt yourself, the horse, or other people.
You’ve been in the business a long time. What drives you to keep auditioning?
I used to work maintenance for a country club of all things, upstate in New York, and I dropped out of college to move to New York City to study theatre. Everyone thought I was crazy. I remember the boss of the whole place, Bernie, he comes up to me and he tells me a story of a young man who came from a well-to-do family who had a business. [His family] wanted him to go into the business in this very suit-and-tie, corporate-office-style business. But he loved working with wood and he dropped out of school to work in construction. He became a very good carpenter and then became a contractor and now is one of the most successful contractors on the East Coast. [Bernie] said the moral of the story is, don’t let anybody tell you what to do, but find something you love to do and try to be as good at it as you possibly can: Give everything into that. And that advice always stuck with me.
This interview has been edited and condensed.