Many people dream about becoming Spider-Man. Few people dream about becoming Spider-Man’s worst nightmare. Fewer people still are Dane DeHaan.
DeHaan, perhaps best known for his work as a super-powered social outcast in Josh Trank‘s “Chronicle,” stars in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” as Harry Osborn, Peter Parker’s oldest friend turned newest nemesis. But unlike Jamie Foxx, who was “Amazing Spider-Man 2” producers Matt Tolmach and Avi Arad‘s first and only choice to play Electro, DeHaan wasn’t always the frontrunner to succeed James Franco in the Harry Osborn role.
“The truth is, we had a list of guys for that role, and he was on our list — but, and he knows this by now so I’m not breaking his heart, he wasn’t actually at the top of the list,” Tolmach said during a round-table interview at the “Amazing Spider-Man 2” junket in New York City. “We didn’t know him very well. We loved him in ‘Chronicle,’ but there were other people whose work we’d seen more of. We naturally started talking about those people.”
DeHaan remained a candidate long enough to earn a screen test opposite Peter Parker himself, Andrew Garfield. And in that screen test, the young actor closed the deal and proved himself worthy of taking on the iconic “Spider-Man” character.
“They were these two actors who didn’t know each other, but they started improvising, and it was like what happens when you meet up with that friend of yours you haven’t seen in 20 years, but you don’t miss a beat and you fall into a rhythm,” said Tolmach. “They did that. And that dynamic, we felt, was perfect for Harry and Peter. The audience hadn’t seen them together, so we had to overcome that. We were telling the audience they had been best friends, even though he wasn’t in the last movie. And it just worked. Dane’s process kind of brought it to life.”
Credit DeHaan’s successful audition to the actor’s own unbridled enthusiasm for the “Spider-Man” franchise. In an exclusive one-on-one interview with Comic Book Resources, DeHaan revealed, “I hadn’t read the script or anything when I heard they were casting a new Harry Osborn. I just knew I wanted in, because the first trilogy was coming out when I was a kid, and I loved it. Like everybody, I wanted to be in a Spider-Man movie. I loved Andrew; I’ve always loved him as an actor since I first saw him. And I loved [director Marc Webb’s indie film] ‘(500) Days of Summer.’ And I loved what they did together on the first one. So when I heard there was going to be a new Harry Osborn, I was like, ‘OK, cool, I want to be a part of it.'”
It wasn’t until much later in the process that DeHaan actually read the “Amazing Spider-Man 2” script, which exceeded his expectations.
“This character and his arc, it was actually super challenging,” he said. “It wasn’t just the six-year-old in me that was happy; the adult actor in me was happy as well.”
The sequel sees Harry’s long-awaited return to New York City, several years after his ailing father, Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper), sent him away to boarding school. Harry comes home to see his father in his dying moments, and to take over the family business. It’s a job that comes with great power and responsibility — but while Harry is used to the former, the latter is a new concept in his world.
“A big aspect of Harry is that he tries to buy his happiness,” said DeHaan. “He’s born with all of the money and power in the world, and he always gets what he wants. He spends his time going around the globe, doing drugs, flying around on private jets, sleeping with models, making headlines. That’s what he does. He always gets what he wants.”
Of course, Harry comes to learn that the one thing he wants more than anything in the entire world is beyond his means: his own life.
“He finds out that he’s dying — and all of the sudden, the one thing he needs, he can’t get,” said DeHaan. “He can’t buy life. In that way, it becomes this giant temper tantrum. ‘I just want to live. I just want what I want. I’ll do anything to get it — but give it to me.’ And it all spirals out of control until he has to take matters into his own hands, and that’s when the transformation occurs.”
Indeed, DeHaan’s Harry undergoes a horrific transformation as the Green Goblin, perhaps the most infamous Spider-Man villain of all. The Sam Raimi trilogy saw two different actors as the Goblin: Willem Dafoe and James Franco. Here, DeHaan is the third man in the Goblin batting order, and he had an assist from Weta Workshop, the New Zealand effects house famous for work on the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” franchises, among other films.
“The stuff that they do there is unbelievable. They’re such masters at what they do,” he said. “They did such a good job with the Goblin suit. Everything they do there … my suit was so incredible. It had all these moving parts. When I moved my back, there was this spring. Those guys were so amazing. It blew my mind away.”
Still, becoming the Goblin wasn’t without some hardships. DeHaan recalled his three-day stint in the suit, filming a climactic battle sequence opposite Garfield’s Spider-Man.
“It was like a hundred and ten degrees, and my brain was literally melting,” he said. “They were taking buckets of ice water and pouring it down my suit.”
As the shoot progressed, the “Spider-Man” crew devised a more efficient way to keep DeHaan from literally losing his cool: “They got me a cooling vest that basically has these wires that run through and is attached to my core, and they run it through to a cooler filled with ice water. The ice water goes through all the tubes. That really helped keep my core cool.”
“I think a lot of times, when designing those suits, you can forget that a human being has to wear them,” he continued. “The people at Weta are all about that. They’re all about not only making a beautiful form, but something completely functional.”
Even if playing the Goblin wasn’t exactly comfortable, DeHaan kept a positive attitude. “It’s heavy. It weighs fifty pounds. It gets hot. All of that stuff,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s just so cool. It’s such a cool thing to wear, and not something you can complain about. The suit was so cool. I just loved it.”
Besides, the fact that DeHaan’s brain was “literally melting” only helped his performance, in his eyes. “I literally don’t remember the last two hours of that day,” he laughed. “I was definitely going insane. I was legitimately going insane.”
And that fits the character of Harry, who crosses lines with Peter Parker and Spider-Man that he can never uncross. “I don’t think that’s a relationship that can be repaired,” said the actor. But it’s a relationship that’s likely to see further exploration and expansion as the “Amazing Spider-Man” franchise grows and grows, with ancillary movies like “The Sinister Six” in the works.
“That was never part of the plan,” DeHaan said of the developing spinoff. “There was no murmur of that when we were shooting. But as they started to show the movie, people were responding so well to Harry and Electro and the Goblin, and that’s where they got the idea.”
“I don’t know what they’re going to do or anything,” he continued, “but I can’t wait to find out. I’m super excited.”
Somehow, even at the end of a grueling, globe-spanning press tour surrounding the release of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” DeHaan remains excited about the movie he just made, and even the larger comic book movie landscape.
“You could easily make a movie that a lot of people will go and see, and it doesn’t have to be good. You just have to follow a formula,” he said. “The fact that the people responsible for making these movies, like Avi and Matt, are taking enough care to hire really good people to write the script and direct, and to hire Andrew and Emma and Jamie — they really honor all of it. They really want to make something good. And they do it!”
“I think that’s amazing,” he continued. “Honestly, and unfortunately, it’s not something they have to do — and that’s what sets these movies apart. I think there are movies, plenty of big popcorn movies, that don’t take the time to do that. A lot of these comic book franchises have, and that’s super exciting.”
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” swings into theaters on May 2.