Looking at the clean-cut, boyish appearance Dane DeHaan, it’s hard not to think of Leonardo DiCaprio, whose younger self he more than passingly resembles. But his expanding body of work (which includes “Chronicle” and the upcoming “Metallica: Through the Never”) suggests even more similarities, particularly given the sophistication of the roles he tackles, and the intensity and commitment he brings to them. In May 2014’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” from Sony Pictures, DeHaan tackles a long-running Marvel character that DiCaprio could easily have played — Harry Osborn, heir to Oscorp, and a young man whose affluence disguises an impoverished soul.
During Comic-Con International in San Diego, DeHaan discussed his “Amazing Spider-Man 2” process with Comic Book Resources. In addition to talking about the taxing — but still fun, he insists — work that goes into creating his characters, he offered some insights into how he chooses roles as his career evolves, and what, if anything he takes from those parts after filming.
CBR News: Coming into the machinery of a franchise that had this massive infrastructure, how daunting was that?
Dane DeHaan: Well, I’ll never take a job if I’m not scared of it going into it. This was a similar situation — I don’t think it was so much about the responsibility of the franchise or anything. I mean, I had a lot of respect for the first movie and I genuinely enjoyed it, and working with Andrew was a really exciting prospect to me. But it was more the challenge of it that was more scary than being able to uphold a character in a franchise. That was exciting.
Comic book characters are almost Shakespearean insofar as they can be reinterpreted in countless ways. What was the essence of Harry Osborn to you — possibly to distinguish your version from James Franco’s, or even from an iteration of him from the comics?
I think what this version of Spider-Man does is it takes the Spider-Man characters and puts them in modern culture. So I started to look at Harry as, how does a person like this exist in modern day culture — and to me, he’s a trust fund baby. He grew up in New York City and he uses his wealth to hide his problems, like he almost uses his wealth to buy happiness. And I think there’s a big hipster trust-fund baby culture that kind of fits right into that world. So that was kind of my way in, or start in that world.
How much participation do you get to do in the action of this film?
I got to do some action. I mean, it was definitely a mental and physical challenge.
Some things understandably I imagine you’d leave to the stunt people. But would you prefer do as much as possible of that kind of physical stuff yourself?
Well, there are some things you just can’t do for insurance reasons, or things like, oh, just physically, I cannot do that. [Laughs] But I had a really great time getting into the best shape of my life for this movie, training and that kind of thing — being more physically capable than I’ve ever been before. But yeah, you have to be smart about it, and at the end of the day, you can’t do something that you might potentially not be able to work for the rest of the movie. You have to be able to maintain yourself.
So many young actors are willing to submit themselves to real pain and torment to explore the depths of their characters. But when is this just fun for you?
It’s always just fun.
Do you come home from a day of shooting and go, “That was a really messed up scene I did, but that was fun?”
Or do you shake it off?
I don’t really shake it off, no. but it’s still fun to me, and I still love to do this. Even if the part requires me entering into very dark parts of myself, I’ve always liked to act, and I’ve always liked to challenge myself as an actor. So if that’s what I’m doing, whether I leave at the end of the day happy or not, it doesn’t mean it was fun or not. I always have fun when I’m acting, I really do.
Even though superhero movies offer a lot of incredible escapism, what can or do you learn about yourself from playing a role like this one?
Well, for me, I’m not really a person that draws from their personal life when acting. I really try to create a reality unto itself. So what I tend to take away from things personally is just work things — just really how to do the job better, or more thoroughly, or more consistently, or more inconsistently. I think the more I go along, the more I’m happy to admit I just don’t know the answers ever. But it’s my job to dig and dig and dig and try to find it out — and then be willing to admit I’m wrong all of the time. [Laughs]
Does that extend to your character, or just your work in general?
Yeah, well, in my interpretation of a character I do a lot of thorough work to try to figure out who the person is, and I always try to arrive at a very specific conclusion. And then I try to bring the director in on that conversation as well. Like I remember the first day on set — I had done months upon months upon months of work, but it wasn’t until I showed up on set the first day and started working with Marc [Webb] that the whole thing kind of opened up. And so it’s having the ability to be like, oh, you know what? I’m not sure if I agree with that, but let’s try it! And then you try and you’re like, holy shit! Yep, that’s it — and I never saw that, and I’ve been working on this for five months. But that’s the fun of it — the discovery.
How challenging is it to uncover the character nuances that you seem interested in exploring, against the backdrop of superhero spectacle?
Well, it’s easy when you have a great script, and we had such a great script. Because it’s crazy — these kinds of movies, in theory, they don’t need good scripts. They could potentially put anything out and a lot of people would go and see it because it’s called “Spider-Man.” But the script for this was so great, and it was all in there, so it really was just about digging into that. And so when you’re given material where the complexities are there, that’s what’s fun about being an actor — you get to mine that material and dig it up.
How are you making your choices with roles now, both to ensure you’re challenging yourself, but also choosing projects that give you the opportunity to do more in the future?
You obviously need to find a way to do the things you need to do, but I don’t know — I kind of take it opportunity by opportunity. Like right now, I’m doing my first comedy, which is a really nice change of pace, and really challenging. I mean, I did a comedic off-Broadway play, but other than that, since college I haven’t had the opportunity to do anything but like incredibly serious things — so to be thrown into a world of comedy was a challenge unto itself.
So there’s that, but then it can be the part that’s a challenge, or it could be the kind of thing — like at a certain point, I’m sure I’ll want to go back to theatre, because I haven’t done that in a while and that will seem like it’s really hard. It’s just about keeping it different, and finding different things to do. And I’m really happy so far as to the choices I’ve made in my career. And I just want to make sure I continue to make those kinds of choices.