If you didn't catch James Badge Dale in HBO's The Pacific, you missed one of the finest performances in a mini-series in recent years. James was outstanding in the 2010 series as PFC Robert Leckie, and he followed that role up with stand-out performances in Shame with Michael Fassbender and Flight with Denzel Washington. And this year Dale can be seen in three big theatrical releases: Iron Man 3, World War Z and Disney's The Lone Ranger.
In The Lone Ranger, Dale plays the pivotal role of Texas Ranger Dan Reid, brother of John Reid - aka 'The Lone Ranger' (played by Armie Hammer) - and husband of Rebecca (Ruth Wilson). In support of the July 3, 2013 theatrical release of The Lone Ranger, I had the chance to speak to Dale about why he wanted to play Dan Reid, the stunts, and taking part in a cowboy boot camp.
How long did it take to get you feeling comfortable on a horse?
James Badge Dale: "You know, that might be a lifetime process. I'm a cocky New Yorker. I was like, 'Give me a week. I'll figure this out. I'll figure it out, it's no problem. What, it's a horse, how hard can this be?' They brought me out six weeks early. They gave me six weeks to learn how to ride a horse. I rode every day for six weeks, and I was just scratching the surface at that point. These are magnificent, smart, powerful animals, and they can feel you. They can smell you. If you're not comfortable, they don't respect you, and they'll take advantage of you."
How did they take advantage of you?
James Badge Dale: "My horse, Duke, I think he had enough of me one day. Duke, they didn't want me to ride Duke but I loved Duke. Duke had a little problem: he was scared of gunfire, which can be problematic in a Western. One day, the Duke said, 'I'm done.' Duke took off. Unfortunately, I was on Duke at the time, so Duke and I had a little run down the Canyon De Chelly. The wranglers finally caught up to me. I held on pretty good, and the wranglers finally caught up. One of the wranglers actually was the owner of Duke, and Ed comes up to me, slaps me on the back, and he goes, 'Badge, I'm proud of you. Duke hasn't run that fast in 10 years."
Did it take any convincing to get you back on him again after that?
James Badge Dale: "No, I like Duke. I got it. I totally understand. Duke ran. I get it, man. Get out of here as fast as you can. At that point though, when a horse runs that fast, they need to rest. He was spooked, so they pulled out the stunt horse, Ranger, and that made me nervous because Ranger was a horse that I couldn't handle in boot camp. I couldn't control Ranger. Ranger was a powerful, fast horse. Duke was a little bit of an old Cadillac. Ranger was like a Ferrari. He was the stunt guy's horse, but he was the only horse that looks like Duke, so they're like, 'You've got to have Ranger all day.' It was time to cowboy up, as they say."
How hard is it to actually act and say your lines while on a horse that you're not completely comfortable with?
James Badge Dale: "That was the idea of the boot camp. By the time we started shooting, you had a level of comfort that you can do this, you can actually hit marks with your horse. To be quite honest with you, Armie ... I'm playing Armie Hammer's older brother. There's a little bit of competitiveness between the two brothers. Armie is an excellent horse rider, so I worked hard. I cannot let my younger brother be a better horseman than me. He was, but I had to work really hard.
Armie and I actually had a lot of fun together riding the horses. You'd be surprised how easy and calm it is to actually remember your dialogue when you're worried about falling off of a horse."
How close did you come to being able to keep up with Armie? If he was an expert and you were still a novice...
James Badge Dale: [Laughing] "Oh, come on. I'm a little better than a novice."
With six weeks of training?
James Badge Dale: "Maybe ... yes, I guess you're right. I don't hit journeyman status until a few years in there, right?"
James Badge Dale: "Okay, look ... yes, I'm terrible at the horse. I did all right. I kept up with him, but there might have been a couple of moments where before takes I'd lean over to Armie and be like, 'Hey man, don't make me look bad here.'"
"Don't show me up."
James Badge Dale: "Yes. 'I'm serious about it, you better slow it down.'"
Were you a fan of Westerns before this?
James Badge Dale: "Yes, I was. I've always been a fan of Westerns. I think it's a beautiful genre. What I love about Westerns is that it's a genre film that requires so much use of light and photography and space. You need to show these elements with the wide open spaces, the idea of the Wild West. That's what Gore took into this. Gore was like, 'We're shooting natural light. I want the space. We need to be there. We can't do this in Los Angeles in a studio. We need to be in these places and we need to try to do it for real.' That's a wonderful experience."
That must have really helped you as an actor get into the spirit.
James Badge Dale: "When you can taste the dust, yes it does. I'm standing on top of a moving train going 35 miles an hour. It's an 1850s replica train, and it's right there for you. All the elements are right there for you."
How much of that did you actually do yourself?
James Badge Dale: "We all did a lot of it, but I want to be very clear about this: a lot of these stunts are very dangerous. If you see the credits of our film, the stunt players list goes on forever and ever, and these guys were good. These guys were amazing. Tommy Harper, his boys, these guys were professionals, and they risked everything every day. They brought that attitude to set. You get into that. If you fall off a horse, you get back up, you dust yourself off. You get back up. There were moments when they said, 'You're not doing this. You're not doing this because the margin of error is zero.'"
During those moments, did you say, "No, I can do it," or did you say, "All right, I trust your judgment?"
James Badge Dale: "I trust their judgment. I'll tell you the truth. The first day they did it to me, I was like, 'Wait a minute. No, no, no. I can...,' and then I realized, 'Wait a minute, I don't want to be that actor trying to do everything.' Then I saw what the stunt guy did and I said, 'Yes, you're right. You know what? I'm listening to you for the rest of the film. I will never question your judgment.'"
You were talking a little bit about Gore and how he chose to do this on location. What was he like as a director?
James Badge Dale: "He's unflappable. He's patient. He's passionate. He's right there with you. It's his crew, and his crew - these are the guys he did Pirates with - his crew would do anything for him. They would do that because they know he would do anything for them."
Did you do much research on Texas Rangers?
James Badge Dale: [Laughing] "Actors and our research. What was great about it is they hired actors from all over. I was actually working with a lot of British actors. As an American, we have a certain knowledge of the West, and it's a big part of our culture. For them, it was very new. There was a lot of trading of books and research materials before we started filming."
Were there any Westerns that you watched to kind of get into the whole Western vibe?
James Badge Dale: "There was a lot of things we did. We did watch [movies] and a lot of music, too. You know what Gore did was Gore went home and made a bunch of CDs of songs that he thought were appropriate for the tone of the film. Not songs that he was going to use, songs that he wanted us to listen to, to get into what he thought was the vibe and the tone of this film. We would just listen to this music. I'd be driving somewhere, you just put it in, when you walk, when I go for a run, I just listen to these old, Western Country-style songs. Some of them were contemporary, too."
Have you ever had a director do that before?
James Badge Dale: "That was the first time. I've never had a director hand me a CD. You know, Gore is an old punk-rocker man. He loves playing guitar. He loves music. It's an important element in his film making. It's a visual element, but you can't ignore the other elements of sound."
You've been offered so many big roles recently. What makes you latch on to some of these projects like this one, especially when - without giving away any spoilers - we don't get to see that much of you?
James Badge Dale: "'Without giving any spoilers...' I think we can talk about it because I see it in the trailers, how he's saying, 'I've got to avenge the death of my brother.' My feeling on this film though is that Dan Reid lives throughout the entire movie. He's there. And A) I'd never done a Western before. B) I want to work with Gore Verbinski, but this was different. I read this and I went, ' My God, no. They're on to something. There's something here. Something really different and new, and very cool about this.'
You know, sometimes I think the only thing you can do, the only thing an actor can do, or a writer can do, or a director can do, is you have to trust your own instinct. You might be wrong, but trust it. If you're wrong, you're wrong, but you've got to trust that instinct. When I read the script, there was something inside that said, 'I have to do this. I'm on board a hundred and ten percent.'"
Without saying which projects, have you been wrong often?
James Badge Dale: [Laughing] "We're wrong sometimes. Yes, I am wrong. Maybe the wrong project, maybe the wrong performance also. Believe me, I have a few of those."
Do you get a lot of takes when you're working on a horse?
James Badge Dale: "I take a lot of takes, no matter if I'm on a horse or not. When you're working with a horse, obviously when you're working with animals there are allowances because sometimes those animals will not do what you ask them to do. 'No, I'm going to go this way.' Obviously, when Duke ran off with me on him, that take didn't work."
I wonder if it will be in the DVD extras.
James Badge Dale: "I don't know, but I heard there's a really good gag reel somewhere."
Is there really? Did you find yourself losing it a lot with this one? It's a pretty serious project overall.
James Badge Dale: "We had a lot of fun. Obviously, there's a serious element, but also there's other elements in there. We had a really, really good time shooting this film. That comes from the top down. Gore Verbinski, Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, these guys enjoyed it. This is a passion project for them. It's a dangerous thing when you're too serious on set."
Have you ever been on a set that's too serious?
James Badge Dale: "Yes."
Did it affect the performances?
James Badge Dale: "I think it tightens everybody up. It's better to be loose. Even if you are doing something that's very serious and very dramatic. I'm not saying come around and goof around and be loud and be obnoxious, but you need to be loose. If you're loose, you can take some chances. If you're tight ... I've had performances where I was nervous and I was trying not to be nervous and when you're trying too hard, you get tight. The best thing to do is just kind of look around, 'Hey guys, I'm really nervous. Let's goof around, let's try something different and change it up.'"
Were you a fan of The Lone Ranger before this?
James Badge Dale: "I'm a little young for the show. You know, he's an iconic character. I can't remember a time when I didn't know who the Lone Ranger was. Where the Lone Ranger came into my life, I couldn't tell you. It feels like he's always been there in some sort of strange way."
What was the most interesting thing about playing Dan Reid? We see him on the horse, we see the action scenes, but what was really cool about him that you latched on to?
James Badge Dale: "That's a good question. He's not a perfect person, that's what I like about him. What I liked about him is that John Reid, the Lone Ranger, comes back from law school and he has these very definitive views of what's right and wrong, and what justice is. What I loved about Dan Reid is that he doesn't have those views. His views are more gray. The world is a series of shades of gray, and I got to play in that realm. He's not the normal good guy; he's not a bad guy, but he exists somewhere in between. He's not perfect. He's not a perfect family man. Those characters are always interesting to me."
James Badge Dale: "He's human. Exactly."
(Photo © Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc.)