There were a surprising amount of baddies in Iron Man 3. Director Shane Black’s Tony Stark adventure put the idea of multiple villains being a bad idea to rest. One of those villains ‐ or henchman, if you want to get technical ‐ was played by a familiar face, James Badge Dale. Badge Dale chewed on every piece of Black’s dialog and his character’s eccentricities.
Even with the technical challenges, it’s a role Badge Dale wanted to let loose with. The actor used to work construction, and he wanted to bring that mentality to the character. A Shane Black henchman isn’t the only role we’ll see James Badge Dale in this summer, as he has both World War Z and The Lone Ranger next on dock, and they represent a chance for the actor to reach an audience that maybe doesn’t frequently watch Shame or The Pacific with their free time.
They’re certainly all physical roles, which, according to James Badge Dale, is a part of the job that he loves:
The one thing every critic has said is how the film feels completely like a Shane Black movie. Reading the script and while on set, was his voice always obvious?
Shane Black is a very unique presence. He’s got a dark wit that just pours out of him. I’d love to work with him again. It is a Shane Black movie, so he put his mark on it. Before every take, he’d come up to me and whisper, “Try this or say this.” I’d look at him and go, “Where do you come up with this? Does this just come out of you?”
[Laughs] So he doesn’t treat the script like the bible? There’s room for spontaneity?
Absolutely. I think spontaneity is the name of the game. What you look for in that film is a tone. When Downey and Favreau come in, they play. You want to stay in this…you know why people love these movies? When I look at Iron Man, I see that those people are having a really good time. Those guys are having a good time, and you have to stay on that level and hope people enjoy it.
Is it easy finding that tone with Shane and Downey on set?
I’m a dark guy. I’m a really dark, quiet guy [Laughs]. I was very well rested during that shoot, you know? You got to eat your Wheaties when you’re going to play with these guys.
You’ve been jumping between very different type of films these past few years. Is there a difficulty in quickly transitioning through those distinct environments?
I think the number one thing for me is if I love the story and the character. If I’m compassionate about it, it’s very easy for me to jump from thing to thing to thing. The hard part is when you’re not excited and the writing isn’t good, and that’s when it becomes a struggle.
What did you see in [your character] Savin?
I just wanted to come break stuff! [Laughs] I was, like, I love this guy! He wears jeans, a t-shirt, and he rips everything down. That’s a dream come true. I used to work in demolition, and it was kind of like that. You show up with a sledgehammer and go to work.
If you look at your work in Shame, and McQueen’s approach, much of it is focused on repressed emotions. That seems like the opposite here.
I’ll tell ya, though, Steve McQueen really worked with me on, if you’re not taking a risk, then it’s not worth doing. That kind of theme went into this. When I came into Iron Man, I wanted to take risks. At one point I walked up to Shane and I was, like, “Is this getting too weird?” He told me, “You can’t be too weird.”
[Laughs] Like when you’re wearing that captain’s hat?
[Laughs] Well, yeah, you should see the outtakes. The hat! That was directly from Shane.
When you’re wondering if you’re going “too big,” do you watch playback?
No. In action sequences, yes. If it’s really about a certain physicality, the action, and how it’s being shot, then I do look at playback. If it’s me speaking…with Steve McQueen, not once did I look at playback. Not once. It depends on the genre of the film and what we’re doing.
Why didn’t you look at playback on that film?
I just don’t like seeing myself. To be quite honest with you, I don’t want to be self-aware. I trust the director. If they tell me it works, then all right. If they tell me it doesn’t work, that’s fine. I’m not the type of actor who needs to see themselves on camera. If it is something like that, then I’ll just take a quick look to make sure the lighting is correct [Laughs]. Like, where are we at? It’s more about the blocking, the lighting, and the visual element more than anything. I don’t want to think about myself during the performance.
Shane is definitely one of those directors it must be easy to trust simply based on their prior work, but what really creates that trust between you and Shane and other directors?
If there’s something specific and the director knows what they’re doing. I’ve worked with directors who are good and have track records, so I feel like I can take risks. When I’m working with directors who allow me to take risks, I want to take chances. The worst thing an actor can do is go in the other direction and feel like they have to protect themselves. I’ve been in that situation before, and it’s not fun.
And it must be nice walking on a juggernaut film like Iron Man 3 where you can still play around.
Right. If you can take those risks, take them! [Laughs] What’s the worst that can happen? They’ll use it and a million people will see it. That’s what we’re here for, though.
How about for The Lone Ranger and World War Z? Are those risks possible there as well?
Different type of chances. Everything is a different type of chance. I saw World War Z the other week, and it looks amazing, man. I’m really happy with the way it turned out. I haven’t seen The Lone Ranger, but that’s another thing. The whole thing felt like a chance. Every time I got on a horse, I thought there was a chance I wouldn’t live through the day, so that’s a good chance. I’m running on the top of moving trains! I love it. I love stuff like that. I love getting dirty and trying situations I’ve never done before. Physical circumstances appeal to me. The Pacific was one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever worked on. I’ve never done a job like that and I’ll never do a job like that again. It was very, very taxing on the cast and crew. Not only because of the circumstances, but because of the material and the subject matter. I wouldn’t trade one day on that job for anything.
And it must have been even more satisfying when people responded to it the way they did.
Yeah. You want to tell stories that means something. The Pacific means something culturally, to that generation and all of us. With Iron Man, that’s something that also means something culturally. To be in a theater and listen to kids cheering…I’ve been around 12 year olds and I’ve never experienced that before.
Plus, now you got kid cred. I’m sure a few kids have reacted to you walking around the street now.
[Laughs] I do look a little different now. But, yeah, I’m glad it’s summertime, since I think kids would be throwing snowballs at me.
[Laughs] Looking at this summer, you’ve collaborated with filmmakers ‐ Shane Black, Gore Verbinski, and Marc Forster ‐ who’ve found that balance between art and commerce. Is that something you also strive for?
Yeah, I deal with that, like, “What are you doing? Why are you doing that?” You know, as directors and actors, everyone needs to feed their families, but also do meaningful work. You want to do work that people remember. Is that a stab at immortality? I don’t know, maybe somewhere in our egos, yeah. I want to do work in 20 or 50 years from now that will still be around. I want people to say, “I remember that film. That was a good film. I’ll watch that with my children.” At the end of the day, that’s what you strive for.
What are some of those films for you?
Wow. In the theme of what we’ve been talking about, I’m going to say George A. Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead. That’s a great, brilliant film. There’s plenty of westerns, like, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Comic book movies are a little harder. I can’t think of a superhero movie from the 1960s that’s still around [Laughs]. That being said, if you look at the first Iron Man, that’s kind of groundbreaking. I hope Shane Black’s holds up with it and bookends this part of the series.
Iron Man 3 is now in theaters.