In “A Cure for Wellness,” Dane DeHaan gets locked in a sensory deprivation tank with eels. He gets in a car accident. The villain performs experimental dental surgery on him. It’s all in a day’s work, says the actor, of “The Place Beyond the Pines,” “Chronicle” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” So far DeHaan, 31, has mixed it up, making serious dramas and outlandish blockbusters. (He’ll soon be seen in “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” from French lunatic Luc Besson of “The Fifth Element” and “Lucy.”)
But DeHaan never changes up his approach. In “A Cure for Wellness,” he plays Lockhart, a cynical, grouchy businessman who slowly uncovers a bizarre conspiracy at a remote, very creepy spa in the Swiss Alps.
One thing that must have kept this film interesting for you is that your character is kind of a jerk. And he’s our hero.
I think who Lockhart is in the beginning of the movie isn’t necessarily the most likable person. But if he was too likable, you’d just feel bad for him the entire time. I wanted to create a guy you wanted to get a beer with, but you wouldn’t mind seeing him get punched in the face. The amount of torture I go through, there has to be a certain degree of entertainment. You can’t just sit there and go, “Oh, poor Lockhart.” You also have to think, "He kind of deserves that."
I think we place too much value on likable protagonists.
Yeah, I think likable protagonists can be pretty overrated. [Laughs] There’s a world for the likable protagonist, but you’re challenged more as an audience when you have a more complicated person.
I always get irritated when people say, “Well, I just didn’t care for the hero.”
“I just didn’t want to have dinner with them.” Well, you weren’t having dinner with them. [Laughs]
You have to go to some pretty intense places here. It reminded me of that old, boring story about Dustin Hoffman on “Marathon Man,” where he stayed up all night for a scene where he had to look tired. Laurence Olivier just said to him, “Why don’t you try acting?
I’d say the way I go about acting is a lot closer to Dustin Hoffman than Laurence Olivier — if I had to pick one. Hoffman ran around the studio a couple times to make his character look like he was out of breath. I would definitely do that.
How scary were the torture scenes?
In a lot of ways those were the easiest scenes to act, because it was just so visceral and terrifying. I just had to freak out.
The scene where they perform experimental dentistry on you looks freaky, but I’m sure it wasn’t the only one.
That was pretty freaky: There’s a drill coming towards my face and I couldn’t move. Riding down the circular driveway on a bike in a cast with Mia [Goth, costar] was one of the most terrifying things I had to do. There were parts of the car accident that were pretty scary. They had a rig where the car was basically on a rotisserie, and it was flipping the car around.
That’s why people become actors: to be in a car rotisserie.
There are definitely days when I do things on film sets where I think ‘If this was real life, I would never do this.’ Somehow I’m compelled to do it.
It’s a big departure from the dramas you’ve done, like “The Place Beyond the Pines.” You can do serious but also find yourself making blockbusters in Europe, like this.
If you did just one thing, you’d only be good at that one thing. It’s fun to do different things, to be challenged in different ways, flex all the muscles. That’s one of the things that’s fun about my job.
You do have a fun job.
It’s really fun, for sure.
I’m sure your life when you’re not working is not this fun.
My life is so exciting when I’m working that I almost crave the boring when I’m home. I just want to be on a couch, chilling out with my family. I love doing manual labor: chopping wood, laying stones — very simple tasks, where I’m as boring and off-the-grid as possible.
You live the opposite life of most people.
I get to do so many exciting things. “What did you do at work today?” “I was in a sensory deprivation tank with eels.”