James Badge Dale isn’t a household name, though he did star in AMC’s short-lived but acclaimed “Rubicon.” But he’s everywhere this summer. In “Iron Man 3” he played Eric Savin, the villain’s main henchman. In “World War Z” he’s a gruff soldier stationed in South Korea. And in the forthcoming “The Lone Ranger” he’s the titular hero’s older outlaw brother, whose code is a bit more morally gray. He also has a sizable role in “Parkland,” about the JFK assassination and starring Zac Efron and Paul Giamatti. And he’s soon to do a comedy with Joe Carnahan, who directed him in a memorable, upsetting death scene in “The Grey.”
What was it like doing films on this scale?
They were three different experiences for me in three ways — three separate genres, three completely different characters and three different sets of obstacles. I don’t know how to ride a horse. [“The Long Ranger” producers] had me show up six weeks early and learn how to handle weaponry. On “Iron Man,” I’ve never worked in front of a green screen.
What was that like? With most movies, at least the thing you’re acting with is present.
Right, there’s something in front of you. With green screen, it’s not there. It doesn’t exist. You have to trust the people you’re working with. My experience on “Iron Man” was a beautiful learning experience. These guys — Robert Downey and Don Cheadle and Jon Favreau — they supported me, and taught me how to play and how to be free. It’s as if you’re six years old and nobody’s watching you. You’re just making stuff up. That’s working on a green screen. You have to let go of any inhibitions.
Director Shane Black gave “Iron Man 3,” a mega-production, a distinct personality.
He’s got a very dark quick wit. He won’t let it get cheesy. He always wants to push it into this dark realm. I went up to him one day and asked, “Are we getting too weird?” He said, “We can’t get too weird.”
How quickly do you get over acting with major superstars?
You don’t have time for that. It’s not like you’re meeting the guy on the street. You’re working with him. So you have to show up for work. Someone told me you don’t want to work with a guy who isn’t nervous. I’ve made this mistake where I try to act like I’m not nervous. It’s okay to be a little starstruck. You just come prepared and have fun. You find that all these guys are great guys. All these guys are going through the same things you are. You become coworkers. I have a hard time when I’m working with women stars. That’s when you get starstruck. You’re working with Carey Mulligan — shewouldn’t give me the time of day in real life.
What’s the difference with working on TV vs. film?
The biggest difference with a film is there’s a definitive ending. You know the beginning, middle and the end. You always know where you’re trying to get to. With television, it’s kind of a Catch-22: If the show is successful it keeps going. To be honest, all the television I’ve been on has never made it past the year. I’ve never had this problem. Friends of mine who’ve been on the second or third season, they always have to struggle to continue to find where they’re going with everything, and how to make it real. It could go on forever.