If you ask movie buffs what movies they're looking forward to seeing this summer, odds are they will name the Robert Downey Jr. blockbuster "Iron Man 3," the Brad Pitt zombie flick "World War Z" or the Johnny Depp action-comedy "Lone Ranger."
James Badge Dale is looking forward to the release of those films, too -- but that's because he has featured roles in all three. The only child of actor/dancer Grover Dale and the late actress Anita Morris, he began acting at age 10 in 1990's "Lord of the Flies." Dale did not act again for more than a decade and returned to it only after studying theater at Manhattanville College in Purchase. From there, he pursued a diverse career that has seen him appear in critically acclaimed film and TV dramas such as "Flight," "The Departed," "24" and "Rubicon."
And now he is on the cusp of a breakout year, starting with the release of "Iron Man 3," which hits theaters Friday, in which he plays Eric Savin, the main henchman of the villainous Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). His other roles this summer are the title character's older brother in "Lone Ranger" and a soldier in "World War Z."
Dale, who celebrated his 35th birthday Wednesday, spoke to Newsday Westchester about working on the trio of highly anticipated films and how his time at Manhattanville College in Purchase helped him become a better actor.
You have three blockbuster films all coming out this summer. Does that feel like a big deal to you?
I'm excited about it. The three movies coming out this summer -- you never plan it this way, but it's great that they all come out like this. They're three big fun summer movies, and I had a good time shooting them.
In "Iron Man 3," you play Eric Savin, who, in the comic books, becomes the villain Coldblood. How closely is your character based on the comic-book character?
[Director] Shane Black took a little creative license, and then he let me take creative license ... He's a character we came up with. He enjoys mayhem.
I'll be honest with you, I've had a horrible fear of doing a comic-book movie and getting trapped in some claustrophobic costume for 12 to 14 hours a day. And when I read this, I said, 'Wait a minute, if I ever do a comic-book movie, this is the guy I want to play because you don't know he's around.'
He doesn't wear a costume. He dresses like everybody else ... So the costume is a little low-key. But when he starts breaking everything in the room, he's not so low-key.
It's a good way to spend your summer. They're all lovely, lovely people. It's a fun movie.
One of the most impressive things about Robert Downey Jr. is his ability to play, his concentration, his intensity, but it's also his ability to make sure everyone around him is okay. He wants willing partners. It's not about him. It's about all of us, and he raises everyone's game around him.
You filmed "Lone Ranger" [in theaters July 3], then went straight to "Iron Man 3." What was that transition like?
My last day on "Lone Ranger," I'm standing on a moving train with Johnny Depp [who plays Tonto] and Armie Hammer [who portrays the Lone Ranger], and I hopped in my car, threw my dogs in the car and drove to North Carolina.
And then the next day, we're in the interior of a studio, and I'm there with Don Cheadle, and I'm acting with a tennis ball. And the tennis ball is supposed to be this other thing [a computer-generated object added in post-production], and it's moving around, and it was a little bit of a shock to me. And Don Cheadle, who is so cool and funny, he turns to me and goes, 'It's not quite acting.' And then he told me to relax and have fun. Because no one trains you to deal with that.
I can't tell you how grateful I am to have had that advice from him on the first day of working from someone I respect.
And what was your experience working on "Lone Ranger"?
I love the "Lone Ranger" -- that was one of the best working experiences I ever had. We were under really difficult conditions. We're out in the desert, it's hot, we had a crew of 200 and we're in the middle of nowhere, and it's hot, it's dusty, and there's a lot of moving pieces. There's a lot of horses. There's not a lot of CGI. When you see the "Lone Ranger," what you see is what you get.
And before you worked on the other two movies, you filmed "World War Z" with Brad Pitt [in theaters June 21], which seems like it would have been a totally different experience from "Iron Man 3" and "Lone Ranger."
I think there's a videotape of me at 3 a.m. trying to do the Michael Jackson "Thriller" dance with a bunch of the guys playing the zombies, somewhere out there. [He laughs.]
That's what makes these three movies different. They're three genre movies in three completely different genres. And I've kicked around for a little bit. I've been around for 10 years, and I've got to do three things I've never done before. And to be quite honest with you, I don't know if I'll be able to do it ever again. Just because they don't come around very often.
Back to your first question: It's interesting to me that the last two years my life is all bookending in two months. And I think I learned a little bit about myself in these past two years, and I learned to lighten up a little bit, and enjoy things a little bit more. And I hope that serves me going on.
You made your acting debut in 1990's "Lord of the Flies." That's kind of incredible, that you had something that intense as your first role. What do you remember most about filming that movie?
An experience out of your nightmares is when you're 10 years old and you're filming a movie in your underwear 90 percent of the time, and then you had to go back to [school to] all the kids you knew.
"Lord Of The Flies" -- I lucked into that. A casting director came to my school and asked me if anyone wants to try out for a movie. And you run around in your underwear for four months, your parents aren't around [and] you don't even know the cameras are there.
And then I came home and realized that this was work. And the last thing a 10-, 11-year-old wants to do is go to work every day, punch a clock. I found ice hockey around the same time. And to be honest with you, all I wanted to go do was go to the ice rink and get hit in the head with a puck. My life took a different direction. [He laughs.]
Many years later, you went on to study acting at Manhattanville College in Purchase. What year did you graduate?
I didn't graduate. I dropped out. [Dale started his freshman year at 21 and dropped out at 23.]
I went to Manhattanville to play hockey and ... I got hurt in the first two months of the season, and so my energy went to the theater department. It's ironic how things work out. Hockey took me out of acting as a kid, and then it was actually what got me back to it is as an adult.
Do you feel like that your time at Manhattanville impacted your career?
Absolutely. I had great professors. It's a small school, so what they really concentrated with me on was breaking down my voice and my body. Because I had a very definitive way of moving, and my voice and my speech were really messed up.
I remember Professor [Michael] Posnick. He was the head of the theater department. He used to say to me, 'You talk like you have rocks in your mouth.' And he would make me recite Shakespeare to myself every night before I [went] to sleep ... They were very supportive of me.
Back to your big movie season. Of your three movies coming out this summer, do you have a personal favorite?
I'm not supposed to play favorites, am I? [Laughing] I do have a favorite facial hairstyle. I grew a big mustache for the "Lone Ranger." And I never had a mustache before. And I can't tell you how much respect you get at gas stations. So that was my favorite.
"Iron Man 3" is in theaters nationwide Friday.