You may be seeing a lot of James Badge Dale this summer. In addition to playing one of the villains in this summer's blockbuster action movie Iron Man 3, he's starring opposite Brad Pitt in the zombie-apocalypse film World War Z, and in July he will play the Lone Ranger's older brother opposite Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp. Not bad company to share.
Dale, 34, has spent most of his life living in Manhattan, where he cultivated a love of hockey before turning to acting. DETAILS spoke with him about why a film like Iron Man 3 is his own personal holy grail, how he stays in shape, and that time he got dragged by a horse dragged at 8:30 in the morning.
DETAILS: Over the last several years, comics and comic-book films have made a leap from the geeky to the mainstream. Why do you think that is?
James Badge Dale: Maybe we're all just kind of geeky, you know? We're just not as scared to admit it anymore. I'm a bit of a geek, a nerd, a dork, and we like our characters. We like stories. In a weird way, I live vicariously through the characters I play as an actor. As an audience member, I live vicariously through the characters I watch or read about. There's something very relatable about comic-book characters. They're never perfect. They're flawed people put in extraordinary circumstances.
DETAILS: Are you a comics guy?
James Badge Dale: I got beat up by the comic-book kids when I was younger! They were cooler than me. Talk about levels of geekdom, I was a couple rungs below the kids who read comic books. Yeah. Not so cool, man.
DETAILS: Is a comic-book film such as Iron Man 3 the holy grail for an actor?
James Badge Dale: That's a good question. For me, at this point in time, yes. I couldn't have imagined a better character to play in a comic-book film. I took the job without reading the script. They wouldn't let me read it. I sat there and they said "We promise you, you'll like it." Which is a really scary thing, when people in Hollywood say that to you.
DETAILS: How do you like playing Eric Savin, the bad guy?
James Badge Dale: [Laughs] I didn't think he was evil! I think he's a nice guy. He's just misunderstood.
DETAILS: You're in two more big films this summer, the zombie film World War Z and The Lone Ranger. Which do you prefer: Superheroes, zombies, or cowboys?
James Badge Dale: As long as they're not in the same movie—I don't know about a superhero-cowboy-zombie film. I will say, at the end, I had my fill of all three—not that I wouldn't do any one of those again. I'll say that horses smell worse than zombies and zombies dance better than superheroes.
DETAILS: Do you have a specific workout routine or diet to keep in shape for these roles?
James Badge Dale: I'm an old hockey player. When I couldn't play hockey anymore, I found boxing. I had a few amateur fights, got beat up, and the routine stuck with me. I'm someone who needs a daily practice. I'm talking to you right now after running five miles with my dogs outside. I'm sitting here covered in sweat.
I'm in decent shape. As far as dieting goes…I like to eat [Laughs]. That's a little more difficult for me. The older I get, the more vegetables I eat. I can't stress that more. Eating healthy really affects my work. You not only need to be physically prepared, but mentally and spiritually. When you work with people like Robert Downey Jr., Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, and I did a movie with Denzel [Washington] last year, these guys are working on a very high level—the highest level. They don't get there by mistake. If you're not prepared, if you're not rested, if you're not eating right, you'll notice it.
DETAILS: What's your role like in The Lone Ranger?
James Badge Dale: I play Dan Reid, The Lone Ranger's older brother. The Lone Ranger went to law school; right and wrong is very clear. The older brother believes more in terms of shades of grey. He's just dead sexy in a mustache.
DETAILS: How's Depp as Tanto?
James Badge Dale: He's so good. My favorite day on The Lone Ranger was watching him. We're 45 minutes up this canyon so no one is going back to the trailers. We would all just hang out and watch each other. I saw Johnny do a scene by himself with a horse. It was just a brilliant, funny, beautiful moment.
DETAILS: Did you get along with the horses?
James Badge Dale: My horse ran away with me once. It was one of those moments in life where you decide, "This is it." It's kind of embarrassing if this is the way I'm going to go, on a runaway horse at 8:30 A.M. on a film set. I had a horse on set named Duke who I loved. They didn't want me to ride Duke because he's scared of gunfire, but he was just this 21-year-old horse that rode like a Cadillac. Me and Duke got along, and we could do everything as long as there wasn't any gunfire. But it's a Western. Eventually we were going to have to cross that bridge. Sure enough, gunfire at 8:30 in the morning and he's gone. He took off. No one could catch me. I was hanging on for dear life.
Iron Man 3 comes out May 3, 2013.
—Mike Ayers (@themikeayers) is a New York City-based arts & entertainment writer.