Dane DeHaan Falls in Love With Every Character He Plays
Even the most unsavory types.
For W’s second annual TV Portfolio, we asked 26 of the most sought-after names in television to pay homage to their favorite small-screen characters by stepping into their shoes.
Dane DeHaan is neither the religious nor spiritual type. “I’m a very moment-to-moment, this-is-the-reality-of-now kind of person,” the actor explains on the phone from Atlanta, where he’s filming the HBO Max limited series The Staircase. “But if someone tomorrow was like, ‘I have proof that God exists,’ then I would happily witness and embrace that proof. That would actually be pretty comforting because I think life would be a lot easier if I could pray and find it useful.”
Despite his skepticism about higher powers, DeHaan, who costars alongside Julianne Moore and Clive Owen in Lisey’s Story, the Apple TV+ show based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, has been inspired by a religious figure—albeit a fictitious one. Months after Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s show Fleabag was released, DeHaan began watching episodes rapidly at the behest of his wife, Anna Wood, with whom he has two children. He, like everyone, was immediately taken by Hot Priest played by Andrew Scott, who, DeHaan says, embodied humanity, love, and beauty.
In Lisey’s Story, the 35-year-old actor plays Jim Dooley—a creepy character who obsesses over the deceased writer Scott Landon’s work. Throughout the series, Dooley, using unkind, at times violent tactics, tries to convince Lisey Landon to release unpublished manuscripts that Scott Landon wrote before he passed away. DeHaan may not be pious, but he does pride himself on being a moral person in real life—a trait that doesn’t make it difficult to take on characters he calls “bad guys,” which Jim Dooley undoubtedly is. Each character DeHaan plays gives him an opportunity to act and bring to life complex people, and for that, he loves them.
“One thing I would like to teach my children by example is to passionately love what you’re doing, and to do it with all of your heart and soul,” he says. “I love acting so much. It’s what I’ve always loved to do.”
What was it about Fleabag that resonated with you?
There were certain conventions in the show that normally would put me off—the talking to the camera—but everything was done so perfectly and with such honesty throughout, with all of the cast, but specifically with Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Andrew Scott, who plays Hot Priest. Their storyline was one that could suffer from being a far-fetched but also conventional idea. But the way they played it and the honesty in the way it was written really blew me away. The nod to dealing with humanity, but also dealing with God and religion—recognizing it as a theme in both of their lives and never denying the existence of the possibility of God. It was beautifully poetic and human in a way that I had never seen a TV show be.
Do you wish there were more seasons?
I absolutely don’t. Part of its genius is saying, two seasons and we’re done. That restraint, to tell the story you want to tell and know when it’s over, is amazing. It’s almost theatrical to know when something should be over, and I know [Fleabag] started in the theater. But I don’t need closure. Life goes on and I’m more than happy to not know what happens to them.
Your character in Lisey’s Story, Jim Dooley, is a decidedly unlovable character. How did you learn to like him?
Dooley does a lot of really bad things. That goes without saying. But in a way it was easy to fall in love with Dooley, because a lot of the things he does when he’s not doing bad things are kind of pitiful. He really loves his mother and is probably too close to her; he eats all this food, he loves his yo-yo—so there are things about him that I do find very easy to love. I got to know Dooley in a really intimate way, which is how I feel about all of my characters. Whether they’re good or bad or whatever, it’s my job to get to know them and to bring them to life.
Do you feel that you have empathy for your characters?
It depends on the character. I don’t have much empathy for some of them. Dooley is a complicated one. I don’t think I have much empathy for the things he does on the show. It’s more like if you raised a child and they ended up doing something really bad, and then you had to reckon with that but they’re still your child. I’m disappointed in him, but I still love him so much.
You’ve also said that you find Dooley really funny.
We were laughing all the way through the stuff that he does. Some of it can make people uncomfortable. He’s headbanging in his room, he’s hugging this cardboard cutout of Clive Owen’s character. He is an easy person to laugh at, and that’s also a part of what fuels his anger. I’m sure he’s been laughed at his whole life.
Were there any specific people you looked to for inspiration for this role?
I did watch No Country for Old Men. Javier Bardem’s speed, the way that he goes about things so slowly, was important to us for Dooley. We called it Dooley Speed. Going back and watching everything that Javier does in that is so calm. He’s so unfeeling. It’s easy in all of that to get swept up in the emotion of it, but you got to think that an actual psychopath would be a little more like he was. Taking the emotion out of it, going through the motions, enjoying what you’re doing.
Stephen King was actively writing new material while you were filming the show. How did that process affect your approach to the performance?
I had to stay open to anything that was thrown my way at any moment. Creating Dooley was such an exploration. It wasn’t like some parts I’ve done in the past where I have all of this time before to research and prepare and show up as ready as I can be. This was all about the work we were doing on set and the conversations we were having and the new scenes that Stephen was writing. Which ultimately led to a lot of stuff that was created in the moment. It was an outside-in way of working I’ve never done in film or TV. But it was [still] incredibly rewarding.