Former Emmaus High student Dane DeHaan: “I was obsessed with acting”
Star of the new sci-fi film ‘Chronicle,’ Allentown native Dane DeHaan is on a roll, with three other films set for release this year and comparisons to Leonard DiCaprio
By Amy Longsdorf, Special to The Morning Call
When Dane DeHaan was a student at Emmaus High School, he couldn’t wait for classes to be over so he could dash off to Allentown’s Theatre Outlet or Civic Theatre for rehearsals.
“I was obsessed with acting,” he says. “Sometimes, I’d go to rehearsals for the school play and then come home and spend another six to eight hours rehearsing for a community theater production.”
DeHaan’s hard work has paid off in a big way. Now 26, the Allentown-born actor who grew up in Zionsville has meaty roles in four high-profile movies.
He stars in 20th Century’s Fox’s just-released surprise hit “Chronicle,” a found-footage thriller about a trio of Seattle-area teenagers who develop superhuman powers after stumbling upon a mysterious substance. The film led the box office last weekend when it opened and has been getting good reviews.
He will be seen in three other films set for release this year: “The Wettest County in The World” co-starring Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain; “Place Among the Pines” co-starring Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling, and “Jack and Diane” costarring Jena Malone and Juno Temple.
He just signed on for the lead role opposite Daniel Radcliffe and Elizabeth Olsen in “Kill Your Darlings,” which begins filming in March.
No sooner did DeHaan appear onscreen than critics began likening him to a young Leonardo DiCaprio, a comparison that DeHaan doesn’t mind one bit.
“If there was one actor to be compared to, he’s a good one,” says the actor. “But I try not to think too much about that stuff. I remind myself every day that I’m so lucky to get to do the work I want to do and get to do it with some of the greatest actors out there … The opportunities I’ve been given are second to none.
“That’s what I enjoy. If what comes out of that is fame and fortune, those aren’t really bad side-effects to doing what you love doing.”
While DeHaan has been nabbing high-profile roles for the last year or so, “Chronicle” is his first movie to be given a wide release. He says he knew the film was going to be something special from the moment he read the screenplay.
“It’s very different from most superhero movies because it deals with getting superpowers in a very realistic way,” he says. “It assumes that the person getting the superpower might not be the best person in the world to be endowed with those powers.
“These kids’ first reaction is, ‘Wow, I should save the world.’ But they’re actual teenagers with actual problems. The way they use their superpowers directly correlates to who they are as people and what’s going on with their lives. It’s a human story as much as it’s a superhuman story.”
DeHaan plays Andrew, a geek from a troubled family who suddenly develops the ability to fly. “It was fun but also terrifying,” he reports. “They have these flying rigs where you’re basically dangling 125 feet above the ground by two pieces of rope.
“I’m someone who’s scared of roller coasters. So when I got there and saw how high and how fast I was going to be going, I was nervous. But, in the end, I wound up having fun with it.”
In the film, Andrew is the dark one who starts abusing his powers. His friends — Steve (Michael B. Jordan) and Matt (Alex Russell) — try to help him.
DeHaan can’t remember a time when he didn’t want to perform. “It’s all I ever wanted to do,” he says. The youngest of two children of computer programmer Jeff DeHaan and Knoll Furniture exec Cynthia Boscia, Dane began treading the boards at age 5.
He made his stage debut in a production of “Aesop’s Fables” at Stage Door Workshop at the Asbury United Methodist Church in South Whitehall Township. A year later, he played Tiny Tim in “A Christmas Carol” at Civic.
“I had so many great opportunities doing theater in the Lehigh Valley growing up,” he says. “I learned a lot. It had a positive influence on me.
“The way I work now, I got mostly from college … but the joy of it, the community feeling of it, that was all reinforced for me in Allentown.”
By the time he got to middle school, DeHaan already was an old pro. Recalling his son’s performance in “Anything Goes” at Stage Door Workshop, his father Jeff says, “Dane’s timing, vocalization and nuances caused the entire audience to break out in tremendous laughter. That’s when I knew he had talent. I never saw such a moment in all the years of watching children’s theater.”
At Emmaus High School, DeHaan was a theater kid and also the vice president of his class. He had a bunch of supportive friends and appeared in all of the plays. “I wasn’t that into school, in general, though,” he says.
DeHaan briefly considered trying to make it as a child actor. “My parents were always really supportive and, at one point, they said, ‘Maybe you want to get an agent.’ But for whatever reason, I wanted to go to college and learn how to really act — and that’s what I did.”
For his senior year of high school, DeHaan left Emmaus and transferred to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. He remained in North Carolina for college. Two weeks after he graduated, he landed a guest role on “Law and Order: SVU” and he hasn’t stopping working since.
DeHaan’s first big breakthrough was his Obie-winning performance as a lonesome high-schooler in “The Aliens,” an off-Broadway play by Annie Baker.
“The play only ran for six weeks, but in those six weeks, we took over the New York theater scene,” recalls the actor. “We got a rave review from The New York Times and people were lined up around the corner to get in to see the play, which we were doing in this 90-seat theater … It was a very special moment.”
Starring in “The Aliens” helped land DeHaan a role in HBO’s hit series “In Treatment” as a disturbed hipster who acts out sexually. The show, which previously helped launch Mia Wasikowska’s career, allowed DeHaan to prove he had the acting chops of a major player.
“When you’re surrounded by such amazing actors, you have to live up to them,” he says. “Not only was I given this incredibly challenging material, but also the person after me on the show was Amy Ryan and the person before me was Debra Winger.”
Following a three-episode run as a werepanther on the HBO series “True Blood,” DeHaan moved to Los Angeles and almost instantly began landing one big movie role after another.
Recently, DeHaan and his “Wettest County” co-star Shia LaBeouf drove across country together. On the trip, DeHaan got a taste of the downside of fame.
“When we’d go to a restaurant, there would be people outside lining up to see the kid from ‘Transformers,’ ” says DeHaan. “It was weird.
“I never really thought about that part of acting … right now, having maybe two or three people a day coming up to me, telling me that they like me a lot — that just kind of makes me feel good.”
Helping DeHaan keep his feet on the ground is Anna Wood, an actress he met during high school in North Carolina. The couple just celebrated six years together.
“I’m lucky I met her before any of this really got too crazy,” he says. “I know that I have somebody who sees me for the person I am, and have always been.”
DeHaan says he gets back to the Lehigh Valley about once a year to spend time with his sister Meghann Carl, who lives in Emmaus. (His parents, who divorced when DeHaan went to college, left Zionsville a few years ago).
“I miss Yocco’s,” says the actor. “I think Allentown is amazing. I miss the parks. I’m a big golfer and growing up, there were tons of fairly affordable public golf courses.
“I never realized how beautiful Allentown was until I moved away and came back. There’s so much farmland. I took it for granted. So when I go back, it kind of blows me away. It’s so green and beautiful,”
While he’s rarely in one place for long — his movies have shot all over the world from South Africa to Schnectady, New York — DeHaan now lives in Los Angeles, around the block from Allentown’s Amanda Seyfried, whom he’s never met.
A fan of James Dean, Al Pacino and Philip Seymour Hoffman, DeHaan is serious about his craft. In “Place Beyond The Pines,” he plays a character who spends much of the movie riding around on a bicycle. Before production began, DeHaan decided to build his own bike from scratch and have it shipped to the set in Schenectady.
“I didn’t want to have to act like that bike meant a lot to me,” he says. “So I built one that did mean a lot to me.”
DeHaan imagines he’ll be an actor for the rest of his life. “I love so many aspects of [performing],” he says. “I love breaking down the script. I love being on the set. I love how much traveling I get to do and how much of the world I get to see.
“I love learning so much about people and how they work and where they’re coming from … I love the ever-changing quality of it. You never know what’ll happen next. And it’s always an adventure.”