The Sunday Times 2014: Welcome to Hollywood… 2024

He grew up playing pretend: Dane DeHaan

Dane DeHaan photoshoot for 2013 Sunday Times

On a biting-cold Sunday last month, two magazine covers of America’s future sat in a cafe on New York’s 10th Avenue as the world drifted by. One — Cory Booker — is a Democrat senator, a favourite for president in 2024. The other, Dane DeHaan, is an actor, the new Leonardo DiCaprio, who points out Booker to me — “I love Cory Booker” — as supporters of Obama did towards the end of the last century. DeHaan plays James Dean in a new film, from a time before his big time. “People in the business knew who he was,” says this actor of that one. “But he wasn’t famous yet.” Sometimes, features write themselves.

I arranged to meet DeHaan to (pretty much) tell him how brilliant he is. See anything from his short career and you will understand. From a loner in Chronicle who gets special powers, to Ryan Gosling’s vengeful son in The Place Beyond the Pines, to the Beat-poet killer Lucien Carr in Kill Your Darlings — on screen, he is intense, likeable, cute. With, as a colleague points out, incredible blue eyes.

I don’t spend time thinking about my eyes,” he smiles, sipping a cappuccino. He smiles a lot. “They’re just my eyes. I guess I have to thank my parents.”

He was born in 1986, in Allentown, Pennsylvania — a blue-collar city that became the unasked-for subject of a Billy Joel song about deprivation and old industry. He was impatient, and left when he could, moving to North Carolina for “arts class from nine in the morning to 11 at night”. He “grew up playing pretend”, wanting only to act, and if his twenties so far have been quiet, steady, the next 10 years will change that. This month, he is in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, as Harry Osborn, who turns into the Green Goblin.

It’s a whole new audience, I say. “I mean, it’s, like, the world,” he replies. “Suddenly, everybody knows who you are...” He trails off. In Life — the Dean film — he stars with Robert Pattinson. Daniel Radcliffe was one of the many men who wanted to bed him in Kill Your Darlings. And for the sequel to 2012’s original reboot, Andrew Garfield returns as Spider-Man. DeHaan, then, has seen how life in a big franchise can be. “I don’t spend much time thinking about it,” he says, clearly thinking about it. “Because you can’t grasp it until it’s happening.”

The blockbuster was a six-month shoot in New York, the biggest ever in the city. It was a convenient location, what with DeHaan living over in Brooklyn with his wife, the TV actress Anna Wood (“She really keeps me sane”), and he prefers it on the East Coast. It’s where he can find better theatre parts and continue to collect admirers, just like James Franco, who played Osborn in last decade’s Spider-Man films, and who has painted DeHaan. (That portrait can be seen later this month in Interview magazine.)

I ask who his heroes are and he says, sweetly: “Phil Hoffman, you know?” DeHaan used to take the bus from Allentown to New York, to the late actor’s LAByrinth company, for readings. “He continued to challenge himself,” he says. Then he mutters: “Al Pacino.” He has been to his house: another reading. “He has a coffee table littered with acting books,” he says, in awe. “It was amazing. He is Al Pacino, and he’s still reading books about acting, like he’s trying to get better.”

At 28 — DeHaan’s age — Pacino hadn’t done anything. He was four years away from The Godfather. We big up people more these days, and the web is full of articles titled Why Dane DeHaan Should Be Your New Hollywood Crush — not to mention his own active social-network accounts on which he and his wife post pictures of themselves and their dog. He’s a visible actor, the face of Prada’s new campaign; he has already been shot by Hedi Slimane and Annie Leibovitz.

It was never something I aspired to,” he says of his modelling work. “But, when I was younger, I did always like fashion. Well, as much fashion as you’re exposed to as a kid in Allentown, Pennsylvania.” He used to look at “red driving shoes” in the Prada store on those trips into Manhattan, wishing he could buy them. He has since been sent a pair. “Now I need a car,” he laughs. He’ll probably be sent one of those, too.

For now, it’s about balance. The awards-flirting Life, directed by Anton Corbijn, will open next year. There is also a mooted Green Goblin spin-off, The Sinister Six. I ask if he would be in it. “This movie plants the seeds for something further down the road,” he says carefully. “But as far as my future in the franchise goes, I have no idea. I’d love to continue. I really, truly would.”

That said, his “side job”, the modelling, allows him “to take acting jobs that are the most challenging, and I don’t have to worry how much I’m paid”. Maybe DeHaan won’t suit up again for months on end. Maybe he knows his talents are better used elsewhere.

If I get to do a superhero movie, a comedy, play a real-life person and do a 16th-century romance, back to back, then I’ll grow more than if I did the same movie over and over,” he says.

I ask about the next decade: where he will be in 2024. He says if someone had asked him that five years ago, he would have “sold myself way short”. He doesn’t know. “I can only hope that in 10 years, things would have continued to grow.”

He’s on a long weekend break and, when we’re done, he near runs out of the cafe, back to Brooklyn. I hope someone took a photo of Senator Booker and DeHaan in the same room. The next time that happens, it could be in the White House, one of those star-studded flesh-pressing events. The next time it happens, the world will be watching.