Like many of us, Dane DeHaan grew up pretending to be Spider-Man. He wore Spider-Man onesie pajamas to bed when he was a little boy. He dressed as the crime-fighting web slinger for Halloween, too. He has distinct memories of watching Tobey Maguire play the role in Sam Raimi’s film trilogy while he was in high school—and loving them.
So when it was announced that the superhero would be hitting the big screen again in 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, just seven years after Spider-Man 3, DeHaan had one reaction. “I wanted to be in it,” he says. “And I wanted to be Spider-Man.”
But while many of us found the news of another Spider-Man movie so soon about as unpleasant as Kirsten Dunst singing at a cabaret, DeHaan was eager for its return—and eager to be part of it.
“Look, I loved the Spider-Man movies, and I didn’t want them to stop,” he says. “And I was interested to see what they were going to do with it.” So intrigued, in fact, that he even auditioned to play the title role. “I think everybody did,” he laughs, clarifying that he didn’t make it anywhere close to actually putting on the adult-sized Spidey onesie.
And when The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which hit theaters Friday, was casting the pivotal role of Harry Osborn, the troubled childhood friend of Peter Parker who—spoiler, for those who live under a rock—becomes The Green Goblin, DeHaan was clamoring to be a part of the franchise again. Only this time, he couldn’t even get an audition. Luckily, Spidey himself, Andrew Garfield, swung in to lend him a helping hand to get in the door, recommending DeHaan to director Marc Webb after the two hit it off at a play reading.
It’s a good thing, too, because DeHaan’s simultaneously sinister and vulnerable performance is the best thing about the The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
It’s actually a bit baffling that DeHaan wasn’t on the original shortlist for the role, considering how quickly the 28-year-old actor has risen the ranks of Hollywood’s most sought-after young actors.
He starred as tortured teen Jesse on HBO’s therapy drama In Treatment before flying onto the industry’s radar, with the help of some CGI, in the surprise 2012 superhero-esque hit Chronicle. Subsequent performances in the indies Lawless, The Place Beyond the Pines, and, most recently, Kill Your Darlings (in which he starred opposite Daniel Radcliffe’s Allen Ginsberg as Lucien Carr) earned him billing as a young Leonardo DiCaprio—comparisons that those icy blue eyes, piercing through the kind of baby face that allows a 28-year-old actor to believably play a teenager, certainly support.
He’s honed a complexity that makes it abundantly clear that, though he had an easier time landing the audition for Peter Parker, he was always destined to be a more interesting Harry Osborn. After all, though we all sort of idealize and want to be the superhero in spandex when we’re younger, as we get older, haven’t we learned that it’s the superhero villains that are the most fun?
“We get to misbehave and get to go crazy,” DeHaan says, a devious smile curling across his face not too dissimilar from the one The Green Goblin sports in the film’s epic climax. “We’ve been seeing a lot of people leave this movie becoming Harry and Goblin fans, not just Spider-Man fans. What these movies are doing so well is that they’re honoring the villains as humans, not just bad guys. There’s an amount of sympathy.”
So why is there sympathy for Harry Osborn? Not only does he end up being Spider-Man’s foe, he’s a spoiled rich brat, the heir to a major research corporation—the kind of teen movie twit we’re conditioned to hate. But there’s something at the root of every evil, and with Harry, that’s a gene passed down from his father that could possibly kill him, and which is responsible for the experimentation that leads to his transformation from innocent teenager to the dastardly Green Goblin.
“He tries to buy his happiness,” DeHaan says. “He relies on material things to make him happy. He probably pays a whole lot of money for a haircut that’s probably ridiculous. He buys expensive cars and expensive clothes and he’s vain, but he has inner turmoil that he’s scared to face. So he kind of just glazes over that and relies on the money and power he was born into. Inevitably, he runs into problems in the film that money can’t get him out of for the first time, and that’s when he throws an epic temper tantrum.”
It truly is an epic temper tantrum, too—the production budget for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn’t estimated to be north of $255 million for no reason. It’s also, however, a tantrum that many Spidey fans and filmgoers are wary that they’ve seen before. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that we saw James Franco brood as Harry Osborn in Spider-Man 2 and 3.
DeHaan, naturally, thinks that skepticism is unfounded. “Look, Harry Osborn has been around for 50 years, and he’s always existed within the Spider-Man universe,” he says. “But the thing that is different and will inevitably make it different is that there hasn’t been a Harry Osborn for 10 years. There’s never been one that exists in today’s society.”
And what is today’s Harry Osborn like? “It was kind of clear to me,” DeHaan says, “that the perfect fit would be to make him a trust fund baby, a hipster kid.” There’s something glorious about that, isn’t there? That in today’s day and age, the villain of the summer’s biggest blockbuster is…a hipster.
But, again, this is a $255 million movie. So what most Spider-Man fans are dying to know is what The Green Goblin looks like, and how they arrived at that look. Because it’s not the traditional look. Gone are the purple booty shorts, tank top, and hood that comic book fans are familiar with. DeHaan’s look is far grittier and, as much as this could be true of a superhero villain that flies through Manhattan on an airborne skateboard, akin to something you’d see in real life.
“The first test we did was more cartoony,” DeHaan says, “but we wanted to bring it more into the organic, realistic world that Marc Webb created.” That means spiked hair mimics the shape of the purple hood. Jaundiced, splotchy skin subs for a full coat of green face paint. And the costume is far more utilitarian, and not to mention modest, than the comic version’s booty shorts.
And the transformation from Harry Osborn into the Green Goblin is undeniably one of the film’s more spectacular, if disturbing, sequences. Apparently, though, it could have been even darker. DeHaan says the version we see in the film is toned down from more graphic version they shot. “There was a shot of my teeth growing and then I shatter them,” he says, giddy with excitement. “And then there was my nails growing. Maybe we’ll see it in the director’s cut.”
DeHaan’s next big film look, however, will be significantly less grotesque. He’ll be playing James Dean in the upcoming biopic Life by Anton Corbijn, a pop culture icon of a far different—and more attractive variety—than the Green Goblin. “It’s flattering,” DeHaan says of being cast as the sex symbol. But that’s also precisely why he was keen to take the role.
“Everyone thinks he has this swagger, that he was this sexy guy,” he says. “And he was totally sexy, and he could put on the swagger. But he was a really normal person. That swagger was what you put in the movies. But that’s movie star James Dean. Not human being James Dean. And I think one of the really interesting things the movie does is show you how a normal human being can be turned into an icon.”
Given how convincingly he’s currently showing how a villainous icon is also a human being as The Green Goblin, there’s no doubt that he’ll pull off the transformation into James Dean, too.