To mention even the most basic of character outlines when it comes to up-and-coming actors Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen in The Place Beyond the Pines could be construed as a spoiler, so for the sake of our readers, the following chat with them may be best saved after one sees the film.
Proceeding on, these twenty-something young adults carry a hefty weight in Derek Cianfrance‘s sprawling family saga. Not introduced until the third act of the film, our focus shifts from the characters of Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper to their respective sons, played by DeHaan and Cohen. Debuting in Antonio Campos‘ searing Afterschool, Cohen embodied character that Cianfrance recognized as having similarities to his turn here as the rebellious AJ, and Cohen welcomed the pressure.
“For my character it is war and I’m pretty much coming to win,” exclaimed Cohen, who plays Cooper’s wayward son. He took this notion into the auditioning process, saying, “My reality is that I spent four years in acting class and kind of doing bit roles in little films, outside of Four [an indepedent 2012 film from Joshua Sanchez], which was a bigger role in a smaller film.” When it came to Pines, Cohen said, “I knew this was it — this was my shot. And I said to myself, go for broke or go back to acting class. I felt like I wanted to utilize the pressure involved for my character, who is coming to really make a statement.”
As for DeHaan, he was already on the verge of a break-out with Josh Trank‘s found-footage surprise hit Chronicle. While shooting that anti-superhero film in Cape Town, South Africa, DeHann got sent the script for Pines and was immediately attracted to it, but not in the role his agent intended for him. DeHaan said, “It was the part of AJ that my agent said to take a look at and I read. Despite the fact that Jason is described as really buff and half-Hispanic, I decided that I didn’t want to audition for AJ but audition for Jason,” who is teenager character searching for answers regarding his father, played by Gosling.
The casting was a fast process, as DeHaan made a tape and sent it to New York from Cape Town. He adds, “Derek really liked it and then when I was done with Chronicle, on my layover after flying 24 hours, I landed in New York and got in a car and met with Derek really quick. Then I hopped back on a plane and went to Los Angeles and a week later found out that he wanted to work with me too.” For Cohen he found out his callback audition would be with DeHaan, whose early work in the HBO show In Treatment he greatly admired. Alleviating his nerves before the audition, he said, “this callback may be the only opportunity I get to ever work with Dane. So I figured, “let’s just have fun working with Dane.”
When it came to interacting with their respective fathers, the relationships were quite different. While Cianfrance never wanted DeHaan and Gosling to even meet, Cohen said he saw Cooper “as [his] father on set.” The actor added, “I don’t know how he felt he treated me, but I tried to hear what he was doing through those eyes and see what he would do or say through that.” AJ doesn’t see Cooper’s character as strict or disappointed in him, rather a “hero.” Cohen said his character’s “anger is directed towards the world, but the pain is directed towards my father.”
For DeHaan, while he doesn’t ever draw on anything personal in his own life when it comes to acting (rather using “all imagination”), his character also comes from a place of deep pain, but of a different variety. “There’s obviously a lot going through his mind but his journey is that he feels out of place and hew knows that there is something deep inside of him — in his blood — that is missing. He feels like if he can find out the answers to the questions that he has, it will in a way set him free, ” DeHaan said. “So he’s trying to do the best he can to find the answers so he can start to carve his own path and blaze his own trail and get out of that town and be somewhere where he feels like he can actually exist as a comfortable human being. It’s just a really intense, complicated coming of age essentially.”
When it was proposed his character may be delusional, DeHaan disagrees. “I think you’ll find with a lot of kids that have never met their parents or even adopted kids, they know there is something that’s missing and they build it up in their minds. It’s almost like people do with plenty of people they never met but want to meet — they mysticize them. It’s just what people do, regular people, not delusional people.” For Jason, he “has never met his father and he feels like if he can meet his father that his father will just be the most amazing man he ever met. And just one hell of a guy that is everything that is missing in Jason’s life. He really feels like his dad is the key to setting him free so when he finds out that somebody took that opportunity away from him and somebody murdered the person that was going to set him free, it makes him really angry.”
This anger then becomes a direct clash with AJ, whose character is “a hurt child,” but “he’s not a delinquent,” Cohen explains. “AJ has a predatorial instinct and he spots Jason out.” He adds, “I saw all this bullying behavior and then underneath that was a real pain and fear.” Note unlike Cianfrance’s break out hit Blue Valentine, there was room for a great deal of improvisation, as Cohen says, “The key is to do all that homework and then to forget it all and just let it live.”
DeHaan adored Cianfrance’s open environment as well, exclaiming that he “creates such a realistic, visceral environment for actors and he really encourages you to dig deep and bury your soul and he gives you permission to do those things and consequently.” Currently shooting Marc Webb‘s superhero sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2, DeHaan said both directors are very open to discussion. “Marc is a very collaborative person and he’s totally open to ideas and totally open to changing things and encourages us to go off script if we feel like it, said De Haan, regarding the perceived regimented nature of superhero tentpoles.
When asked about the other similarities between Pines and his upcoming role as Harry Osborn, DeHaan said, “For me it’s the same job. I look at a character and I try and figure out who that person is and then I try to make them a living, breathing human being on the screen and I try to fool myself into believing what is happening to them is happening to me.” He agrees in the difference in scope though, saying, “It’s a big movie, a lot of people will see, but I’m not doing it because a lot of people will see it. I’m doing it because it’s a really awesome role in a movie that I would have always dreamed of being in. It’s really just like a dream come true.”
When it comes to the promising future of both of these young actors, Cohen said, “I want to do stuff that inspires me and excites me and if a script doesn’t do that, I feel like I’m at a place where I don’t have to make moves for financial purposes.” DeHaan concurs, saying he feels less pressure. “When you get out of school and you have no idea if you are ever going to work as an actor again, there’s this insane amount of pressure to just get one thing. And then you get the one thing and you have to get the next thing, because the one thing is about to be over. And now I feel like I can take my time and let it breathe and almost do what I want to do.”
Cohen, who bears a resemblance to one of his idols Marlon Brando (an actor who “is to acting as what Jesus Christ is to Christianity,” in his words), still has some major dreams. He looks up to Javier Bardem and Joaquin Phoenix, “two guys [he’d] really like to work with.” But he’s not focused on long term plans. “I don’t really understand what career is. Career sort of seems like this unknowable entity in the future that could go great or could go awful. If I wanted something focused on career, I’d go back to school and be a lawyer or something,” Cohen said with a laugh.
DeHaan isn’t looking too far ahead either. “I just want to keep going,” the Kill Your Darlings actor said. “If someone asked me five years ago where do you want to be in five years, I definitely would have sold myself short. I just kind of live day to day and try not to make too many goals or expectations of myself.” Even if they are only looking towards the next step, we can expect to see much more of Cohen and DeHaan in the future, as they are constantly striving to improve their craft. The latter star said, “If I do a movie this year, and I had another chance to do it the year after, I’d do a better job.”
The Place Beyond the Pines opens on March 29th.