By Moonah Ellison
Photography by Nathan Johnson
James Badge Dale’s 2019 is reaching the sort of buzz levels most actors strive for. His face is the one you know, but can’t always quite get the name spot-on as an “instantly recognizable” Hollywood commodity. But boy is he coming up fast as that main stream lead.
The first time I saw Badge Dale on screen he was shooting Leonardo DiCaprio right between the eyes in Martin Scorsese’s 2006 Best Picture Oscar-winning film, The Departed, only to get whacked a few seconds later by Matt Damon’s character, Colin Sullivan.
Since then you’ve seen him in Iron Man 3 with Robert Downey, Jr., World War Z with Brad Pitt, and the big-budget World War II HBO miniseries The Pacific from Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. Or maybe you saw him in Parkland, the 2013 drama that centered on the JFK assassination, another Hanks-produced film.
But first, he’s got to get past the fall. And a deal of recent traveling.
He is feeling zen. Well, relaxed and rested when I caught him after a recent surfing trip to El Salvador, a trip planned to “clean that character off me and start over again and get acclimated to myself” as he puts it, a cleansing process. The hours of working have caught up to him. He went to El Salvador for the first time and immersed himself in the country’s local vibe.
“I met some amazingly beautiful people, some amazing local people that took me around. I worked on my Spanish and I learned about their history and their families and you make friendships that can last a lifetime,” he says with a grin in his voice.
Such a happy-go-lucky attitude is at the forefront of Badge Dale’s MO. Fresh off his trip, he’s back in LA when we talk, the San Fernando Valley to be exact, off on a long hike in the scorching heat. 700 degrees or feels like it, he claims tongue-in-cheek. Or not.
He remembers these hills from high school. “My family had this little ranch house up in the hills and all my friends lived in the San Fernando Valley. On Friday after school I’d take my skateboard and I’d run down all these dirt paths from like Cold Water and Mulholland all the way down into like Ventura Boulevard and friends would pick me up and we’d just go cause trouble for 48 hours and then on Sunday I’d walk up all the trails back home.”
Life has been good to Badge Dale. He just shot his first television show in 10 years (the last was Rubicon on AMC), an eight-episode show called Hightown for Starz set to debut this fall, about heroin trade on Cape Cod.
He plays a narcotics officer with personal demons and Badge Dale is no stranger to personal conquest. He had wild teenage years, was “out of control,” went to five high schools and got into a lot of trouble, got arrested and spent eight months in a group home.
His life changed when he was 18 years old and got a second chance at life. It’s risky material like Hightown, or Mickey and the Bear—an indie film debuting this fall where he plays a opioid-addicted, PTSD-inflicted veteran in constant conflict with his teen daughter in Montana—he doesn’t shy away from.
“I love independent film, I like getting down and dirty,” he says. “When you’re out in the middle of Montana with a young film crew, no one’s doing it for money, everyone’s doing it for respect, everyone’s doing it for the right reason, everyone’s doing it to tell a good story,” “Every once and a while a movie squeaks through and it gets seen and Mickey and the Bear looks like that movie right now.”
And he’s getting rave reviews for the role, a script that he felt in the pit of his stomach. Variety says Badge Dale provides an “arresting role” and Hollywood Reporter says Badge Dale turns in a “superb” performance.
It’s gritty roles like Hank that bring Badge Dale a sense of purpose in choosing roles. And this one called to him. “There are moments when you read something and you become afraid. There are moments when you read something and you go, ‘Oh my God this is so risky. I don’t know if I can take this journey.’ But I thought I had something personal to bring to it.”
When making Mickey and the Bear, Badge Dale prepped three months, spending a lot of time with servicemen who have been overseas, a lot of time with people who have come back and who go back time and time again—servicemen who have a hard time assimilating back into society.
He also had a chance to bring personal experience to the role and learned a lot and went back to his past acting experiences and people he’s worked with to take it all in.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with people with traumatic brain injuries. I had some personal things to bring to it as I have a long history of concussions and I was talking to some people I’ve met down the road from years ago, from guys I worked with on The Pacific, guys I worked with from Thirteen Hours.There’s a lot of different kinds of threads going on in there, but at the end of the day when an actor takes a job, it’s yours and you gotta trust your instincts.”
Camila Morrone, a lifelong model and fairly new to the acting world, plays his daughter Mickey. Badge Dale knows she’s going to be a star. “It’s a beautiful thing watching Cammi work, Cammi shows up,” he gushes. “She’s 21 years old, this is her third movie ever, her first lead role and we’re just meeting for the first time, I mean, you think about all these circumstances and she sat down and she had done extensive research and she personalized everything and she was like, ‘I’m Mickey.’ She trusted her own instincts and it was one of the greatest experiences of my acting life and career watching her change and how she did that work through this movie. I’m so proud of her.”
blue shirt his own
Custom Jorge Morales jacket, Carlos Campos shirt, Edwin USA jeans
Carlos Campos shirt
photographer Nathan Johnson
stylist Jorge Morales
groomer Kumi Craig
location Burke & Willis nyc