When Dane DeHaan came to prominence in 2014’s The Amazing Spider-man 2 after excelling in 2013’s wonderfully out-there Kill Your Darlings, big things were expected of the cherub-faced American actor. I’ll never forget sitting on a Cannes Beach terrace (oh those were the days!) when he was promoting a minor gem, Two Lovers and a Bear co-starring another up-and-comer Tatiana Maslany and at the time he was shooting Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets filming in nearby Nice. DeHaan was playing the title role in the film that was being dubbed as the return to the director’s glory days of The Fifth Element with Cara Delevingne co-starring as a kind of Milla Jovovich replacement – though not quite.
In 2017, when the film released, even if it garnered $225 million at the global box office, it was considered a flop, as was an earlier 2017 release, A Cure for Wellness, an ethereal Gore Verbinski film in which DeHaan also starred. The actor had been given his big chance and his films failed him.
Like so many actors, he headed for television, where in fact he had begun, most notably on In Treatment. DeHaan now co-stars with Andrea Riseborough and Gabriel Byrne in the eight-part series ZeroZeroZero (the nickname for the purest cocaine, derived from the term for the finest white flour) where they play members of a family shipping company dealing with a shipment of cocaine from Mexico to Italy, which is unexpectedly rerouted to Africa. The series is based on a book by Italian mafia expert Roberto Saviano, who also wrote Gomorrah, upon which Matteo Garrone’s 2008 hit film was based. ZeroZeroZero was created by Stefano Sollima, who worked on the TV series of Gomorrah with Saviano and he also directed the Sicario sequel, Day of the Soldado.
Currently, Saviano lives under police protection since the Camorra, the largest Italian criminal crime syndicate, are not too happy with him exposing their activities. It has widely been reported that now with up to 65 per cent of Italian businesses going bankrupt due to COVID-19, the Camorra as well as the Calabrian and Sicilian mafia look set to clean up—and exert a greater stronghold.
Even the Venice Lido where the film festival takes place is a mafia neighbourhood. I’ll never forget ordering a dish and being served by a big bruiser who plonked my dish on the table.
It was only a block away, in fact, that my interview with DeHaan took place last September. The actor wasn’t giving away too much – clearly under strict instructions – and journalists at the time were only privy to two episodes. Luckily, I’ve since seen the whole series and suffice it to say, it gets very bloody, even for DeHaan’s Chris (the younger brother of Andrea Riseborough and son of Gabriel Byrne) who suffers from Huntington’s Disease.
Tell me about your character.
Of all the characters, Chris has the most extreme arc. He goes on a big adventure and is thrown in the middle of things.
Were you familiar with Roberto Saviano’s work?
No. I’d seen the movie Gomorrah and watched several episodes of Stefano’s series mostly because I wanted to become familiar with his work. I read ZeroZeroZero because I was cast in the show. I’ve since met Roberto and have learnt a lot from him. He’s very, very smart.
How did your involvement come about?
I didn’t audition, the part was offered to me. It appealed because I wanted to get in touch with the gritty realistic actor in me. I felt like I hadn’t done that in a while. I like to challenge myself in different ways and I’d been waiting for something to come along that allowed me to get down and dirty in a visceral way. The story was interesting, the character was complex, and it had great people involved. It was exactly what I was looking for.
Through making ZeroZeroZero did you change your attitude to drugs? Did you snort cocaine?
No, I did not snort any cocaine. (Chuckles) Nor do I think Chris snorts cocaine. It’s about selling and trafficking it all around the world, which I didn’t know much about. I always do a lot of research and Roberto’s book is pretty comprehensive. But my family’s role is fairly simple: we provide the boats and look away. But Chris has Huntington’s Disease so I researched that, the physical and psychological aspects. If one of your parents has it, you have a 50 per cent chance of having it. When you turn 18 you can take a test and be told whether or not you have it. Chris knows he has it. He knows he’s going to die in the same way he saw his mother die. A lot of people die via suicide, because they know how it is going to end. They don’t want to suffer.
What was the biggest surprise for you about drug trafficking?
Generally, how much it’s part of our world’s economy. It’s never going to go away because it would throw the world economy out of whack. I’d never really thought of it in that way. Now I read the news headlines about drug busts of $60 million of cocaine and realise it’s probably only one of 20 shipments of $60 million worth of cocaine on the ocean right now. So, it’s fairly inconsequential if you bust them once a year. It makes for great news but it’s not solving the problem – and the problem will never be solved. I don’t even know if they want the problem to be totally solved.
What do you think of the film’s style given that it’s based on a book? I thought the first episode I saw on the big screen in Venice was stunning visually.
The book relates a lot of facts and I think if you don’t have a real interest in the topic it’s a lot of information. It’s complicated and in a lot of ways goes above my head. Yes, the visual style of the show is gorgeous. We shot all around the world and they took advantage of the locations. It feels good when you do that much travelling to see it pay off on screen.
How was Stefano as a director?
He really tried hard to find truth in the moments. He was great in directing action but he also understands drama.
What was it like to work with Gabriel Byrne?
I kind of got my start on In Treatment with Gabriel Byrne. He was my therapist, now he’s my father, which is fairly Freudian! He’s the greatest. He’s so talented, so smart and wise and charming. As a young actor he was very influential on me. I remember him being supportive of me moving to Los Angeles and giving it a shot. He motivated me to do that. I now live back in New York with my wife and daughter.
You were in a Marvel movie. What do you think about how they’ve taken over cinema?
It’s pretty nuts. It’s economics. I understand that going to the movies is expensive. It can cost $100 for a family to see a movie including popcorn or whatever, so they are the kinds of event movies people will pay to go and see.
You also had a few disappointments, like Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
Yes, that’s hard for sure, especially when you make a movie like that and when it releases it all becomes about how many people see it. I remember sitting at a table with Luc Besson and him saying, “I’m returning to sci-fi and I want you to star in it”. Looking back, it was a great experience and a no-brainer to do it. All along the way he was so excited about what he was doing, and he told me I was bringing his vision to life. I still have very fond memories of making it.
How did it effect your career?
That’s why I wanted to do something more visceral and real. Even on the movie I did before this it was great working with seasoned actors and doing the work I was taught to do in school. Though I would love to make some big blue screen movies again.
What was the other movie?
Vincent D’Onofrio’s The Kid where I played Billy the Kid.
Was that another disappointment?
It released in the US but not so much internationally. When you make a small independent movie like that, it becomes more about the work. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make a ton of money.
I’d pay to work with Vincent D’Onofrio
Exactly. I pretty much did.
ZeroZeroZero premieres at 9:30pm Thursday 14 May on SBS. Episodes will be available at SBS On Demand on the same day as broadcast. DeHaan also appears in The Stranger which is available on streaming platform Quibi.