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Dan Stevens on “Abigail”, “Godzilla x Kong” and “Cuckoo”

Dan Stevens on “Abigail”, “Godzilla x Kong” and “Cuckoo”


It's been less than 12 years since Dan Stevens raised a middle finger to the British aristocracy (OK, the Crawleys), leaving “Downton Abbey” as the series neared its climax and heading to America with his family. As he admits, he had “absolutely no idea” what was going to happen to him.

“There was no road map,” the 41-year-old actor candidly explains of a decision that, at the time, was considered by many to be pure madness. “I left Downton with a blank slate. It was just, “I think I want to do something else.” » But I didn't know what it looked like.

To get an idea of ​​what it's like right now, just head to your nearest movie theater, where Stevens competes in two of the biggest studio releases of the season. In what has become something of a calling card for the Brit since he devastated viewers — not to mention Lady Mary — by ending his “Downton” days under an overturned vintage engine at the end of the Christmas special 2012, these are two very different ones. movies.

In Warner Bros. sequel to the mega-monster “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” it's a long-haired, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing '80s action hero and Titan vet – sort of Brad Pitt meets Ace Ventura – who first appears once flown into Kong's mouth to treat an extremely painful gorilla tooth. Meanwhile, in Radio Silence's bloody Dracula action mashup, “Abigail” for Universal, he is a corrupt former cop who now leads a gang of kidnappers, who, in one of many hilarious OTT scenes, projectile vomits blood for what seems like five minutes (and spends the rest of the film soaked in the stuff).

“Yeah, they're a little different,” Stevens says with a smile, speaking from his home in Los Angeles. “But that’s part of the fun.” It's been an ambition of mine for some time to be able to do something that allows you to see a movie in one theater and literally walk around the block and see another movie in another theater without even recognizing the same person. I like this.”

In fairness, Stevens has been doing this for a decade.

Since his first major post-“Downton” breakthrough as a charming, cold-blooded killer in the 2014 cult thriller “The Guest,” he has happily jumped between genres with impressive — and intentional — enthusiasm. There were family hits (“Beauty and the Beast” as the Beast and “Night at the Museum: The Secret of the Tomb” as Sir Lancelot), science fiction (“Colossal” as Anne Hathaway's frustrated ex), festive biopics. (“The Man Who Invented Christmas” as Charles Dickens), violent folk horrors (“The Apostle” by Gareth Evans as a missionary taking on a cult) and what he described as a “fireball of stupidity” (“Eurovision Song Contest: The” Will Ferrell. Story of Fire Saga), playing a closeted Russian pop prince with a taste for statues of himself with phallic print).

And it's been no different, albeit less common, on television, where Stevens made his name playing the schizophrenic mutant son of the X-Men's Charles Xavier in the Marvel/FX spinoff series “Legion.” and, most recently, as Richard Nixon's real-life White House lawyer John Dean in Starz's Watergate political thriller “Gaslit.”

But with back-to-back major roles in “Godzilla x Kong” and “Abigail,” there’s a sense that Stevens has now headed – in typically eclectic fashion – to the top of the studio call lists.

“I feel like he's been waiting in the wings to become a major movie star as long as anyone,” said “Godzilla x Kong” director Adam Wingard, who cast Stevens in “The Guest” and then found it 10 years ago. later. “He has proven himself. It's just a matter of studios and producers catching up. But I think we're there.

For Wingard, who alongside writing partner Simon Barrett created the “Godzilla x Kong” role with Stevens in mind, the actor's “secret sauce” is a singular ability to make each character worthy of trust. “It doesn't matter if they're a villain or a hero, there's something about Dan Stevens' charisma that makes everyone, young or old, love him.” he. “And of all the actors I've worked with, he's the one most casual moviegoers know, I think because he's done so many different things.”

Blood-soaked Dan Stevens alongside Melissa Barrera in “Abigail.”
Bernard Walsh/Universal Pictures

It was Stevens' growing “appetite” for doing different types of things that led him to first move to the United States at the age of 29. Before “Downton,” he had appeared in adaptations of Jane Austen and Henry James, and he suggests that while he loved the work, he risked being typecast if he stayed at home.

“I think maybe it's more of a British attitude to say, 'I've never seen you do that, I don't think you can do that,'” he says. “While the attitude I encountered here at first was, 'I've never seen you do that, I'd like to see you try.'” Shortly after arriving in the United States, he heard almost exactly those words by Scott Frank, who later cast him as a revenge-seeking heroin dealer in his 2014 neo-noir action thriller “A Walk Among the Tombstones” alongside Liam Neeson.

“And as a young actor, that’s all you want to hear.” That’s the most encouraging thing,” he says. “Since then, I've kind of had that in the back of my mind, like, 'I've never seen myself doing that, I'd love to try it.' And I think more and more, I like to surprise people, so they're like, “Oh, he's a Russian pop star now?” ALL RIGHT.'”

Stevens' ability to surprise people may diminish with every Russian pop star, Arthurian knight, King Kong dentist or blood-soaked criminal he plays. His ability to appear as anyone and anything quickly became his USP.

But that doesn't mean it can't still raise eyebrows, as it did in 2021 with Maria Schrader's sci-fi romance “I'm Your Man.” Stevens' role as a male humanoid robot “companion” may have fit perfectly into his oeuvre, but the surprise factor was that he played the role while speaking fluent German, having learned the language in high school .

“German is a lovely and very personal thing for me,” he says. “We spend a lot of our careers being around other actors and doing similar things, like, 'Oh, he did a biopic' or 'he did an action movie.' We all do our thing, but every once in a while I'll go and make a weird little film in German… and sometimes that weird little film finds its audience.

As he notes, the film ended up having its world premiere at the Berlinale and was later submitted by Germany as an Oscar entry, making the shortlist. It also dominated the German film awards, where Stevens was nominated for best actor.

The German was recently dusted off for “Cuckoo,” Tilman Singer's feature debut and a strange and unsettling psychological horror in which Stevens plays an eccentric villain at the helm of a nightmarish breeding program. Like “I'm Your Man,” the film premiered at the Berlinale (Neon released it August 2), although Singer clearly botched his performance in Schrader's drama three years earlier and was “completely stunned” when the actor initiated their first conversation in German.

The singer – who Stevens initially connected with after seeing his “extremely inventive” 2018 graduation short film, “Luz” – has now joined a growing range of collaborators the actor hopes to continue working with , filmmakers who approached him directly or whose work he discovered at festivals or through recommendations. And, of course, he's happy to do just about anything with them, but ideally with an emphasis on “fun” projects.

“Abigail,” he asserts, is a perfect example. “It's a beautiful film with a rich, classic tone, but what happens on screen is profoundly absurd,” he says. “That contradiction does something to your brain, to the extent that you think, 'This is beautiful, and yet there's 5,000 gallons of blood coming out of this man's mouth… what's going on? -he ?'”

Dan Stevens as Russian pop prince Alexander Lemtov in “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.”
John Wilson/NETFLIX

A potential new collaborator — or just someone he admires from afar — is Zelda Williams, who loved his recent directorial debut, the Focus Features horror comedy “Lisa Frankenstein.”

“It’s great, and for a first film, absolutely extraordinary,” he says. “It may not be the perfect movie, but it doesn’t have to be. What this does is absolutely demonstrate the characteristics of someone with style, taste and a sense of humor.

Like Singer and Wingard, Stevens says Williams has the ability to choose a great soundtrack.

“And if you know you're going to be in a great shot with a great melody, then most of the work has been done for you and it's up to you to screw it up,” he notes. “And Zelda has that in spades.” So I can't wait to see what she does next.

Whether Stevens has time to work with Williams is another thing.

He just finished filming Netflix's political thriller series “One Day” as part of an ensemble that includes Robert De Niro, Lizzie Caplan and Jesse Plemons, while Wingard – currently at the height of box office success of 500 million dollars. from “Godzilla x Kong” — says he has another “juicy role” in a script he worked on with Barrett. Stevens also talks about new projects with Singer, someone he “really wants to champion.”

And while Stevens appears to be bringing his own ideas to many projects (he originally wanted to play his role as “Godzilla” with a South African accent), he's currently “thinking” about a move behind the camera to start working much more closely with the writers. and start producing, after being given the confidence to do so by filmmaker friends. “It’s an exciting new chapter,” he said, adding that there are “a few things on the stove.”

Meanwhile, he's only too excited to see what random direction the creative relationships he's already forged will take him next, with Stevens pointing to the actor-director partnership enjoyed by Rutger Hauer and Paul Verhoeven as the inspiration that he has for many years.

“You could see them saying, 'Oh, we're going to do a medieval epic now, or we're going to do an intense domestic drama now… it was just pointing a stick and going, 'Let's do one,'” he said.

“So if Adam Wingard, Tilman Singer, Radio Silence or Gareth Evans came to me and said, 'Actually, I just want to do a romantic comedy,' I'd say, 'Absolutely, fucking sign me up,'” adds Stevens. “I don’t care what they do next, I just want to be a part of it.”




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