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James Badge Dale's Conspiracy Theory

James Badge Dale discusses his new show "Rubicon" in which he plays an intelligence analyst.

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Born and raised in New York until he was six years old, Dale grew up surrounded by actors. His father, Grover Dale, is a Tony Award-winning director and choreographer who danced in the original production of “West Side Story” and was Jerome Robbins’ protégé; his mother, Anita Morris, was a successful musical theater actress. When she began getting TV and film offers, the brood moved to Los Angeles.

Dale had his first brush with Hollywood when he was in fourth grade and plucked by a casting director for the movie “Lord of the Flies.”

“[Afterwards] my parents were like, ‘Do you want to do this? We want you to do whatever you want to do.’ I think they knew what happens to children in the film business,” recalls Dale. “They were like, ‘Listen, if you want to do this we’ll support you…but we’re not getting involved. We’re not going to help you with your lines. You want to go to an audition, you walk there.’ What I noticed was very quickly, it wasn’t as much fun, it became a job. And I didn’t know if that’s the experience I wanted to have.”

Instead, Dale focused on ice hockey for many years, playing in a junior league called the Western States Hockey League in Utah and getting recruited by Manhattanville College in Westchester, N.Y.

“I got hurt in the first month and all of my energy went into the theater department,” he says, adding that despite his upbringing and early work, it wasn’t an immediate decision to pursue acting. Again, it was his experience of watching Light in “Wit” that sealed the deal. “I walked away and realized, ‘My god, they weren’t on stage for them.’ They were telling a story that was affecting the audience and it wasn’t just a me, me, me thing, which was the way I’d always thought about it.”

So at 22, Dale left school, settled in New York, studied at Stella Adler and worked construction jobs while going on casting calls.

“I’d show up for auditions covered in sheetrock dust, dirty, wearing gloves, hair was all over the place. And I knew my stuff,” he says, adding without a trace of false modesty, “If I’m peddling in looks, I’m in trouble.”

His last construction job was in 2003, when he landed his first Actors’ Equity Association gig, the play “Getting Into Heaven” at the Flea Theater. Since then, he’s appeared on various “CSI” shows, and had a recurring role on a season of “24.” He recently finished shooting Robert Redford’s “The Conspirator” opposite Robin Wright and James McAvoy.

And over the years, Dale has learned to cope with an industry that isn’t easy on the ego.

“I have moments at work where I’m like, ‘Oh god, I’ve got to find another career. I can’t do this anymore.’ We actors are sensitive people. We’re very self-conscious,” he says, recalling a dark period after “24” when he went months without work. “I became unhinged. And there was a moment when I just decided, ‘You know what? I don’t care what you think of me. I’m going to do this because I like to do it.’ I’m going to go back to that state of mind when I was six years old and it’s the joy of the performance, the joy of the story.”

 

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