When Dane DeHaan asked his parents for a Metallica album, they tracked one down, gave it a listen, and said no.
“They were just really overprotective,” the actor admits. “They would let me listen to some Green Day albums, but not all Green Day albums. They wouldn't even let me listen to Bush. Dave Matthews Band was OK.”
Now 27 and old enough to listen to whatever he damned well pleases, DeHaan didn't have to ask permission when Metallica asked him to be the star of their apocalyptic 3-D concert movie, Metallica: Through the Never. He just had to ask director Nimród Antal (Kontroll, Vacancy) what on earth he wanted from this weird, wordless flick that could be subtitled The Loudest Silent Movie Ever Made.
“The script is very obscure and there's no dialogue,” DeHaan says. “Well, I do say 'Hey' two times, but it's one line of dialogue. And I didn't want to say it — I wanted to stay silent the whole time — so when it came time to talk, I was like, 'Aw, man.' ”
Film critics aren't surprised that DeHaan can carry a story with his mouth shut. He's been on their radar since he played an unhinged teenager with superpowers in the otherwise uneven Chronicle. He's a pretty boy with real talent who, so far, has shunned teen comedies, popcorn thrillers and romantic leads to play a series of misfits: a crippled bootlegger (Lawless), a grieving son (The Place Beyond the Pines), a murderous poet (Kill Your Darlings) and a gay drug-dealer (TV's In Treatment).
Next summer, he'll launch into the mainstream as Harry Osbourn in the Spider-Man sequel, following in the footsteps of James Franco. High schoolers will swoon for his painfully pale blue eyes, the kind that cry, “Hey girl, I'm a misfit, too.” But at this exact moment, he's in the pre-fame sweet spot, the 2013 It-boy with the face — and ambition — of an early Leonardo DiCaprio.
“Yeah, sure, people tell me I look like him all the time,” DeHaan shrugs. “He was a very good-looking young man, so that's pretty OK with me. He's only 10 years older, so we could play brothers or something like that.”
So it's strikingly prescient of Antal and the band to pick DeHaan, a kid their fanbase wouldn't know if he headbanged in their bedroom, to play Through the Never's hapless go-fer Trip (as in “What a … ”), who's forced to ditch a concert in order to take a gas can to a stranded van. The simple errand turns into a savage survival quest and then, maybe, the end of all non-Metallica civilization. Inside the sold-out stadium, fans scream to their favorite songs. Outside, society is under attack from big, bruising horsemen who string up their victims and hang them from lampposts and want nothing more than to loop a noose around Trip's slender neck.
Of course the villains are human. Metallica is the rare metal band that loves spectacle yet shuns fantasy. James Hetfield would rather sing about World War I than warlocks — why terrorize Trip with zombies or mutants when humanity is already plenty scary?
Through the Never is an oddity that makes perfect sense: a concert film that could only be made by a band that truly loves film. They've spliced Dalton Trumbo's black-and-white classic Johnny Got His Gun into their breakout video “One” and sewn snatches of Ennio Morricone's soundtrack for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in their stage shows. Kirk Hammett's guitars are painted with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, and during a dark stretch of infighting, the band bravely sliced itself open for the Sundance documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.
Metallica even gave the soundtrack — and their blessing — to the fire-starting doc Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, which introduced activists to the West Memphis Three, a trio of teenagers slandered as killers for being Metallica fans. “It was a witch hunt, a shit-show,” DeHaan says of the police investigation. He knows the case well — he's starring in his own movie about it, the upcoming Devil's Knot directed by Oscar nominee Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter), in which he plays a fourth suspect who skipped town the day after the crime.
Between takes of Through the Never, DeHaan and Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich — a big Chronicle fan — would kick back and talk movies. “Lars is a huge film buff,” DeHaan says. “He's honestly more on top of it than I am.”
Even Metallica's live show is equal parts music and theatrics, a visual spectacle inspired by their most famous album covers: Crosses poke up from the floor, an electric chair sparks from the ceiling, coffins as big as cars dangle like ornaments, and a frighteningly large Lady Justice is erected over the band only to crumble into large, concrete-colored chunks that imperil the audience like Indiana Jones' boulder.
Yet it's the 3-decade-old band's monstrous charisma that really powers the stage. DeHaan, a theater veteran himself — he understudied for Haley Joel Osment in Broadway's American Buffalo in 2008 — was impressed. And maybe a little jealous. The theater crowd is smaller, and too well-behaved. “The audience isn't allowed to scream at you and the audience isn't allowed to cheer you on.”
His rock-star moment in Through the Never was a crane stunt where the camera zooms from one side of the stadium, past Hetfield's head and across a crush of fist-pumping extras to brake one foot away from DeHaan's face as he mouths “Die! Die!” to the song “Creeping Death.” DeHaan grins, “I felt pretty cool after that shot.”
But what do his paranoid parents think about their once-sheltered son's descent into metal mania? They're denying their MTV tyranny, he laughs. “They came to the premiere and they loved it. They loved meeting the band. I honestly think they regret the decision — they didn't have any idea that it would be my future.”