Iris Café, a lovely Brooklyn Heights spot with a few nonsensical flourishes, is nice and serene on the afternoon I meet Alden Ehrenreich. We sit under a giant, snaking, carcosa-esque tree-branch-thing and drink tea and talk about Bruce Springsteen. Ehrenreich happens to be wearing a Springsteen shirt (from The River tour) and I, a declared fan, can’t help but ask about it.
Solo: A Star Wars Story — in which the 28-year-old Californian plays the title space cowboy — hits theaters in just over a month. It was, in the Star Wars tradition, a fraught shoot. Late in production Lucasfilm dropped the original directors, The Lego Movie’s Phil Lord and Chris Miller, for the veteran Ron Howard. And as Howard frantically reshot under the studio’s close watch, the Hollywood press picked apart the messy production. Everything, from rumored scripts to secret set glimpses to Ehrenreich’s — heretofore unseen — performance was scrutinized. Ehrenreich has been acting professionally since he was 19, when he debuted in Francis Ford Coppola Tetro; he’s spent his twenties playing leading men for Warren Beatty and stealing scenes for the Coen Brothers and Park Chan-wook. But this was a different level. This was intergalactic hero stuff.
For now, though, Ehrenreich gets to take a breath. The saga of the shoot is behind him. The looming crunch of what will accompany the movie’s May 25th release is still a ways off. “I think that’s part of the fun, these buildups towards the movies,” he tells me. “There’s rumors and salaciousness and something always goes wrong. But ultimately, when you see it, it has no effect. It’s irrelevant.” Perhaps he’s been well-trained by the Lucasfilm machine to ably deflect the inevitable lines of questioning. Perhaps he really is this unbothered. And why not the latter? He has a crinkly smile and a day's worth of perfect stubble and, as we chat, my increasing belief that he can carry the mantle of Solo.
Did you grow up with Bruce Springsteen in the home?
Alden Ehrenreich: No, it wasn’t from my parents. A friend of mine once, he was like, “Do you like Bruce Springsteen?” I was like, “What? That guy with the ... thing?” And then he played Hammersmith Odeon [London ‘75], like the concert [movie] of that [performance]. I was 17, and I went out and bought Darkness On The Edge Of Town and Born To Run the next day. That concert in particular, it’s one of the most incredible performances I’ve ever seen. He’s got this giant beanie on and he’s really skinny and he’s got this old leather jacket and it’s like a three hour finale, which is like what all his shows are. It’s fucking crazy. Everything I learn about him, I love. And it just never ends. Like, it goes through waves. But it never dies.
I was going to ask, actually, if there were particular influences on your take on Han Solo that came from outside of the movies…
In terms of growing up in circumstances that are hard, and that you hate, and then dreaming of a better life for yourself, and then getting out — Bruce would be it. There is definitely a relationship. That’s not only coming from me, that’s also coming from the writers. [Han Solo’s home planet] Corellia is a ship-building planet. You know, kind of an industrial world. Basically, there’s a lot of crossover [between Bruce and Han] [smiles]. That was a big thing.
So Corellia is New Jersey?
Can you take me back to when you first got the part? What were your next, like, three moves?
Pfffffffffff. I mean, I was editing a short film, I got a phone call from the directors, they were like ‘You got the role.’ I was just like, ‘Holy fuck!’ I just kept going ‘Holy fuck.’ And I went out to dinner with friends and I couldn’t tell people! I had to keep it a secret for three months [until the official announcement at Star Wars Celebration], so I had to keep it under wraps. It’s so big in terms of, not just the movie itself, but everything that’s around the movie. So when I eventually got to tell people — you know, usually people are like “Wow! That’s exciting!” But this time people were just like — “What?” And my nieces and nephews are playing with Star Wars action figures and I tell them and they were just like, “What do you mean?”
Cause it feels almost inconceivable as an option?
Yeah. Not in a million years do you imagine that happening. And then it was released in the press that I got the part. It got leaked. So basically people were coming up to congratulate me and I wasn’t allowed to say anything! It was this weird vortex of stuff.
And then do you start reading and watching everything? Or do you like to come into the character fresh?
I kind of take in everything. That’s for any job. But that was part of the fun of this one. One of the first things I did was just watch Episode I through XII. And there’s so much extra literature, even outside the canon stuff. There’s so much stuff that fleshes out the world. Like, you think, oh it’s Star Wars, everybody has a spaceship — but no, actually, in the Star Wars universe, having a ship is like having a yacht. So you have to understand what that means in context when someone says, ‘I want a ship.’ And there’s Wookipedia and all this stuff. There’s actually a user’s manual for the Millenium Falcon. It’s not, like, stories. It’s just literally a book that they publish on how to work every part of the Millenium Falcon.
That’s insane. And you want to know all that because you have an obligation to the hardcore fans?
Well, it’s honestly not that at all. I’m tuning that out as much as I can. I hope they love it and I think they will love it. But it’s more so I understand the world I’m in when I’m doing these scenes. My obligation is to my guy. I have to know his life the way that I understand growing up in Los Angeles. I owe that to the guy I’m playing.
Did you ever talk to Harrison Ford?
Late in that process. It kind of just felt weird to make this movie without having reached out to him. So I raised my hand and I was like, ‘Let’s talk to him.’ Originally it was gonna be me and the directors and then [Lucasfilm president] Kathleen Kennedy, but then the scheduling didn’t work out, so it was just me out to lunch with him. It was awesome. He wasn’t even that aware of the movie. He knew what it was but he was like, ‘Who’s directing it?’ It was good to get his blessing and to pay respects.
What’s the key to developing good chemistry with Chewbacca?
Well, one of the good things is that me and Joonas [Suotamo], the guy who plays him, spent like two or three months together during training and so we developed a rapport before we got into the situation. He’s doing something that I don’t think people really realize — he has to be really expressive from this mask. And it really felt like working with an actor. That performance had a lot of heart. We played video games and stuff in his hotel room. He has to have a bed with, like, an extra bed in his hotel room, he’s so tall. He’s so fucking tall.
What video games?
I think it was Halo.
How grueling was training?
I started training in April of 2016, so about two years ago now, and it’s not so much for a look as it is — you know, we shot like 150 days and some of those days, all day long you’re doing stunts. Physically, you need to be able to do that. And it’s like ‘Oh, we want you to actually fall now because we lost this light’ or whatever, and then you climb a ladder and free fall down onto a mat 20 feet down. And then they take you higher and higher. And you have to learn how to roll, throw a punch, get punched, all that stuff.
Another person you have to develop chemistry with is Donald Glover, who’s playing Lando Calrissian. Did you happen to read The New Yorker profile of Glover by the way? He had a lot of takes!
I didn’t read it but I heard about it. He’s such an interesting guy, and just being around him and his point of view on the culture, it’s great. I tend to be a bit of a hermit. A bit monkish. I like to tune out the context. Not only with something like this, but with anything. I don’t have social media and I’m not, I guess, that adept at being on the internet. We have a very inverted way of approaching these things. He’s just so tuned in to everything and he understands contemporary culture in such a specific way. And I think it animates him, to understand it all. It’s almost like a puzzle to him. It’s how to build things within that context. And for me, the people that I worked with, that are really influential to me, like Coppola …
[I mishear Ehrenreich when he mentions this icon of cinema and he’s very nice about it when I ask him to repeat the name.]
Um, Francis Ford Coppola?
Oh, right. Heard of him.
The impression I got from Coppola is, you’re making it more with your own point of view in mind. If I did understand [pop] culture, I don’t think it would make me better at my job. I think, for [Glover], it genuinely does.
Yes. Me too. Happy Passover.
I gotta say, I’m pretty stoked there’s a Jewish Han Solo.
Actually, there’s technically two Jewish Han Solos.
Yeah, [Harrison Ford’s] mom was Jewish. I don’t think that he was raised Jewish. But yeah, he’s technically Jewish. Also Paul Newman. Half-Jewish. That one’s from “The Hanukkah Song.” But Harrison Ford is not in “The Hanukkah Song.” I don’t think.
“My obligation is to my guy. I have to know his life the way that I understand growing up in Los Angeles. I owe that to the guy I’m playing.”
Have you already done the massive international press tour for the movie?
Not yet. It really starts in the next few weeks and then it’s all over Asia and Europe and we’re going to Cannes and all that stuff. Honestly it feels so good to be like ‘here’s the movie’ after two years of being behind this cloak. I mean literally, you wear a secrecy cloak. Cause if I’m at the studio in costume and I need to use the bathroom somebody might walk down the hall and take a picture of me or something.
Wait, what? Does it cover your face?
No, it’s like a barber’s thing. It covers your whole costume and every time you step off the soundstage — like if I go outside for air or whatever — I have to wear this thing. So figuratively and literally you’re cloaked.
It is kind of amazing how they manage to keep everything so secret.
I know! They have a security detail that’s reaaaaally, really involved. They have cameras and when anyone takes a picture … I took a picture and there was a little bit of fallout. They run a tight ship. And it’s kind of like the old studio system where the drivers and the crew, they do all the Star Wars movies, and they all have to be secret. I don’t think they can even tell people what movie they’re doing. It’s like the CIA.
Has everyone been telling you, you know, “enjoy these last moments of anonymity?”
Yeah, a little bit. But I don’t know. I spent a little time with Daisy Ridley and she seemed to be fine. She can walk down the street. And I’ve also had that [warning] on other movies and it didn’t happen. Although this one’s different. But, like, I went on a cross country trip. I wanted to do that before the movie came out.
When the character was first being cast, there was a ton of attention about all your fellow young actors going for the role. (That included Dave Franco, Miles Teller, and over 2000 other people.) Have you ever had a chance to talk to any of those guys about their experiences going through that?
No. I’ve never met any of them. I don’t know them.
Then, dramatically enough, your directors were swapped. What did that feel like?
Well, I loved working with Phil and Chris and by the time they left, it was disappointing that what we had originally set out to do hadn’t panned out. But it was also clear from what they said in the press that it was creative differences. And that sounds like a line but it really was that — they had a different point of view from the studio. And by the time they left that had become clear. So I think everyone felt good. And then when Ron came in, he was just great. He was wonderful. He reshot most of it. The majority of it is either Ron’s or his editing of older footage.
So you’re saying Phil and Chris were ready to leave?
I think everybody just felt like, this is the right move. Not me so much, because I never saw into those backroom things. I never saw their versions edited, I never actually saw the differences. I don’t really know. And I’m sure they have a host of feelings about it, too.
Obviously you knew there’d be a ton of attention on this movie. But looking back at the whole process, was it possibly more insane than you originally imagined?
I don’t really know. I don’t look at anything online, pretty much, at this point. So I don’t really know. But one of the benefits of this is that feeling of having climbed a mountain. There’s the expectations and the huge production and all these things, and then to be able to show up and still do your job — that’s a good feeling. And I think it all adds to the energy of what you’re actually doing. Most scenes in Star Wars, you’re about to die. That’s typically what’s going to happen. You’re either about to die, or you’re reflecting for a minute, or you’re tooling around a bit. But you’re usually about to die.
And you know, going into it, when I was auditioning for the role, I spent some time by myself to really make sure I wanted to do it. I needed to know for myself that I was choosing to do this rather than doing it because everybody would say I’m a lunatic if I didn’t. So before I got the role I went to the desert by myself. There’s this thing called the super bloom in Death Valley that happens once every eight years and it’s really pretty and I went there and I thought, if some voice comes up and says you can’t do this, you don’t wanna do this, then I have to follow that no matter what. And ultimately it was really clear. Nah, I really wanna do this.
I have to ask — were there any mushrooms involved in this desert trip?
No, no, no, no. No drugs involved. [Smile] I mean, I was drinking.