Ehrenreich Earns Raves for Acting

By LIBBY MOTIKA

Palisades News Contributor

 

 

An 11th-hour decision gave Alden Ehrenreich his name. Just like that, Sari, nine months pregnant, and Mark Ehrenreich had gone to see the 1989 fantasy-drama Field of Dreams, directed by Phil Alden Robinson; loved the movie and loved the name.

Whether it was a talisman or just a name we can’t know, but their young son, now 26, learned early the joy of telling a good story and achieving a response from the audience. From kindergarten at Palisades Elementary to his current role in Hail, Caesar!, Ehrenreich has pursued a career made of dreams and illusions. And whether a story is told on stage or screen, the bond between him and the audience is his lifeblood.

The breaks, that everyone who dreams of an acting career need, came early. As a young teen, Ehrenreich performed in a short comedy for a friend’s bat mitzvah reception, which impressed a fellow guest—director Steven Spielberg. This chance meeting led to roles on television shows, including Supernatural and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

While the young actor was gaining film experience, he maintained his focus on academics and stage work. “My first play at Crossroads was Our Town when I was 13,” he says, adding that the Thornton Wilder classic is his all-time favorite drama. “When I was studying in New York, I saw the David Cromer production with Helen Hunt seven times. I lived a block away from the theater where they were doing it, so I would rush the show all the time. It was one of the greatest things.”

Ehrenreich studied in the theater program at NYU for a semester, but switched to the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where he was able to create a major across a variety of traditional academic disciplines. “I thought that if I’m going to college I should take this opportunity to learn more about the broader world because after college, it’s a straight shot, which for me has become all about this one thing.”

Over breakfast at Canter’s on Fairfax, he said he moved back to Los Angeles to pursue his film career and more importantly to be back with his many friends and family.

ALDEN EHRENREICH is rising star Hobie Doyle in HAIL, CAESAR!. ©Universal Studios. CR: Alison Rosa.

ALDEN EHRENREICH is rising star Hobie Doyle in HAIL, CAESAR!. ©Universal Studios. CR: Alison Rosa.

Ehrenreich grew up watching old movies, bowled over by the techniques of the 1940s and ‘50s and inspired by the directing.

“Directors have always guided my decisions and intelligence about my film choices,” he admits, “sometimes to the detriment of the career. But I am glad that I’ve done it so far the way I wanted to do.”

In the 10 years he has been making movies, Ehrenreich has worked with some of the best directors in the business—gaining an education that is enviable.

In 2007, he auditioned and won the role of Bennie Tetrocini in Francis Ford Coppola’s Tetro. The story of the reunion of two brothers follows the rivalries born out of creative differences passed down through generations of an artistic Italian immigrant family.

“For the role in Tetro, I probably auditioned for six or seven months,” Ehrenreich recalls. “I think a lot of that was that it was my first film and they wanted to make sure I could do it.”

But the process for Ehrenreich was mysterious. At the first audition, he was asked to prepare a passage from J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye that was particularly relevant to the Tetro character. He found the passage and prepared it like a monologue. In it, the adolescent Holden Caulfield, who has been devastated by the death of his older brother Allie, reminisces on his brother’s habit of writing poems all over his baseball mitt, in green ink. He did that so he would have something to read when he was on the baseball field and the game was boring.

Ehrenreich ended up acting in two Coppola films, including playing a minor role in Twixt.

“With him there are lots of rehearsals and improvisation,” Ehrenreich says. “He would host a costume party and people would come in the costume their character might wear. Then they’d do improvs at the party, which Coppola would use to inform the script. I came as Hemingway because my character wanted to be a writer.”

“He [Coppola] started in the theater, so he builds a company of actors before starting to shoot that becomes the scaffolding that we hold onto throughout the entire shoot.”

Gregory Peck once observed that there are two kinds of directors: “There are some who direct out loud for the benefit of 40 or 50 people standing around the set. They all become instant critics to see whether or not you do exactly what the director wants you to do. But the directors I’ve always admired are those who do the job quietly. They talk only for the actor’s ears.”

03-ehrenreich-hail caesarEhrenreich classifies both Woody Allen, who directed him in 2013’s Blue Jasmine, and the Coen brothers in the latter category.

Working on Hail, Caesar! with Ethan and Joel Coen was “one of the best acting experiences I’ve had. Because they are so prepared, the set is strikingly relaxed. Very easygoing, they move quickly, and they treat everyone really well,” he says, adding, “Sometimes movie sets can be really dramatic, and that to me is really more common.”

With Woody Allen, Ehrenreich says there is almost no conversation. “Again, the writing is so good, you show up, you’re prepared and you move very fast. They light everything, Woody comes in; it’s very quick. He gave me a couple of notes, like ‘do it this way or that way’. He does actually talk to the actors, even though there is a joke that he doesn’t, but he does.”

The road to his role in Hail, Caesar! was perhaps more dramatic than the shoot. First, the audition, which in itself was a challenge. Ehrenreich had heard about the script but was told there was no role for him. Later a chance meeting with the art director on the movie he had wrapped with Warren Beatty rekindled his hopes. “She said I should try to get in on the movie, so I got hold of the script and thought I could play the part of Hobie Doyle.” He talked his way into a reading, which lead to a second reading with the Coen brothers.

“The second time I read, I left convinced that I hadn’t gotten the part,” Ehrenreich says. “By this time I really wanted it, I loved the filmmakers so much. A week went by and a casting director called my manager and said to make sure I kept my cell phone on that day. I thought it was really nice that the casting director would call personally and let me down easy. The call never came.

“The next day, I was at my grandma’s house and I got a call. The caller said, ‘Hi, this is Ethan Coen, and I have Joel on the phone with me.’ He asked if I had talked to my agent yet, and I said no. Then they said, ‘So you don’t know?’ Know what? ‘You got the part.’”

Then came three months learning to be a real cowboy. Hail, Caesar! is a movie within a movie. It recreates the old Hollywood studio contract days where everything was shot on set and the movie moguls were kings. Hobie Doyle, Ehrenreich’s character, plays a singin’, ropin’, strummin’ cowboy, in the Will Rogers mold.

“For the role, I did a lot of the tricks—I spent three months practicing the lasso routine, horseback riding, gun twirling and guitar. “Broadly, I would say it was half me and half movie magic.”

The movie, featuring George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Ralph Fiennes and Scarlett Johansson, has received rave reviews and proved to be a big breakout hit for Ehrenreich.

As Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan noted, “Despite the good work of all these big names, the best of the bunch might be Ehrenreich as slow-talking, quick-grinning Hobart ‘Hobie’ Doyle, Capitol’s ace singing cowboy who gets tapped to leave the sagebrush behind and don a tuxedo to star in a drawing room drama helmed by Laurence Laurentz (Fiennes), a man whose name he can’t even pronounce.”

Although Ehrenreich could master the cowboy, finding resonance with a combat soldier was foreign territory for his role in the upcoming The Yellow Birds, the Iraq War drama that tells of two young soldiers (Tye Sheridan and Ehrenreich) who bond in boot camp.

“Growing up in Pacific Palisades, I didn’t know anyone who was in the service. I tried to learn about it, but I still feel that I know very little.”

The cast worked with Dale Dye, Jr., a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer and decorated Vietnam veteran whose company, Warriors, Inc., is the top technical adviser to Hollywood. He was an advisor for films such as Platoon and Saving Private Ryan.

Dye takes all the actors and treats them as a unit, acquainting them with the weapons, driving a Humvee, drilling in the hot climate of Morocco, where the film was shot. “You do all these exercises, but at the end of the day, your life is not really on the line so you’ll never really understand what it’s like to be in combat,” Ehrenreich says.

Maybe not, but the skilled actor uses his ‘instrument’ to convey the feelings, challenges and triumphs of his character to an audience. That’s the magic of the theater.

Actor Alden Ehrenreich grew up in Pacific Palisades. Photo courtesy of Universal.

Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert starred in Richard LaGravenese’s 2013 American fantasy film Beautiful Creatures. Ehrenreich has reportedly emerged as the frontrunner to play young Han Solo in the upcoming Star Wars prequel about the roguish smuggler’s early days.

(Editor’s note: Alden Ehrenreich is the frontrunner for the lead role in Disney’s forthcoming Han Solo origin film, according to Deadline. The 26-year-old recently appeared on screen in the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar! His filmography includes roles in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, Park Chan-wook’s Stoker, Richard LaGravenese’s Beautiful Creatures and an upcoming Howard Hughes biopic from Warren Beatty. He sat down recently with News writer Libby Motika to talk about his life and career.)

One Comment

  1. Scott Wagenseller says:

    Congratulations on being selected the new Hans Solo!

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