Following the success of the 2014 thriller The Guest, in which he played a murderous military experiment, actor Dan Stevens is keen to tap into his dark side yet again in the hypnotic indie drama The Ticket.
Premiering April 16 at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, The Ticket explores issues of faith, loss, and luck wrapped up in a modern fable about a blind man who regains his sight, only to fall victim to the trappings of greed and materialism that accompany his bout of good fortune. Directed by Ido Fluk (Never Too Late), The Ticket also stars Malin Akerman and Oliver Platt, and saw its 33-year-old British lead peeling back the layers of a complex tale as he navigated the director’s intimate production style — sometimes performing alone in a room with nothing but his acting chops and a tripod.
Read more about the former Downton Abbey actor’s transition from playing good guys to morally conflicted characters (and see some exclusive images from The Ticket) in the interview below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The Ticket is a film about a lucky guy who seems harmless enough at first, but really evolves into someone a little unlikable. How did you get into that mindset of taking a character from one end of the spectrum to the other?
DAN STEVENS: It was very much Ido’s intention to explore something unexpected. It ultimately comes from this question of prayer and faith and what happens when your prayers are answered or not. I think it’s something that James struggles to come to terms with. There’s one way of telling the story, which is, “Everything’s great, he’s got his sight back, how wonderful,” but actually he feels like he gains his sight, but loses a huge part of his identity, and things fall apart in a weird way, and he struggles to rectify that.
It does fall apart, and there are themes in this film about greed and self-gratification, and it all ties into a thread of the visual, and given what a visual culture we are, do you see this film as a being critical of the character himself or the society that prompts his deviance?
I don’t think it’s a tacit critique of modern society, but I think there is something in that he suddenly becomes aware of the material and the visual in a way that he hadn’t before, and all of his senses are matching up, and the one he desired all along is now suddenly available, and his ambition comes with that. I think it’s a character thing as much as anything, perhaps something that’s carnal; his ambition all along, it can never be fully realized, and suddenly he’s given this strange opportunity and it eats him up.
And it was filmed in a unique, intimate way. I heard that for some scenes you were actually filming alone in a room with nothing but a tripod and a camera…
Pretty much. There were some interesting takes where [Ido] just wanted to let it play out, and there were a couple of scenes where it’s just one take and things sort of unfold. It’s a strange new world James enters, and everything for the first third of the film is strange, and there’s a weirdness and a newness to everything he was formerly familiar with. Then anger bubbles up… so there were times it was appropriate to just let us do our thing.
Is that more of a refreshing way to act? Because it’s so different from having a big set and crew.
You learn to free yourself up in situations where you’ve got 130 people standing around [on set], and you learn to get into that place, but it’s wonderful. I really enjoyed making a movie like this, which is a very small, intimate crew. [There were] maybe 30 people on this crew, a very small unit. Everyone was super into this film, but when it’s just you and a tripod, that’s as alone as it can get.
Was there a certain sensitivity you approached to playing a blind person?
Yeah, even though I guess I spend 99 percent of the film with my sight, I spent a good few weeks talking to blind people or formerly blind people and partially blind people, and getting all sorts of ideas and information and visual cues. Oliver Platt joined me on that. He went to some of the same places and talked to some of the same people, and that was deeply fascinating. It was informative… learning what those modes and mannerisms might have been and how they would be stripped away or what would be lost if you suddenly regained your sight like that.
You also play a “bad guy” in The Guest, which a lot of people loved. Is there something that stimulates you or draws you to darker characters like this one and your character in The Guest?
I don’t know if it’s something that, in particular, draws me in, but I spent a few years playing very nice guys, and I think everything is in balance. I spent a few years playing some not very nice guys and mixing it up a bit. It wasn’t so much that I was drawn to James being a bad guy; it was more the complexity of the tale Ido wanted to tell.
On a much different note, you’re also playing Beast in Disney’s upcoming Beauty and the Beast. Can you give fans a taste of what to expect?
I haven’t seen the finished thing yet, but they’ve been working on the digitals and music, and it’s going to be epic. I can’t say much more than that.