The day has finally come. Late Thursday night, news broke that Disney had found its new Han Solo. For the first time, the iconic spacefaring smuggler will be played by someone other than Harrison Ford, and that person is Alden Ehrenreich. Although he willl soon be filling some of the most famous shoes in film history, Ehrenreich himself is still a bit of an unknown right now. Here’s a quick primer.
1. He beat out every other hot young actor for it
If shortlists are to be believed, then this Han Solo casting process was something like The Hunger Games for a generation of young, charismatic actors. Disney was rumored to have auditioned something like 2,500 actors for the part, with Dave Franco, Taron Egerton, and Miles Teller all rumored to be in contention at various stages. Ehrenreich beat them all, and one hopes that somewhere in the process someone warned him about the massive number of rivals he was up against, and that he angrily replied to never tell him the odds.
2. Steven Spielberg first discovered him in a bat mitzvah video
Harrison Ford was working as a part-time carpenter when George Lucas selected him over more established actors to play Han Solo. Ehrenreich’s origin is similarly funny and random, as he told New York in 2009 ahead of his feature film debut in Tetro. “To be honest, you go to a bat mitzvah in Los Angeles and you can count on at least a few industry people to be there,” Ehrenreich said. He just so happened to show a home movie of himself cross-dressing and generally acting punk at one such Jewish right of passage with Steven Spielberg in attendance. The legendary director was so impressed that he got Ehrenreich an agent with DreamWorks and kickstarted his acting career.
3. He’s already worked with Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, and the Coen brothers
Ehrenreich’s career may have started with divine intervention from Spielberg, but he soon found himself working with other legendary directors. His feature film debut came in Francis Ford Coppola’s 2009 indie Tetro, with an additional role in the director’s Twixt a few years later. Ehrenreich told New York that his auditions for those movies involved reading passages from The Catcher in the Rye, and that Coppola was very curt when asked about working with Marlon Brando: “‘He was a very dignified man,’ he said. Period.” Later, Ehrenreich also appeared in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine and the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar!, as if he were checking off a list of iconic American directors.
4. He reinvented the spaghetti Western
Undoubtedly Ehrenreich’s most prominent role to date came in the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar! earlier this year (adding yet another name to the impressive list of famous directors Ehrenreich has worked with). Ehrenreich played Hobie Doyle, a talented cowboy actor who finds himself suddenly shifted into other studio projects. Although Hobie has trouble with the posh films of Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) — leading to one of the film’s funniest scenes, in which he continually fails to correctly pronounce the line “would that it were so simple” — he exudes chemistry and heroism elsewhere. At dinner with a starlet, he even makes a playful cowboy lasso out of his noodles, lending a whole new meaning to the phrase “spaghetti Western,” and helping Ehrenreich stand out amid a stacked cast that also included the likes of George Clooney, Channing Tatum, and Josh Brolin.
5. He co-founded a New York artist collective
In between making films with iconic directors and costars, Ehrenreich has also been working with young artists his own age. Together with Zoe Worth, Ehrenreich founded the Collectin Collective, a group of 30-something young actors, playwrights, and comedians (mostly from New York University) to workshop ideas and collaborate on films and plays. Past projects include Running Scared: The Technology Show, a series of performances and vignettes about the influence of technology on modern life, incorporating YouTube comments and Facebook relationships.
“It’s always been very important for me to be surrounded by people,” Ehrenreich told Interview in 2010. “It’s never been enough for me to be successful alone. I want to be around people my own age who are also doing things I can learn from.”
The young Han Solo movie, directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, is scheduled to hit theaters May 25, 2018.