The charming Josh Dallas balances TV hit, new film
It's cold and rainy," Josh Dallas said, speaking by telephone from Vancouver, where he's filming the 15th episode of ABC's hit series "Once Upon a Time." "It's a great place to shoot the show. We have the wilds of Canada that are perfect for fairy-tale land."
The 30-year-old Indiana native plays David Nolan, aka Prince Charming, in "Once Upon a Time," a fresh spin on various beloved fairy-tale characters, all of whom appear both in the forested, enchanted world of fables and in a fictitious, present-day New England town called Storybrooke.
The rest of the interview can be found behind the spoilertag. No real spoilers but for layout purposes.
"I've never done series television before," Dallas said, "and the pace is very different. We take about eight days to film an episode. So it's quick."
One might expect Dallas to be used to a quickened pace by now. Only a couple of years ago he was an unknown quantity in Hollywood, having spent more than a decade on the British stage. Then he landed small roles in a couple of British films and television series, including the cult favorite "Dr. Who" (2008), and was intrigued.
"I loved the process of (filmmaking)," Dallas said. "It certainly offered different challenges from theater, but it was something that I started to get a hunger for. It was a natural progression."
He headed for Hollywood to see what opportunities might await him there, and within a week of his return home was offered a supporting role as the dashing swordsman Fandral in the 2011 summer blockbuster "Thor." Then in October nearly 13 million viewers tuned in to watch "Once Upon a Time," and suddenly Dallas was a star of one of the year's most successful new series.
As new episodes of "Once Upon a Time" begin airing this month, Dallas also will be seen on the big screen in "Red Tails," an epic, special-effects-laden war movie from executive producer George Lucas. Set to open nationwide Friday, the movie focuses on the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of black airmen who bravely fought for their country during World War II, despite having to overcome rampant racism in the U.S. military even to get into the air.
Dallas plays Ryan, a white airman aboard a B-25 bomber flying far behind enemy lines in Europe. Initially skeptical of the untested Tuskegee pilots, Ryan is forced to reassess his fellow fighters when his plane runs into trouble and must be escorted to safety by the Tuskegee pilots.
"I read the script, and I wanted to be part of it," the young actor recalled. "It's been a passion project for George Lucas for a long, long time, and it's great to be part of a story that is about breaking down prejudices and becoming unified, which is so important for today."
Dallas, who filmed his scenes at Barrandov Studios in Prague, didn't get to meet the surviving Tuskegee airmen who visited some of the cast at Lucas' Skywalker Ranch in California. In his preparation for the film, however, he did learn surprising facts about government-sanctioned racism during the second World War.
"I read that, during that time, the U.S. government created a pamphlet that basically said that African-Americans were incapable of operating difficult machinery and that by nature they had a lower intelligence, so they couldn't deal with flying an aircraft," he said. "That just blew my mind. I just couldn't believe that this was something printed by the government."
Fortunately less research was required to play an Asgardian god in Kenneth Branagh's "Thor," because Dallas had almost no time to prepare for that role. He had been in Los Angeles for only five days when he was approached to replace Stuart Townsend, who had left the production, as Fandral.
"Walking in on my first day at the studio, Anthony Hopkins was there to shake my hand and said, 'Hi, call me Tony,' " Dallas recalled. "So I felt very secure and supported. I wanted to be part of that incredible cast and to work with Kenneth Branagh. You feel a kind of pressure, because comic-book fans are very protective of these characters and you don't want to do it an injustice.
"Coming into it, I had maybe three days of prep before I started shooting," he said. "It was a Friday, and I started shooting on the Monday. So I had a lot of catching up to do."
Dallas spent the weekend reading "Thor" comics and Shakespeare.
"The way that Ken and Marvel constructed the story was based on 'Henry V,' " he explained. "It's 'Henry V' in a comic book. Ken is very interested in that royal-family dynamic and what happens with it behind closed doors."
Stan Lee, the writer who created Thor, based Fandral on the swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn, so Dallas also put time into watching Flynn movies, closely observing the Australian actor's "verve and the swashbuckling."
"He was a Lothario," the actor said. "He's a good-time kind of guy. Fandral would rather be kicking back with an ale and some beautiful maiden than be out there fighting. But he's loyal to his comrades and to Thor, and will do whatever it takes."
Success in America came suddenly for Dallas, but only after years of preparation. He gives much of the credit to New Albany High School in southern Indiana, which, he said, "has an incredible theater-arts program for high-school students." At 16 his school's theater group presented a play at a festival at which students also got the opportunity to audition for various college programs. Dallas was offered a scholarship to a London-based school.
"It had never even crossed my mind to leave the country," he recalled. "I had hardly been out of Indiana, let alone the United States. Of course there were schools that I was looking at here in the United States, but, when you are that young, you don't really think. Instead I thought that I could travel and study and see the world at the same time. So that is what I did. I took it and ran with it.
"I got to London and lived in that world," Dallas said. "Knock on wood, luck has been on my side."
While he has one eye on the big screen, Dallas' focus for now is on the project at hand, which is "Once Upon a Time." When he read the pilot script, the actor said, he felt immediately that it would either score a hit or bomb spectacularly.
"It could be something that would absolutely not work," he said, "or it could be something that will be very special. I felt that I just had to be part of it."
This version of Prince Charming is anything but a stock fairy-tale character, he added.
"As actors on the show, we get to invent and in some ways re-create these characters and tell you sides of these characters that you didn't know," Dallas said. "It's a great honor that Disney is allowing Snow White to pull a sword and hit Prince Charming with a rock!"
It doesn't hurt that each actor plays a storybook character but also a real-life version of the same role.
"We have our fairy-tale-land parts and then we have our Storybrooke characters," Dallas said. "It's interesting, as an actor, because these characters are essentially the same person but they have different experiences, which makes them slightly different."
At the moment fairy tales are hot in Hollywood: Besides "Once Upon a Time," there is the NBC series "Grimm," a police drama with characters inspired by the tales of the Brothers Grimm.