Solo: A Star Wars Story: A force awakens with Hans Solo
Alden Ehrenreich talks candidly to James Mottram about entering the Star Wars universe, Solo's change of director, and how he deals with fame
Before Alden Ehrenreich took on the biggest role of his life, he took a trip out to Death Valley in California. He hired a high-end tepee, drank green juice and contemplated what playing the young Han Solo would mean.
“I wanted to make sure I was really choosing to do this myself,” he says. “And it wasn’t just because everybody in my life would think I was a lunatic if I said I didn’t want to”.
It was time well spent, even if his conclusion was hardly surprising – “When I really looked at it, I really wanted to do it.”
It’s Thursday morning at the Cannes Film Festival, where Solo: A Star Wars Story was unveiled to the media two nights earlier.
Ehrenreich, a sleepy-looking soul in a red lumberjack shirt and black jeans, has been living with taking over from Harrison Ford in one of the most recognisable roles in the Star Wars universe for two-and-a-half years now. Not that this makes it any easier. The roguish space pirate has been Ford’s role alone for four decades.
“I’m lucky enough that this is happening after I’ve been working for 14 years,” Ehrenreich says.
“For me, starting out and having less experience was more intense. This is intense, but I have a certain set of tools at this point as far as coping. What do I have control over? I have control over my job and my part and how much work I do on it. I don’t have control over how well it turns out, how good the movie is, what anybody thinks, or what anybody I’m working with thinks.”
Certainly, the 28-year-old is no beginner. A Los Angeles native, he’s already been to Cannes before, with his debut, Francis Ford Coppola’s 2009 road movie Tetro (they reunited for the horror Twixt two years later).
“I sat down with Francis and auditioned for him for about five months, then he went and put me in his film,” he explains.
“We went and filmed in Argentina together. No trailers. It was just me sitting on his lap asking questions! It was a film school.”
Since then, he’s worked for South Korean director Park Chan-wook on psychological thriller Stoker and popped up in Woody Allen’s Oscar-winning Blue Jasmine. More significantly, he was a co-lead in Warren Beatty’s Howard Hughes biopic, Rules Don’t Apply, and memorable in the Coen Brothers’ 1950s Hollywood comedy Hail, Caesar! as a rope-swirling TV cowboy. “I’ve been so insanely lucky,” he says. “The real gratification is that you get to be shoulder to shoulder [with these people] and be the beneficiary of their brilliance.”
There are even strange connections to his casting in Solo, which is directed by Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind), who once starred with Harrison Ford in 1973’s American Graffiti, the film George Lucas made before directing the first Star Wars instalment.
Coppola produced American Graffiti, and it was cast by Fred Roos, who was also responsible for putting Ehrenreich in Tetro some 35 years later.
Even before Tetro, Ehrenreich had contact with Lucas and Coppola’s old buddy, Steven Spielberg. “My mum (Sari, an interior designer) never wanted me to act professionally,” he explains. “And I really didn’t want to. I wanted a normal childhood and whatnot.”
But then he and a friend made a video for their pal’s bar mitzvah — which was attended by Spielberg. “He liked me from the video, so he introduced me to DreamWorks. I got an agent through them and started acting professionally.”
To complete this circle of Hollywood’s Movie Brats, Ehrenreich met Lucas, who came to the Solo set. He also spent time with Ford before the shoot commenced, at an airplane hanger in Santa Monica, where they had lunch.
Naturally, they talked about the character, although the reticent Ford swore Ehrenreich to secrecy. “Harrison said, ‘If anyone asks, tell them I taught you everything you need to know and you’re not allowed to say anything!”’
Whatever he told him, it worked. Ehrenreich captures Solo’s gruff charms and misplaced confidence in embryonic form.
He went back to the original movies to watch Ford, but he didn’t set out to imitate him or copy a signature move, whether it’s cocking his head or giving a wry smile. “I don’t really work in that sense. You’re trying to make the thing feel as real as possible and really live through the scenes you’re given.”
Set a decade or so before the original Star Wars, Ehrenreich’s Solo is a wannabe pilot living on his grimy home planet, dreaming of escape with girlfriend Qi’ra (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke).
What follows is one of the more freewheeling adventures in the Star Wars canon, as Han is mentored by Woody Harrelson’s bandit, Tobias Beckett, and he meets his future Wookie co-pilot, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and smuggler friend Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover).
It’s not been smooth sailing, however, with the production parting company with original directors, The Lego Movie’s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.
One report by online site Vulture claimed the pair haphazardly shot dozens of takes. “The original version of what we were going to do didn’t work out, so of course there is disappointment, and I loved working with them,” says Ehrenreich, diplomatically. “But then we were just so lucky to have Ron come in.”
So what was the first version like? Was it more broadly comic? “I don’t think so,” he continues. “There’s obviously speculation that their version was this goofy whatever... we were still doing all the scenes.”
There was improvisation with Lord and Miller, but also with Howard. “I’m not a great person to speak to that because I wasn’t seeing any of that cut together. I never saw what their version would’ve been, so I don’t really know.”
Critics have been kind to Ehrenreich (“enduringly watchable”, said Variety) but how does he feel about the next step — losing his anonymity?
“I don’t know when that thing happens,” he shrugs. “Is it the day the movie comes out? Is it when the posters go up? I don’t know when all that happens or how that happens. It’s totally unappealing to me in and of itself. I’m not at all looking forward to that in any kind of way, if that happens. But you do this and you sign up for it. It’s another one of these things you learn to live with.”
While there is talk of further Solo instalments (Ehrenreich is signed up for three films), he’s also editing a short film he’s directed. “I think I will make one more short and do a feature some time within the next year-and-a-half.
“It’s a matter of finding the right story, gathering material. I’m in the process of looking at a bunch of different stories right now and finding a writer and putting it together like that.”
As for his private life, he keeps it very quiet. At one point he was rumoured to be dating actor Kelsey McNamee (who had a tiny role in the Reese Witherspoon rom-dram Water For Elephants). And now — is there a special someone in his life?
“It’s a good question,” he says, with a smirk. “Probably Chewbacca!”
Solo: A Star Wars Story opens tomorrow