Spoiler Warning: The Quibi series The Stranger discussed at length below!
Dane DeHaan plays a ride-share passenger from hell in Quibi’s first horror series, The Stranger. Carl E. — if that’s even his real name — has pre-selected his driver Claire (Maika Monroe) with great care. He has investigated her online, and is now ready to make an example out of her.
Carl is angry, we learn, because Claire once accused a teacher of sexual abuse, and later dropped the charges. (Conveniently, this also works to his advantage, since any new accusations are unlikely to be believed.) After cruising through her online profiles, Carl decides she’s a superficial phony. And, he’s also angry that she’s a woman who’s trying to carve out a life on her own terms, having moved from Kansas to Los Angeles without a support system (which makes her ideal prey). Long before Claire ever picks him up in her car, he has stalked her, hacked her, and tracked her (and her dog, too), using predictive algorithms to determine her path — or so he thinks. After the longest night of their lives, Claire is finally able to turn the tables on Carl, to trick him and feed him to the wolves. (Or more accurately, to the wild coyotes always prowling the fringes of L.A.)
DeHaan, who is also slotted to star in the upcoming Stephen King miniseries Lisey’s Story, chatted with SYFY WIRE about The Stranger, invasive technology, and what he's been watching during quarantine (Tiger King, of course).
What was it like shooting Carl’s final moments?
It was one of the more intense days of the shoot, because you have to stay like that all day long. When it got to the end, and the coyotes are coming to eat me, that was fun, because it’s special effects. I’m pretending the coyotes are coming towards me. And in that moment, Carl is grasping at what he hoped was the truth, that he can control her, that he can predict her behavior, because that’s his weapon. That’s what he has against her. But all the wheels are coming off his plan, and he’s losing, and he’s facing certain death. I think the only thing he has to grasp onto is “Well, maybe I can convince her not to do this. Maybe I can go to the places where I think she’s vulnerable.” That’s all he has.
Usually, you do a lot of research to get into a character’s head. What did you do here?
I read some articles and watched TED Talks on algorithms, how technology is moving in that area to make that more possible to predict health with a fair degree of accuracy, like if you’re going to have a stroke or heart attack. Carl would be able to understand all of that, to be able to pull off what he pulled off, you know? The kind of liberty we took was that if you can use it for this area, why couldn’t a person write an algorithm that predicts actual behavior based on people’s social media — what they say, what they don’t say — and comparing it to what they do online. I think what Carl is doing with predictive algorithms can be applied to the fictional circumstances in our show.
It’s definitely fascinating stuff. Any technology can be used for good or evil. It’s the responsibility of the user to use it in a good way. And Carl is using it for complete evil. He’s an evil genius, really. I think he spends a lot of time at home, in front of his computer, going into the deep, dark, bad places. I’m sure he’s on incel networks and chat rooms and stuff like that, and that really fuels his anger. For him, everything he does makes sense. Even though he is evil, and he is fairly crazy, there is still a logic to what he is doing.
Apparently, you tried some of his techniques to try and unnerve your co-star?
I wasn’t trying to unnerve her, per se. I think the things that I did were fairly harmless, and more of a secret for myself that was informative for the relationship. I would Google her and find out various things. She’s an interesting person, and you can read all about her online. And then I would ask her questions on set, questions I already knew the answers to, like about kiteboarding, to see if I could move the conversation one way or another. Not to unnerve her, but more as an experiment to see how much could I actually do? And she had no idea what I was doing. She just thought we were making small talk, having a conversation. She would tell me stories, but I would listen to them and react as if I was hearing them for the first time, you know? I mean, it’s information that’s available on the Internet.
The problem is, more of our personal information is available online than we realize.
Yeah. I get freaked out when my Instagram has ads for something that I really want to buy. How did they know that’s what I wanted? I don’t even mean something I was searching for. I could be talking about something, and then I go online, and there’s an ad for it. Technology is pretty crazy.
What about ride-sharing apps? Do you use those?
Yeah. I used to use Juno, because that’s the one all the drivers in New York City said paid them the best, but it no longer exists. I guess they couldn’t compete with the larger companies. I'm sure it’s fairly inevitable that a driver is going to recognize me from The Stranger and do a double-take. I’ve thought about that. It’s going to happen, because if I were a driver, I would be watching Quibi all day long! It’s the nature of the job.
Did getting into Carl’s mindset help you in any way to prepare to play Jim Dooley in the miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story? Is there any connection between the two, in terms of informing the other character?
Well, I do play a bad guy again, but he couldn’t be more opposite in terms of who he is as a person. They are night and day. Or two sides of a really bad coin! I think Carl was my first time playing a bad guy in quite a while. If anything, it reminded me of how fun it is, how interesting it is. As an acting challenge, it’s not something to shy away from. I started shooting that immediately after The Stranger, but the production got shut down because of everything going on. We had a really long shoot, like 120 days, and we didn’t quite make it to the end. We’re so close to finishing, and it’s really awesome, so I can’t see how we wouldn’t return to it. I really look forward to that, you know?
What are you watching during your self-quarantine, when you have time?
We’re making our way through Schitt’s Creek, which is really fun. And I just watched Tiger King. [Laughs.] I’m way behind.
Joe Exotic or Carol Baskin?
I’m not on anyone’s side. [Laughs.] I’m on the side of, like, “Don’t have tigers!” That’s not a good situation. Figure out how to get those tigers back into the wild, and never let anyone have tigers!