Age & Hometown: 35; New York, NY
Current Role: Potty-mouthed burnout Terence Swaino, who reunites with a couple of old high school buddies for a night of hard-drinking and ball-busting in John Pollono's dark comedy Small Engine Repair.
Growing Up in the Pit: “When I was four years old, I was sitting in the orchestra pit while my mother was doing Nine,” recalls James Badge Dale. He’s referring to Tony nominee Anita Morris, who donned a body-hugging catsuit to play Guido’s sexy lover, Carla. Meanwhile, his father, two-time Tony nominee Grover Dale, reigned as one of Broadway’s top choreographers. “Those years were the happiest of my life,” says Dale (known as Badge), who lost his mom to ovarian cancer just before his 16th birthday. Asked what he learned from his parents’ careers, Dale says, “As an actor in the theater, there’s a workman’s mentality, which is healthy for me. I’m 10 years in, and yet I’m just getting started.” Also crucial: the theater’s power to move an audience. “When I saw Judith Light do Wit at the Union Square Theatre in 1999, it changed my life,” he reveals. “I grieved my mother's death properly for the first time because of Judith's performance. That's the power of theater.”
Beer Buddies: A fan of John Pollono’s blue-collar plays—even though the first time he saw the playwright and actor on stage, Pollono “was making out with my ex-girlfriend”—Dale never expected to play the profane and charismatic Swaino in Small Engine Repair. But when another actor bowed out, Dale met with director Jo Bonney and soon found himself in rehearsal with Pollono, Keegan Allen and James Ransone, the latter a pal since they co-starred in the movie Nola. He told Bonney, “Thank you for trusting me—and I promise to make a complete ass of myself.” Dale manages to make Swaino likable, noting with a laugh, “People come up to me and say, ‘I grew up with a guy like that.’ But I haven’t heard someone say ‘I am that guy.’ There’s a lot of fun for an actor in obnoxious characters.”
Not Ready for His Close-Up: Dale has spent the last decade stealing scenes in everything from The Departed, The Pacific, 24 and Rubicon to summer popcorn movies Iron Man 3, World War Z and The Lone Ranger, but he isn't comfortable with the notion of becoming a star. “I don't know if I'm built to be famous,” he says. “I work hard, I work a lot, and I'm obsessive about my work, but I've retained a degree of anonymity.” Dale made his acting debut at 11 in a film remake of Lord of the Flies, but shied away from the business for a decade after that. After being sidelined by injury while playing hockey at Manhattanville College, “I got on stage and it was the same rush as being on the ice, but nobody's punching me in my face.” In spite of his busy film career, Dale says his return to the stage has been a “humbling” adventure. “I love these guys and coming to work every day,” he says. “This is my home. This is my community.”