Dan Stevens gets rowdy in 'The Guest'

Dan Stevens has not been in many fights in his life. You’d never know it from “The Guest.”

In the immensely fun action-thriller, opening Wednesday, the 31-year-old English actor (“Downton Abbey”) transforms into David, a tough, returning American soldier with a Kentucky accent and possibly hidden agenda who immerses himself into the lives of a fallen comrade’s family. For the part, Stevens trained four hours a day, every day, for four months, learning martial arts, familiarizing himself with guns, meeting with special-ops soldiers and eating a high-protein diet he calls exhausting and rewarding.

“I’m not your go-to pugilist, really. I think I will be now,” he deadpans from New York, where he now resides. “All of my friends are going to call on me now in those bar fights that I’m so often involved in. [Laughs]”

Viewers will have to get used to seeing Stevens, and seeing him in roles that don’t at all remind them of “Downton Abbey.” The actor co-stars as a drug dealer alongside Liam Neeson in Friday’s “A Walk Among the Tombstones” and as Sir Lancelot in December’s “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.” He also has films on the way with Adam Sandler (“The Cobbler,” from “Win Win” writer/director Thomas McCarthy) and John Travolta (“Criminal Activities”), plus another lead role in the indie drama “The Ticket.”

You’ve said that your strength and weapons training impacted your emotional state. In what way?
Well, I think pushing myself to some physical limits that were previously very foreign to me was a great preparation, in a way, in terms of taking on something I’ve never done before. And also just beginning to recognize the physical lengths that some of these guys have to go. They do this for years. [Laughs] It’s pretty torturous, some of the training that they have to go through. But it also puts you in a certain mindset, and when you break through some of those boundaries—I’m very much from a background, “If it hurts, stop.” And these guys are interested in going the other directions. It puts you in a strange state. I can’t really describe it, but it has an overwhelming effect.

Did it open up a new interest for you, or something you want to try as a result?
I’ve kept up a little bit. To keep up that full regime, day in and day out, would be pretty intense … I’m still in pretty good shape, and I think if I was called upon to get back into that kind of shape I could do it a lot quicker than previously.

Was there a moment on set when people were freaked out or surprised by you, or you surprised yourself?
I tried to take on as many of the stunts as were reasonable and safe. There was one day, diving through rooms that are exploding with bullets and crawling around corridors, one of the doors burst open and a splinter of wood just fired into my ear. And we carried on the take, and at the end of the take I sort of stood up and felt something a little odd and everyone [looked at me] a little strangely as this splinter of wood is just sticking out of my ear, pouring blood. [Laughs] Yeah, that was surprising for everyone, I think.

What was your reaction when you determined that was happening?
I think because I knew what it was, you start to feel a little queasy at first, but I was wondering why people were looking at me [that way].

You’ve also said that the soldiers you worked with were direct and didn’t give much away, which you called a very non-English way of being. What do you see as the typical English way of being? Blurting everything out?
No, not too much. I think there’s a roundabout way of speaking that the British have. There’s a certain kind of American directness—I don’t know if it’s a military thing or an American thing--but there’s a certain type here. Men of few words, but [they] speak quite directly, say all they have to say, which might not be very much but they get the point across. I’m fascinated in international personality types, not just English or American. It’s very interesting to develop that kind of character.

How does that kind of personality go over where you’re from?
I think people get quite disarmed by that sort of directness. We’re very fond of euphemisms in Britain. I think that’s less so here. [Laughs] Any way of avoiding stating explicitly what you really want to say seems to be quite a British way of being.

Are bar fights in England rowdier or calmer than in America?
Oh, much rowdier.

In what way?
There’s no guns in England, so people have to get more inventive. They’re more creative with their weaponry.

So people bring a crossbow to a bar just in case?
Not the bars I go to.

You’ve worked with a lot of big name people for upcoming films: Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, John Travolta, Liam Neeson. Can you tell a story you haven’t gotten to tell yet about one of them, something that surprised you or stuck with you?
With Liam, it wasn’t a surprise, but he was a very funny, down-to-earth, sweet man. He plays these gritty, noirish, hard-boiled characters, and it’s a funny juxtaposition perfectly embodied in the “Lego Movie” good cop/bad cop. He does a wonderful job in that.

It seems often the tougher someone is on screen, the more laid-back they are off-screen. Someone could probably say that about you too. Has that been your experience?
Sometimes. I think very often the darker something is on screen the lighter it can be off-set. It’s not always the case, but something I really like about Liam is he takes the work very seriously but he doesn’t take himself too seriously, and I think that’s a good way to be really. I take what I do very seriously, but I don’t take myself too seriously. I hope.

Plus:
On leaving “Downton Abbey”: “It’s always tough because, first of all, I really enjoyed being part of a show, but there are a lot of other considerations than just, ‘Am I enjoying what I’m doing?’ It’s thinking about many other factors, especially if you have a family. It was the first time I’d done a long-running format like that. Three years was up, and [there’s an] official option, ‘Do you want to do another two, or three or four years, or do you want to leave?’ When it’s put like that, I think it’s pretty simple. It’s a tough choice, but it’s a very exciting one. I took a lot of advice from friends who have made similar choices in their careers whatever they were. A very wise man just said, ‘At a certain point, sometimes that most terrifying choice is the most liberating one.’ So far he seems to have been right.”

Watch Matt review the week's big new movies Fridays at noon on NBC.

mpais@tribune.com

 

Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.

 

CHICAGO
RSS feeds allow Web site content to be gathered via feed reader software. Click the subscribe link to obtain the feed URL for this page. The feed will update when new content appears on this page.

Sarah Brown

A collection of news and information related to Sarah Brown published by this site and its partners.

Top Sarah Brown Articles see all

Displaying items 1-5
  • Different roads to same spot

    Different roads to same spot
    With five local teams headed to the CIF Southern Section girls' volleyball playoffs, there's plenty of different scenarios to mull over with each one facing a different path to what each squad hopes will be a CIF title.
  • Falcons fall in fifth set

    LA CRESCENTA — The Crescenta Valley High girls' volleyball team had the tough task of running through the gauntlet of Burbank-area schools in Pacific League contests this week. The Falcons started the week on somewhat of a sour note, falling to...

    Nitros fizzle out against Burbank

    Nitros fizzle out against Burbank
    BURBANK — Momentum usually swings back and forth in a volleyball match, but that wasn't the case when the Glendale High girls' volleyball team faced Burbank in a Pacific League match Thursday. The Bulldogs took charge from the very beginning and...

    Burbank volleyball gets by Glendale to stay in title hunt

    BURBANK — The Glendale High girls’ volleyball team was trying to stay in playoff contention for the fourth and final spot when it faced off against Burbank on Thursday in a Pacific League contest. The Bulldogs had a loftier goal. A win...

    Falcons can't find way to beat Bulldogs

    LA CRESCENTA — For the first two games of their Pacific League match Tuesday afternoon, the Burbank High and Crescenta Valley girls' volleyball teams went toe to toe. The squads exchanged holding the lead on several occasions and neither could...