Rubicon, AMC’s new conspiracy thriller set in the world of government intelligence, starts in earnest this weekend — episodes one and two will be shown on Sunday night in the lead-up before Mad Men. Rubicon stars James Badge Dale (who goes by Badge), best known for his stint on the third season of 24 and for starring on HBO’s The Pacific as Robert Leckie, the emotional center of the WWII miniseries. Curiously, when Dale first read Rubicon’s script, he wasn’t interested. “I thought I was the wrong guy, I told them not to hire me, and apparently anytime I tell people not to hire me, they do hire me,” he told us. We spoke to him about why he didn’t want the part, his secretive research for the role, and how, yes, people tell him he looks like Matthew Morrison.
Post Pacific, were you looking for another TV show?
No, not at all. About six months after I came back from shooting The Pacific, this came up, and I really didn’t want to sign a contract with anybody. I’d just spent a year of my life involved in this other character, and I was more concerned with shaking him. And so I wasn’t reading TV scripts at all, and they called and said, “Listen, there’s one script we want you to read, and this is it.” And I fell in love. I thought I was the wrong guy, though, I told them not to hire me, and apparently, anytime I tell people not to hire me, they do hire me.
Why did you think you were wrong for the part?
Now I’m in the position where I can’t even watch the show, because I can’t watch myself. I love mysteries; I love conspiracies; I love the unknown. So more or less, it was because I wanted to actually watch this show. And also, I read him a little older, I think. And a lot of times if I start to think, This guy isn’t me, you should hire someone else. That comes out of fear; like, Oh, I can’t pull this off.
You’re 32, right? How old is this character supposed to be? His wife and child died in 9/11.
Well, personally, I was 23 when 9/11 happened. But it’s plausible for this guy — when I think of Will Travers, I think of this guy as being mature beyond his years. He did very well in school, he graduated early, he was very strong in emergence theory, and I think a lot of times — hold on, I’m cooking eggs. I’m talking about emergence theory, and I’m looking at eggs, and it’s not working right now. I’m going to look away from the eggs! — So he fell in love at a young age, he knew what he wanted, he got married, he had a child, and his child was very young when she passed. It screwed everything up; I think it blew his mind. It just ripped him on such a deep level and he never repaired from that.
Did they give you gray hair so you could seem a bit older than 32?
Um, listen, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The gray hair is all mine. They didn’t give it to me, that is all mine. And I think that’s kind of my saving grace, here. How am I going to make this work? You know what, I’m going gray. I’m just going to rock it. I started going gray when I was 16 years old. I don’t know, was I a stressed-out teenager? Maybe.
I like that he’s a total genius. I love watching geniuses at work!
That makes me so nervous, to play a genius. It’s the gray hair. Gray hair equals genius.
Will works in an intelligence think tank. Did you talk to people who work at places like that for research?
I did a lot of literary research. I tend to be very private in my preparation. Oh, man, I sound so full of it when I talk about this. I read a lot of books about intelligence analysis and the way they go about their business. There’s also a book called The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright, which is an account of the last 60 years of intelligence leading up to 9/11. And that was very helpful.
Do you know how the show turns out? What the conspiracy is?
There’s a level of secrecy even in our production. They didn’t want to let us know where it’s going to go. I have no idea what’s going on. We do understand the character development, but the actual nitty-gritty of the overall story line, we’re kept in the dark.
Every character I’ve seen you play is so serious. Have you ever done comedy?
I’m not a funny guy. I sorely lack comedic timing. No, I’d love one day to do a comedy; I know, I’m way too serious. But it’s almost the same as asking me if I’d want to do a musical. Sure, I’d have a good time. But I don’t know if the audience would have such a great time.
Speaking of musicals, everyone’s been saying that you look like Matthew Morrison from Glee.
I’ve been hearing that! I feel bad for Matthew Morrison to be compared to a guy like me. He’s probably like, “Aw, come on, I don’t look like that guy — his nose is crooked!” I was at a coffee shop the other day, and one of the guys behind the counter was like, “Hey, man, I saw you in Glee the other night!” I had to disappoint him.
You’re always wearing a sweater on Rubicon. Why so many sweaters?
I know! It’s been my fight over the season to get out of the sweater. It’s great when you’re shooting when it’s 30 degrees out, but we started to crawl into summer here. And, if you haven’t noticed, it’s been kind of warm out recently.