Alden Ehrenreich hits big time and flies Solo in A Star Wars Story
Alden Ehrenreich reveals how a video for a bat mitzvah led to his acting career
If you want to land one of the most coveted roles in showbiz, all you have to do is make a video that veteran film-maker Steven Spielberg sees.
At least that is Alden Ehrenreich's Hollywood story, which led to him being cast as Han Solo in the new Star Wars movie Solo: A Star Wars Story, opening here tomorrow.
The 28-year-old US actor was 14 and goofing around with a pal making videos, when a friend of a friend asked him to make one for his cousin's bat mitzvah, a coming-of-age ceremony for Jewish girls.
He told the story at our interview at The London West Hollywood hotel: "It was silly. It was about me being in love with her and breaking into her house and singing a song about her.
"Then I am sad and crying and I eat dirt. Then there is a time-jump and she is getting married and I bust through the wedding screaming and it is really bad."
His parents' reaction when he showed it to them?
"You look like a moron, you can't show this to anybody."
Of course, Ehrenreich did not listen to them. And it so happened Spielberg was present at the party.
Ehrenreich recalled: "He miraculously thought that I should be in movies and then we got a call. My mum was called by (film studio) DreamWorks and they wanted me to come in and have a meeting."
But Hollywood only really took notice when Ehrenreich stole the Coen brothers' 2016 movie Hail, Caesar!. By then, he had worked with Francis Ford Coppola (Tetro, Twixt) and Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine).
Now comes the biggest project of his career, in the origin story where he plays Han Solo, the beloved scoundrel, before he became the iconic character portrayed by Harrison Ford.
Through a series of escapades in the criminal underworld, Solo meets his future co-pilot Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and encounters the gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover).
Ron Howard stepped in with a week's notice to direct after original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street) left because of "creative differences", often Hollywood-speak for being fired.
Ehrenreich said he had a good relationship with them. After all, they cast him.
Of their departure, he said: "I think they are wonderful directors, and I loved working with them. I never saw any of their cut stuff put together so I don't know how different it would have ended up being. But they have a style of working that is their signature, and I think those creative differences... that was pretty much it."
So what was Howard's contribution?
"Scenes were shot and then Ron would kind of do pick-ups and make any scene his own thing. Sometimes that was doing it anew, and sometimes that was kind of adding a thing here and there. But to me, when I look at it, it is pretty clear how much it is Ron's film, his version of this movie. There are very few scenes that I felt were Frankenstein-ed together."
On getting the role of "the coolest guy in the world", Ehrenreich said: "When I first found out they were doing it, it was like everybody and their neighbours, uncles, friend is going to audition for this, so I didn't even imagine that I would get it.
"My approach to auditions is, 'I will go in and enjoy acting for the day and try not to get too wrapped up in the rest.'"
It took six auditions over six months before he got the part, and now Ehrenreich has signed on to do three Star Wars movies.
He said: "With this, it is so huge that you call people and you say 'I got this part' and they are totally silent. They don't know what to do because it's so enormous. It really is weird to go to my stepbrother's house and all their kids are playing with Star Wars action figures and now, you know, they are going to have a little Lego version of me to have the dog chew on."
The fact that Ford approved his casting thrilled Ehrenreich.
"It just meant the world to me, first of all that he really loves the movie, and I think he has seen it twice. Having his blessing going into it was even more important and meaningful."
The two did not really talk about Han Solo when they met.
"We talked more about his career and his life. His main feeling from the beginning was for whoever takes it on to make it their own. So it was lovely to have that spirit behind me."
Addressing reports of the acting coach that was hired for him to improve his performance, Ehrenreich said: "(That is) somebody they work with and have around on sets. It's not like the way it was portrayed. It was somebody who was there for everybody. That is common."
The first day on set was memorable, especially as he shot on Han Solo's famed starship, the Millennium Falcon.
He recalled: "I was really jetlagged, had not slept, but I was like, 'All right, this is going fine.' I got on the Falcon. It was really exciting.
"Then about midway through the afternoon, all the jet lag came crashing down and then Chewbacca showed up and was this (tall) guy with black paint around his eyes and a big suit and he was like 'Hi, how are you?' That was when it felt a little like a David Lynch movie or something."
Father of the Star Wars franchise George Lucas showed up one day for a visit.
Ehrenreich said: "He did a whole tour. It was beautiful to have him there because as a fan, I feel this kind of debt of gratitude. It is just such an unbelievable triumph of his imagination to create this universe.
"He was nice. Francis Ford Coppola was his mentor and I did my first film with Francis, so there was a nice kind of tie-in."