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If you recognize Jake Abel, you might find yourself with the unconscious urge to punch him. The 25-year-old actor has been working in movies and TV for a decade, but with blond hair and good looks he's inevitably wound up playing the bully, in The Lovely Bones and Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (and the upcoming sequel) and the short-lived attempt at another sci-fi teen series, I Am Number Four.
In another sci-fi tinged movie aimed at teens, though, Abel finally gets the chance to show his softer side, playing Ian O'Shea in The Host. As one of the few humans left alive after an alien species has colonized earth, Ian is as shocked as anyone when Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) arrives at humanity's last hideout while taken over by Wanderer, the alien Soul now living inside Melanie's body. But Ian's even more shocked when he starts to fall for Wanderer, kicking off one of the most unexpected love triangles in recent movie memory.
Abel, who has been on a relentless press tour with co-star Max Irons (the third point of that love triangle), spoke to me earlier this week on the final leg of the press tour in New York City. I asked him about his experience beating up Mark Wahlberg in The Lovely Bones, how he deals with the crazy pressure of auditioning in a room full of other guys, what it's like to have a role in a would-be franchise that just doesn't work out, and which celebrity got him to wait in line for an autograph. You can see him in The Host everywhere this weekend. It was fun looking you up, seeing that you had been with Saoirse in The Lovely Bones and seeing the clip of you beating up Mark Wahlberg.
Not many people get to beat up Mark Wahlberg.
I know, right?? He usually does the beating up.
He’s the ass-kicker.
Having moved on from that, do you feel that’s your badass peak?
I hope not. You what’s funny is they were so adamant, "Do not hit Mark. Do not touch him. You can beat the shit out of the stunt double, but do not touch Mark." I’m like, “OK, OK, OK…” So, we choreographed it, it was a pretty brutal scene. I mean I take the baseball bat and pick him up and I punch him and they’re like, “Don’t hit him.” Then I gave him, like a little love tap on the way up. I clipped him with my fist, right? And in that scene, AJ Michalka pulls me off, and this particular take Saoirse’s in the gazebo and fans are blowing. So AJ pulls me off and we have to lie on the ground while Saoirse has this moment, this pushing moment and the whole time I was lying on the ground, thinking, “I just fucking hit him. I just hit Mark Wahlberg,” and by the time I looked up and he looked up and was like [makes a thumbs up gesture]. If he knew people were that stressed about not hitting him, he’d be like, “Fuck off. Do what you have to do," cause he’s a Boston boy.
He wouldn’t have done The Fighter two years later.
Yeah, he’s going to be fine. I’m not going to hurt Mark Wahlberg, but it was fun. It was really fun to be one of the few who got to hit him.
You and Max Irons and Boyd Holbrook are all about same age and auditioning for the same parts and going out and competing against each other, even for this film. Do you feel like you’re able to foster camaraderie despite that, because there’s a sense that on the next job you’ll be there opposite each other in the audition room again?
I mean, you know, yeah, day one you’re competing with thousands of guys and regardless if you get to know them or not. I think it is possible to be friends even if you’re competing. You know, there’s so many guys in rooms that try to psych each other out and it doesn’t work. It only hinders their work.
Max was telling me about being in this audition room where a guy took off his shirt and started doing push-ups to intimidate the competition. Do you have anything that crazy that you’ve seen?
Nothing like that. I tend to leave the room, to be honest. I go in, I sign out, then I try to go outside or in the hallway, because there are those guys that do the weird shit or they’ll just try to talk to you and that might be nerves and that’s fine and sometimes it’s cool, but sometimes you want to be in your own space and do your own thing and get on with it. But, I see friends in audition rooms all the time and it’s great. It’s a great place to catch up because you hardly get to see them. And you realize at this point getting cast has nothing to do, really a lot of times, with your talent, you know... He’s tall and we want a short guy. He’s blond and we want a guy with red hair, you know? So you go in and you just do your job and you really can’t control it.
Are you better now at dealing with that process than you were when you started?
I mean, listen, the audition process is always grueling. You always hope to just get offered things and sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. You just have to go in and pay your dues and read. Auditioning is the worst part. It’s absolutely the worst part. My mentor [acting coach Morgan Sheppard] says, you know, booking the audition is hitting the home run. Filming the movie is just rounding the bases. That’s where the fun is, but all of the work. the stressful work is in the audition room, because you have such a small amount of time to go in, such a small amount of room to prepare usually, a day, to create a fully complex, developed person and show it in three scenes that are pulled from the script. It sucks. It sucks.
Well, you said that you’ve played a bully a bunch of times. Does that make doing a love scene like in The Host harder because it’s a muscle you haven’t exercised as much?
Well, that’s what I wanted to prove, like Percy Jackson, for instance...we just went and filmed the sequel. It takes very little work for me at this point for me to play Luke. I was worried that I wasn’t even present during the scenes because it’s like, “Whatever...this is this. I get it." But I think what’s important about all of the villains I’ve played is the reason I’ve chosen to do them is mostly because of the people involved, the filmmakers involved were tremendous...Steven Spielberg, D.J. Caruso, Peter Jackson...I was a bad guy in that one, but those are the reasons to do these films.
There’s talk of The Host sequel, obviously Stephenie is writing more books. The Percy Jackson sequel is coming up. Then you’ve got something like I Am Number Four, which is set up to be a franchise, and then it doesn't just quite happen. What's the contrast in those experiences, where you set yourself up for maybe being a part of something bigger and then it just doesn’t quite work out as compared to something like Percy Jackson which did become pretty big.
I think it’s unhealthy for the actor to worry about the final product of a project. There’s a lot of people that get paid to have that pressure and worry about the success. So, yes, absolutely you want your movies to be a success, obviously. You don’t want to be a part of a string of shitty films. I mean, the failure of I Am Number Four, that didn’t stop anyone’s career. DJ is directing another movie. Everyone is off doing other things. It happens. We’re artists. We take risks and sometimes those risks don’t pay off but that doesn’t mean you stop creating, so it’s OK.
Do you get the sense with The Host that it's different? There’s not a mall tour for every movie.
You know, Percy Jackson was the only other time/ That was a really good introduction to this for me, because they beat you down. They’re pretty tough. . It’s a lot more work, that’s for sure.
In terms of going from the audition to now?
Yeah, you know, because our job is that we go and we make the movie. That’s the fun, that’s what we’re there to do and then a year later you have to go do like...not that this part isn’t fun. I mean, meeting the fans is really great and really rewarding, but it’s taxing nonetheless, so it is a bit of work. There’s a few actors who say they’ve been paid to promote the movie. They do the work for free. Their payment is from the tour, because it is a lot of work, but with a film like this, you do get to meet fans who are really, really into it and it does give you a bit of a lift up, like book signings at the end of the day and you’re really exhausted and there’s a thousand fans outside and every one of them is so fucking stoked to be there. It’s infectious and it’s rewarding in that way. Especially with Percy, it’s a lot of young kids. They don’t care if there’s cheesy lines or there’s this or that. They’re just so stoked that you’re there, that they get to be there. I was that kid when I was young, who waited in line to get to meet a ball player or something, so I know what that’s like to wait in line to meet somebody.
Who did you meet?
It’s very random. I remember meeting Carlos Baerga, who is the Cleveland Indian’s second baseman, which was huge for me when I was a kid, right. I still have that picture somewhere.