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The first thing to know about Star Wars‘ new Han Solo is that he comes with Steven Spielberg’s approval — the director famously discovered Alden Ehrenreich when the latter performed in a comedy video shown at a bat mitzvah reception Spielberg was attending.
“It’s a piece of shit,” Ehrenreich told Rolling Stone about the video. “It’s a video that this girl asked us to do. I mean, there wasn’t a script: We would go and just film whatever made us laugh. I’m this 14-year-old, skinny little kid with long hair.” Talking to the New York Times about the video, the actor said, “When we showed it to our parents, they said, ‘You look like a moron, you can’t let anyone see this.'”
Clearly, his parents didn’t see the potential that Spielberg did. The video resulted in a call from DreamWorks, and a meeting with the studio’s casting director, an implied endorsement from Spielberg that led to appearances in episodes of Supernatural — he played Ben in the series’ second episode, a teen who survives an encounter with a wendigo — and CSI.
The first of his big breaks — there are multiple, depending on your definition of “big” — came when Francis Ford Coppola cast him as Bennie, the younger brother to Vincent Gallo’s lead character in his 2009 film noir Tetro. Ehrenreich’s performance was one of the highlights of the movie for most critics, with the actor being singled out for “an exceptionally sensitive performance” by Time‘s Richard Corliss, and described as “confident and charismatic, [inspiring] such descriptions as ‘the new Leonardo DiCaprio” by Roger Ebert.
That didn’t mean that stardom was around the corner, however. His next big project didn’t arrive until 2013, with the YA flop Beautiful Creatures, which did nonetheless mark his first lead role. That same year, he had smaller roles in both Park Chan-wook’s psychological horror film Stoker and Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine before spending the following year shooting Warren Beatty’s as-yet-unreleased Howard Hughes project.
His second big break was to arrive with Hail, Caesar!, the Coen brothers’ tribute to old Hollywood. As Hobie Doyle, the dim-but-upstanding Western hero, Ehrenreich was humble and funny — but, to hear him tell the story, he almost didn’t get the role in the first place. “My agent sent me the script, and I read it and just loved it. I asked if I could audition, and we were told that I really wasn’t right for the part,” he told Rolling Stone while promoting the movie earlier this year. After multiple requests from his agent, he was invited in to read for the Coens. “When I read for them, they laughed the whole time,” he remembered. “That seemed like good news.”
Caesar firmly placed Ehrenreich in the public consciousness. His “Would that it were so simple” exchange with Ralph Fiennes was the centerpiece of the movie’s second trailer, deservedly so; ridiculous and hilarious, the deadpan nature of both actors’ performance, and Ehrenreich’s earnestness even as he finds new ways to fail to repeat the line properly, is one of the funniest scenes in the movie.
So it wasn’t entirely surprising when his name started appearing on shortlists of potential young Han Solos for the Star Wars spinoff being headed up by Phil Lord and Chris Miller. At 26, he was the right age (Sources told THR that the “sweet spot” was the mid-20s), and Hobie Doyle demonstrated that he could make clueless, unreconstructed macho-ness surprisingly charming in a way that echoed Harrison Ford’s original incarnation.
Now, he stands on the cusp of his biggest break to date: the centerpiece of a movie featuring one of the most beloved characters in one of the most successful franchises in cinema history. It’s a role that will propel him to the stratosphere of celebrity, but don’t expect it to go to his head. This is the man, after all, who took “my mom and my nana” to the Hail, Caesar! premiere, and who told THR earlier this year that his biggest lesson from the set of the Coen brothers’ movie was the professionalism on display.
“They work with a lot of the same people, and they have a set where people are extremely respectful to each other, where everything’s really organized, where people are enjoying their work and having a good time,” he explained. “How you can have such a great work experience and still have a wonderful product — sometimes there’s a false wisdom that you have to have really intense drama on the set and in the experience of making it in order to have a good product. Seeing how untrue that was in working with them was a wonderful insight into the rest of my career.”