LOS ANGELES (AP) — Thandie Newton jokes that there might be something off about Alden Ehrenreich — because how else could he take on the pressure-filled role of Han Solo with so much ease?
"Every week, I was expecting a call that Alden had had a nervous breakdown and wouldn't be coming to work on Monday," Newton, who plays the tough thief Val in "Solo: A Star Wars Story," joked during a recent interview. "I actually think there's something wrong with him, probably like physically and mentally wrong with him that he was able to sustain this."
Kidding aside, Ehrenreich was saddled with a burden few actors would want to take on — having to play an iconic character whose identity is tied to a legendary actor in a storied franchise.
"Well, it takes a lot of guts," said Ron Howard, the director of "Solo: A Star Wars Story. "And I was kind of close to something similar many years ago. I directed Michael Keaton in a couple of movies and suddenly he had this chance through his friend Tim Burton to be Batman. And he took the gamble and he said yes. And at the time, people were just outraged. They just couldn't possibly imagine him being a good Bruce Wayne. And of course he did a great job and had great success with it. Alden I think just approached it with a kind of calm professionalism. He's a young guy but he's got that sort of maturity and he's also very creative."
"Solo: A Star Wars Story" tells the backstory of the character that Harrison Ford played over a span of several decades, most recently in 2015 in "Star Wars: A Force Awakens." Not only did he have to make Han Solo his own, he had to do it while switching directors midway through after Lucasfilm fired the original filmmakers and replaced them with Ron Howard.
This is Ehrenreich's biggest and highest profile role by far — he's appeared in flims including "Hail, Caesar!" and "Beautiful Creatures," but in many ways is a new face to many moviegoers.
Ehrenreich said stepping into Harrison Ford's shoes to play the wisecracking space smuggler posed a unique challenge that wasn't the same as multiple actors playing a version of a superhero like Batman.
"I think Han's personality is so distinctive. I think it's probably more similar to something like the Joker than Batman, because he such a particular character," he said. "Batman is a little more straight and you're also in the mask a lot. But I think that it's for me like really important that you feel like you're watching a real person. I think that's what makes any movie work. And so it needs to feel like it has this continuity. So I wanted to absorb as much of all that as I could early on and then kind of move into who is this guy now. And we're also meeting him at a very different time in his life. Who is he now and what is he about?"
Co-star Emilia Clarke, who plays Han Solo's love interest Qi'ra in the movie, marveled at how Ehrenreich handled the pressure with "such grace and such poise."
"Anyone could have crumbled under the pressure that was there," she said. "As actors, you put so much pressure on yourself anyway in approaching roles and in approaching characters."
Paul Bettany, who plays villain Dryden Vos in the movie, echoed Clarke's sentiment.
"He's fantastic in the film. Secondly, he doesn't have to be Harrison Ford," he said. "This is about how he becomes the Han Solo that you remember in 10 years' time. So he's not that person. This is about him learning how to shoot first and be that guy."
This story has been corrected to show that "The Force Awakens" was released in 2015, not 2016.
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