The Verge: Ashley Springer

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When Hollywood casting directors have to cast the school nerd, they'll usually pick an actor who was the jock in real life and slap a pair of glasses on him. Ashley Springer is much closer to the real deal: though initially shy and self-effacing, he's thoughtful, quick, and possessed of an interesting backstory once you get to know him (as a teen, he was a professional magician). Springer first gained notice as one of Jess Weixler's victims in the Sundance-minted horror comedy Teeth, but he has his largest role to date in the new film Dare, where his geeky Ben comes alive when both he and best friend Alexa (Emmy Rossum) pursue the sexually confused Johnny (Zach Gilford).

On the verge of Dare's release this week, I talked to Springer about the film's adventurous nature, the unique way he snagged the role, and his magical past.

In Dare, the centerpiece scene for your character is pulled almost entirely from the short film the movie is based on. That short has been out there for several years, and you can find it online. Did you take a look at it before you went in for your audition?

No, I avoided it on purpose, actually. Emmy had seen it and she told me a little bit about it -- she was a big fan of it. I tried not to watch it, though.

There was no temptation? You didn't think it might give you an idea of what the writer and director were looking for?

I just imagined myself playing the scene and having someone else's lines in my head. I remember in acting school, sometimes we would try doing movie scenes, and it was a much different challenge than doing a play because you'd have a performance in mind. Even if you were trying not to recreate the performance, you'd have the specific rhythms of how people would say things or the characteristics of the original actor. I just didn't want to be battling that.

So you had already talked to Emmy before you went in...had she been cast, or were you two friends?

The thing was, I did a reading of the movie before they started casting anything because Kerry Barden cast Teeth as well, so he's cast me in a number of things. Kerry was doing the movie and they put together a reading early on so they could hear it, and he put me in the reading. They liked me from there and that's how I got the job more than anything, because I think if I had not gotten that, the audition probably would not have gotten me the job.

You didn't feel like you did as good a job in the actual audition?

I thought it was fine, but it was lucky for me that they were able to see me do the entire thing. Auditions are tricky! When you do a reading -- even more so than when you do the film -- you have a plan that you can ride this arc of the character from scene to scene. You obviously can't do that in an audition, so I was lucky that I was able to audition that way. It's not like anybody has any idea who I am. They had Emmy and Zach, who obviously had careers and have done things that people have seen, and I think that had they wanted to, they could have gotten somebody like that for Ben. They saw me before anyone else, though, so I got to do my own thing.

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Ben's arc is very interesting -- he seems so timid when the movie begins, but by the end, he's practically the movie's most confident, sexually assertive character.

I think that's totally right-on. He does start out with very little confidence, especially in the romantic arena. Alexa is his only real friend, and she doesn't exactly have a lot of high status socially in their high school. When he decides to go after Johnny, that's a huge risk for him, and one that he's never taken before in his life, so there's a major change in him. I tend to be more like early Ben in my life -- I have a hard time being assertive and standing up for myself -- so it was fun to discover how assertive he was as we went along.

When I talked to Zach Gilford, he told me that he didn't think Johnny was gay, and that Ben was almost exploiting Johnny's desire for friendship and intimacy by coaxing him into this relationship.

I think that that is the more interesting take on Johnny, right? But I think from Ben's perspective, it's sort of moot. He's not even thinking about it -- any opening that Johnny gives him, he's so hoping that something is going to be there that I don't think he actually steps back and analyzes whether Johnny actually wants it or not. It's like he's trying to sell him on the idea the whole time, and any positive feedback he gets outweighs all the negatives for him.

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