Director Mimi Cave was driving one day when she got an email from a name she didn’t recognize. It was Sebastian Stan, writing under a pseudonym.
“I just couldn’t help myself,” Stan wrote.
She’d been considering him to star opposite Daisy Edgar-Jones in her feature debut “Fresh,” which is loosely about the horrors of modern dating. Attached was a video, a kind of supplementary audition, of him dancing around a kitchen with a steak knife.
It wasn’t unrelated to the part. His character Steve, has a pivotal dance moment in a kitchen set to Animotion’s “Obsession.” And Cave had a background in dance and directing music videos for cool indie outfits like Lucius, Sleigh Bells and tUnE-yArDs.
What Stan didn’t know at the time was that the part was already his.
“I had to pull my car over,” Cave said, laughing. “We’d already decided we were going to cast him but this just put the nail in the coffin. He was obviously super into it and excited and inspired.”
It may only be March, but Stan is already having a big year with his transformational, tattooed turn as Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee in “Pam & Tommy” and as a possibly too-good-to-be-true boyfriend in “Fresh, Both of which are available on Hulu.
“Fresh,” in particular, had Stan doing deep dives on relationships, reading Alain de Botton’s treatise on marrying the wrong person, and other complex men in recent history that should probably go unnamed — it’s one of those the-less-you-know -going-in-the-better movies.
“It has that fun kind of spontaneous, naturalistic banter that you would see in ‘Before Sunrise.’ Two people meeting and kind of calling each other out and sort of being honest and aware how awkward meeting someone is without even knowing them,” he said. “You want to know what happens to these two people. Then it takes a turn and becomes even more fascinating.”
Stan is probably best known for his Marvel association — he’s played Captain America’s frenemy Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier for over a decade now, in films and on the Disney+ show “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.”
“I learned so much from Marvel,” Stan said. “I still credit Marvel with kind of allowing people to give me a chance and sort of consider me for things.”
But he’s also been amassing an impressive list of co-stars and directors over the past 20 years. Part of that has to do with the fact that Stan has never cared about the size of the role. He’s always readily taken smaller parts for the opportunity to work with people like Jonathan Demme (“Rachel Getting Married” and “Ricki and the Flash”), Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”) and Steven Soderbergh (“Logan Lucky”).
“I would much rather be a part of a project that asks questions, that people will talk about or that’s good and have one scene instead of being in every frame in something that doesn’t seem to resonate,” Stan said.
He’s played sons to Meryl Streep (“Ricki and the Flash”) and Sigourney Weaver (“Political Animals”), infamous boyfriends to Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”) and Lily James (“Pam & Tommy”), and support to Nicole Kidman’s detective (“Destroyer”) as well as Jessica Chastain’s super spy (“The 355”) and astronaut (“The Martian”).
The way Stan tells it, one morning he woke up and realized he’s just better in opposite roles “very strong women.”
Things are good right now for Stan, but he also isn’t ready to kick up his feet.
“You have to remember, I’m from Eastern Europe,” Stan said. “I grew up always thinking that the other shoe is going to drop.”
Stan was born in Romania in 1982. He and his mother left amid the 1989 revolution and moved to Vienna for a few years, though neither spoke German at the time. When he was 12, they moved to Rockland County, New York, and Stan started getting serious about acting, attending the storied Stagedoor Manor summer camp, which boasts alumni like Natalie Portman and Robert Downey, Jr — both of whom he’d end up working with later. His Broadway debut in 2007’s “Talk Radio” was what got him on Demme’s radar and gave him the chance to meet the likes of Al Pacino and Paul Newman.
“(Demme) came backstage and said ‘I’m doing this movie with Anne Hathaway and there’s no role for you, but I’m going to just I’m going to figure it out. You’re just going to be in it,'” Stan said. “He was such a kind, generous man.”
Stan has some projects brewing at the moment, including a film for Brady Corbet, who he used to see at auditions, that they’re trying to get off the ground. And he might start getting into producing, too. He just doesn’t want to ever get lazy.
“I do feel like you always have to keep growing. You have to kind of keep trying to take swings,” he said. “I’m very, very afraid of comfortability and getting too comfortable and playing any one character.”
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.