Starring opposite Karen Gillan in Riley Stearns’ Dual, Beulah Koale shoulders an important if not especially endearing role, playing a boyfriend who likes his girlfriend’s clone better than he likes her. Koale’s performance as Peter not only provides Gillan’s character Sarah with the mirror she needs to examine her passive life, but helps bolster writer-director Stearns’ deadpan, bleakly humorous tone as a storyteller.
Providing that support as part of the film’s intimate ensemble was an exciting challenge for the native New Zealand actor, who previously appeared in the military-themed drama Thank You For Your Service and on television in the police procedural Hawaii Five-0. While discussing Dual, Koale recently spoke to The A.V. Club about his role in the film, as well as his work in Taika Waititi’s already-finished follow-up to Thor: Love And Thunder, a dramatization of the 2014 soccer documentary Next Goal Wins co-starring Michael Fassbender and Elizabeth Moss.
The A.V. Club: This movie dances on a real razor’s edge of gallows humor. As an actor, is there a normal exercise that you take where you’re like, “His perspective is very reasonable,” or do you just look at him like the audience might and think, “This guy’s maybe not the greatest person”?
Beulah Koale: Initially, when you read a script and you read what Peter does, you’re like, this guy’s a dick, man. He’s not very cool. But as an actor, you can’t think like that, because that’s an audience perspective. So as an actor, you’ve gotta find the honest truth in why he made the decision. And for Peter, in a dark weird way, he gets a second chance at love with a woman he fell out of love with, but he gets a little bit more control because this clone version doesn’t really know what’s going on. So whatever Peter tells [Sarah’s clone] is kind of right for what Peter wants, which is messed up [Laughs.] But Peter just doesn’t want to go down the same path he went down with the original Sarah, so he is trying to direct this relationship.
AVC: Riley Stearns does such an amazing job of making these two versions of Sarah so seamless that you don’t even think about the idea that it’s just one actor. How difficult or easy was it to chart the differences between these two characters you’re playing against?
BK: It was very easy, man. One, because Riley’s writing just makes it very easy to play with, like it’s fun material to play with. But it was definitely hard for Karen because she had to do the work where she had to actually change characters. But from an outside perspective, it was interesting to watch how Karen would break it down, and she would have to think about how she would react to herself and make sure she was making the right decisions on this side of the camera for the future when she’d done her hair/makeup and she had to remember what she was doing. So that was cool to watch from an actor’s perspective, like that’s a cool process. I would love to do that one day.
AVC: How difficult or easy was it to fall into lockstep with either your co-stars or Riley’s artistic ambitions to make sure that its unusual tone was communicated collectively in the right way?
BK: It definitely required the team to come together and be all on the same page, and what that required was Riley to basically lead us and tell us how to do it. And it was difficult because as actors, you know your bag of tricks; everyone’s got your bad habits and your good, but then at the end of the day, they’re all tricks that you use to pretend to be something that you’re not. Riley kind of throws all of that out of the bag, and he goes, “Just say the words and let the words do the work.” And Riley puts a lot of effort into it and it’s great dialogue. And then when you hit it with the right tone and it’s just super flat, and you let the audience do the thinking about what was just said and how messed up it was that was just said, how dark that was, then you put the audience in a weird spot, which is what you want as an artist. But as an actor, you are in a very vulnerable place because you’re out there, like “I got nothing to hide behind,” and it’s awesome. It’s awesome to be a part of that and just be like, “Okay, am I brave enough just to go out there and limb and do this?” And then when you’re acting opposite Karen, who’s doing exactly the same, you’re just like, “Let’s do this—let’s dance!”
AVC: One of your next films is Next Goal Wins. Taika Waititi is obviously such an incredible creative force, but what’s amazing is how quickly he seems to work and work at such a high level. What sort of creative atmosphere does he create on set that makes you feel like you can do your best work?
BK: He just makes me feel like there’s no limits. And I’m very familiar with Taika’s style because it’s very Kiwi. Kiwis are like, if you’ve got $3 million to make a film, you’re making an Avengers film, man. We know how to squeeze a dollar, and everyone kind of a jack-of-all-trades, so that hard-working mindset is something that I’m very familiar with. But being a part of Taika’s thing, he’s just creative. It’s just us being us. And he’s just like Riley, he’s unafraid to be himself. And Taika, I remember talking to him and going, “You work so hard, man!” He says, “Yeah, but for thirtysomething years of my life, I wasn’t working as hard, so while I’m in this little pocket, I’m going to work as hard as I can.” And you can’t question that.
AVC: How difficult or easy has it been for you to find the kinds of challenges that you want as an actor? Are you finding that the roles that you’re taking are opening you up to a lot of possibilities, or are people repeatedly coming to you for similar challenges?
BK: It’s a little bit of both. For a little while there, I got placed as military guy because I was in the right age bracket, I had the right kind of look. But then I always have to remind people, I’m an actor, man. So even when I was working on Hawaii Five-0, which is a procedural, everyone kind of falls into a comfortable thing. I told everyone I’m not here for long. I’m just here to learn what I need to learn about how American film works. Once I learn that and I’m comfortable, I’m out of here. Because once I get comfortable, it’s not good for me. I have to get scared again. And I walked into the writers’ room of that show and I told them who I was, like, “This is who I am, this is where I come from, and if you could write something around that, that would be awesome. Because I want to be challenged.” And when I finished the show, Riley’s film was exactly what I needed. The world works in mysterious ways. It kind of has that type of energy, that puts what you want and need in front of you. And I needed something like Riley’s film to scare me, and it really did. I never really jumped at the comedy and sci-fi world, or the stylistic approach that Riley has.
AVC: Are there roles that you’ve taken on that you feel like best encapsulate your lived experience or identity thus far?
BK: I don’t know. Until I make a movie about my life, I think that would be the perfect one. But every character that I do play comes from me because I didn’t go to acting school and I didn’t learn any techniques. I just got told by someone that you can use your life as a tool to tell stories, and I was always interested in that question—and I’m still interested in that question. It’s the reason why I love my job, because I’m always trying to answer that question, and every character that I play has me in it, or a part of my life, and then I add the research or I blow it up and I use that. But at the heart of it is me.