Fresh Star Sebastian Stan Is Drawn To Roles That Scare Him [Interview]

This post contains spoilers for "Fresh."

Sebastian Stan is embracing his dark side. He was always a bit of a brooder, whether you think all the way back to his "Gossip Girl" stint as a rich sleazebag or, more recently, to his famed role as the mass-murdering villain turned Avenger, the Winter Soldier. But if you've been tracking Stan's career outside the MCU, you might've noticed his tatted-up turn as Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee in Hulu's "Pam & Tommy." In fact, it may have even reminded you of his first Craig Gillespie project, "I, Tonya" where he played yet another abusive creep. If we've learned anything from his recent filmography, it's that Stan really thrives as an onscreen a**hole — so try to keep that in mind when you check out his latest film, "Fresh."

The twisted thriller from Mimi Cave is a story of a meet-cute gone terribly wrong, featuring Sebastian Stan as a charming stranger — before abruptly changing tone and dialing the creep factor to 100%. Daisy Edgar Jones stars as a 20-something woman, tired of dating apps and awful men, who happens to meet handsome doctor Steve (Stan) in the produce section of a grocery store. Their love story quickly goes from too-good-to-be-true to too-horrifying-to-process: all the while, Sebastian Stan looks to be having the time of his life, busting out dance moves and satiating Steve's deeply disturbing appetite. 

"Fresh" is deliciously dark, which made for a fascinating conversation with Stan on what draws him to darker roles, how he came to understand the psychology of his character and the horrors of Steve's very particular diet.

'I do gravitate towards projects that I feel ask questions or make me think a certain way.'

I feel like we're at the point where every time I see you on screen, I'm waiting for something bad to happen. Are you in your villain era or are you just naturally drawn to dark roles?

I don't know, to be honest. I go to therapy. I try. [Laughs] But I don't know, there's so many different things that feel more out of my control than in my control when projects come together. There are so many things that I want to work on or I try to go out for and either the financing doesn't come together or the timing is wrong, I have a lot of stories like that. But I do gravitate towards projects that I feel ask questions or make me think a certain way or scare me in a lot of ways because then I sort of put this detective hat on and I try to get in there and try to understand and try to research. In terms of, "Fresh" for example,  I had an idea going in and reading it [of] what to expect, but then it just seemed to keep offsetting me every time I thought I knew how he was going to handle something. I just felt like it was unsettling in a way that I wanted to continue to understand better. 

And then I think a lot of it comes from the company you keep and aligning with a director's vision, someone who's telling the story a certain way or has something very specific to say and wanting to help that person tell that point of view. And also in terms of who your partner is as you go down this journey because there's a lot of trust and there's a lot of pieces that have to come together and I guess I've been very lucky with being able to work opposite some unbelievable actors, mostly who have elevated me actually and forced me to rise to the challenge. And I think as an actor, that's sort of what you're looking for. I hate getting comfortable in certain things and just wanting to do the same thing over and over again and so I just try to find stuff that's challenging, I guess or that feels so far away from me that I can at least learn something from it.

So when you're getting into this role — I know you've talked about looking into serial killers and working with doctors on the subject. What was your main takeaway from that research part?

I read so much on narcissism — and we always hear this word obviously, and we've all come across different people and we all to some degree have a degree of narcissism. Children start out being very narcissistic in a way because it really is all about their world and it's such a primal different experience that feels natural at that point. But then the development from there as you grow up and the influences around you and the things that happen in your life influence you a certain way. For me, I've always been fascinated because I think narcissism is a really real thing, and just kind of learning about that and these extreme cases [like] these serial killers, at least from the research I've done. And then somebody like Steve. It's really pretty wild to learn about because there's sort of this super ego that gets invented at some point and it's there mainly to protect the child from an extremely traumatic experience.

So it's as if the intention of it is good, you could argue, because it's there for protection, but then it starts to completely take over and it often leads to these drastic behaviors and I just think when you're looking at acting or when you're looking at characters like this it's important to not just write them off right away obviously for being so awful but to really understand where's the through-line. How does someone become [that]? How does someone get there? Right, because the idea is learning so that we can perhaps prevent other things from happening in the same way. And I guess whether you have kids or not, it's something to learn about in terms of how those kids are raised.

'The food in this was very difficult... I didn't have the stomach for it.'

On the subject of getting invested in the character, what was it like for you to eat the on-set food that was made for Steve?

The food in this was very difficult. I actually was sort of... I'm not vegan, but I was sort of vegan throughout this whole film which didn't help me because I was trying to lose weight for this role and something else and so I didn't have the stomach for it. And then actually I had to get into the food and really appear to be enjoying it and be very joyously eating it, not just like have a little bite. And so there were a lot of times where I was going home not feeling good after those food scenes.

What about working with the other grotesque props throughout the movie?

We had an unbelievable props department and I was amazed with the amount of detail. Everything on our movie was done from scratch and manual. There was not really CGI anything, it was sort of like experts going in there and building these props. But for the purposes of the film at that point, you have to put your mind aside for a minute and I just focused more on the music, I guess at that point.

Right, you do have a couple of dance scenes.

Yeah, Mimi and I worked together on that. I mean Mimi has an extensive background in dance and music videos, choreography. I mean I just sort of turned to her and I was like, "What do you think we should do here?" Because we wanted to find a degree of freedom and spontaneity to his movement but at the same time have little nuggets here and there of things that we could rely on, certain dance moves and stuff. And those all came as we were going, we were mapping out a bit of a journey in terms of the choreography of the space and where I would go, and then it would get more and more specific the more we were doing it. But there were interesting parts because when I read the script, initially, I was excited about it because I love the eighties and I was like, "Oh this is amazing," you had these little dance sequences, but then actually they're very specific because they're very revealing about who he is, in certain ways.

Fresh is now streaming on Hulu.