“Preparation is one thing, but planning is something an actor should avoid,” says Jake Abel, explaining how he found his calling while taking acting classes at the Charleston Stage theater in South Carolina. “It’s all about stepping up and being ready to accept anything and everything, and ultimately being ready to fail.” Failure, though, won’t be a part of Abel’s vocabulary in 2013, a year set to propel the 25-year-old Ohio native into YA heartthrob territory. This March, he’ll appear as part of a bizarre on-screen love triangle with Saoirse Ronan and Max Irons in The Host, Andrew Niccol’s adaptation of the bestselling sci-fi novel by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer. Abel plays Ian, one of the last human survivors on post-apocalyptic Earth, and the object of affection for Wanda (Ronan), a member of a parasitic alien race who has invaded the body of Melanie (also Ronan), a young girl in love with another human (Irons). A head-scratcher, yes, but Abel insists that The Host’s real complexity lies in the ramifications of its extraterrestrial takeover. “The thing about these aliens is that they’re actually nonviolent,” he says. “There’s no war, no hunger, no debt, no recession. Everything is based on trust and love, but at the cost of them taking our bodies and potentially wiping us clean.” In August, Abel will turn up in another adaptation, reprising his role as Luke in the Greek-myth fantasy Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, the sequel to the 2010 box office smash, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.
You star in director Andrew Niccol’s hotly anticipated new film, The Host. Tell me about your character.
Ian is one of the last human survivors. He and his brother had escaped being captured and found their way out to this safe haven. Every day is kind of a struggle to survive, and then when Saoirse Ronan’s alien invader, Wanda, is brought into the cave, it really throws the dynamic off. All the politics change, and I really fall quickly for her because I see how much compassion she really has, which is something we never thought these aliens were capable of having.
It certainly reads as one of the most confusing plots on paper. When you first read the script, how were you able to wrap your head around it?
I always found [Twilight and The Host author] Stephenie Meyer’s source material in the novel—and then subsequently the adaptation of that— pretty clear and very well-written. I think the most engaging part is the dialogue between Melanie and her alien counterpart, Wanda. It’s in her head, and the way we’ve gotten around that in the film is that you hear Melanie in the voiceover, and then Wanda actually speaks out loud to her, and through that device it really clears everything up. It is complex, but I think Andrew does a great job guiding that.
Your character, Ian, falls for Wanda, while Max Irons’ character, Jared, is in love with Melanie [both are played by Ronan]. What’s the major difference between Melanie and Wanda, who has inhabited her body?
Melanie is by nature more aggressive. We’ve all reverted to this primal sort of living because it’s all about survival. Wanda is much more thoughtful, a little more subdued in that way. The thing about these aliens is that they’re actually non- violent. It’s a nonviolent takeover; they’re basically just here to experience our lives. We’re their vessels.
So let’s say that aliens did, in fact, arrive to take over our bodies to try to end human violence. Do you think that would be the best way to solve the world’s problems?
We had two weeks of rehearsal with the cast and Andrew sitting around basically asking that same question. We all went on either side of it. If that happened, this world would be great. It would be perfect. Everyone would be happy. But none of us would be sitting here. Our bodies would be here, but we would be stripped of our souls, which is our essence. And without your essence, you’re dead. I personally don’t think that it would be the best way.
What sort of role did Stephenie play on set, as far as weighing in on how the film was depicted?
She is really an ideal writer-producer. As far as our performance goes, I think she really revels in seeing what we do, what we bring to it. She’s there to answer any questions if you need guidance, but unless you seek it out, she’s not coming up to you and saying, “Oh, he wouldn’t do this” or “He wouldn’t do that.”
I read that you were able to inject your character with some of your own insights. What did you have in mind for Ian?
I wanted him to be a little more confident than he was in the book, a little more steady-footed. That really came through in Andrew’s adaptation, as well. My job is easy, you know? Ian was great in the book, and then the best parts of Ian were taken and placed in the script. It was all there for me, and I just wanted to make sure that everything Ian was—the shape he was in, the clothes he wore—was all functional for survival.
Were there any dangerous elements to this role? Any action scenes that spooked you a bit?
Surprisingly, this is one of the first times I haven’t had a lot of stunts or fight scenes; I got to really relax. The story I tell the most is about Max driving this really old truck we were in, but there were no seatbelts in it, and Max never had a driver’s license. He had to careen through this dirt out by the mountains, with these big boulders everywhere, and then Andrew was saying, “Oh, that’s good, but do it faster!” Saoirse was clinging to my arm every time, and I was hanging onto the door through the window and having to keep a placid face—but inside we were screaming. That was a really terrifying day.
What do you think is the most dangerous role you’ve played in your career?
Probably Percy Jackson, because it involved a serious amount of wire work. Your life is in someone else’s hands when you’re in a harness. There were a couple of times when miscommunication happened and they sent me flying and I almost crashed into a cameraman.
You have the next Percy Jackson film, Sea of Monsters, coming out in August. Any death-defying feats this time around?
Yeah, but unfortunately it’s not gonna be in this film! We just reshot the ending, and it’s much better. But in the original ending fight scene, Logan Lerman and I have this fight in an amusement park. Every amusement park has their signature big rollercoaster with one big climb. We climbed up as it was moving up the main peak, and I was kicking and jumping over seats as we were climbing to the crest of the hill. It was the most amazing thing ever.
You auditioned for the role of Edward in Twilight, but you’ve said you basically flubbed it. What happened?
Listen, everyone auditioned for that. If you were in town, you went out for it. I viewed it very literally. I thought to myself, This guy is a hundred and something years old. What’s he doing? I decided to play it like that. Maybe I knew it wouldn’t work, but I found it interesting. I think that’s all we as actors are trying to do: find ways of doing things that you find interesting. Ultimately it paid off because I did the same thing for The Host, and that’s what it was meant to be. I was meant to work with Stephenie, and we were meant to be a part of each other’s lives. It just wasn’t supposed to happen till later.
If a large asteroid were coming to destroy Earth and you had five minutes to gather only three of your prized possessions before evacuating, what would you take?
Let’s see. I’d bring a guitar, for sure a camera and a laptop so that I could organize all of it. I could record music and have photos.
Speaking of the future, where do you see yourself in 30 years?
Oh God, that’s one of those scary things. It’s like James Dean when he said in that PSA, “Drive safe, because the life you save might be mine,” and then a month later he got in a car crash. Fuck, I shouldn’t have said that! In 30 years, I just hope to be working.
What would you do on your last day on Earth?
Spend it with the people I love. I’d go to the top of a mountain, so I could have a good view: a big wide angle of the earth ending. The last great shot of the movie, right?
Photography by Thomas Giddings