Actor Jake Manley’s filmography has ranged from the adorable likes of A Dog’s Journey, to comedy-horror Netflix gem The Order, to all-out war epic Midway. With his new film, Infamous, out on streaming services and select drive-ins now, he can cross “heist-thriller” off his list. Though he’ll tell you himself that the film is far harder to pin down than that.
Infamous follows Arielle (played by Bella Thorne) and Dean (Manley) as they flee to Hollywood after accidentally killing Dean’s father, robbing convenience stores along the way to scrape by. Throughout the chaos, the couple document their exploits on Instagram, skyrocketing them to the social media fame that Arielle has always dreamed of. Reviewers have pounced on a comparison to Bonnie & Clyde, but the story of Arielle & Dean certainly takes a more modern, nuanced approach to the classic American tale. Manley himself will tell you that he took inspiration for Dean from Natural Born Killers, Brad Pitt in Kalifornia, and Garett Hedlund in On the Road. Check out our exclusive interview with Jake Manley below.
How did you get involved with Infamous?
I got sent the script from my agent who knows a couple of the producers quite well. I read it, and at first I was like “Could this happen? This is pretty crazy and far fetched.” But the more I thought about it, I was like “no, this could happen, and there’s very possibly gonna be a future where this would happen.” So I said I was definitely interested, and went to meet up with Bella [Thorne]. We had a chance to sit down and talk about the script and get to know each other. I talked with Josh Caldwell the writer/director as well, and we just went full steam ahead.
Infamous is quite gritty and intense but does have this underlying surreal, almost satirical feel to it. How would you describe it to someone who hasn’t seen it yet?
Josh describes it as a “heist thriller,” but it’s almost hard to peg. I don’t want to completely call it a satire, but it’s kind of like an action thriller with a heist aspect to it.
Let’s dive into your character, Dean. How did you prepare for the role? Was there any special training or research you had to do?
There were a couple of things. [Dean] is a guy that’s kind of from a rough upbringing and had spent time in prison, so Josh was able to connect me with a man he knew that spent time in the prison system when he was younger. It was massively helpful to jump on a call with him and kind of pick his brain about what he went through, and his perspective going in, during, and coming out of prison. That really helped get me in that headspace.
Then from there it was about the physicality and the look. I thought “how can we give this guy some edge?” My personal kind of profile is not something that is menacing, so how would someone who looks like me set himself apart in these rougher kind of crowds? So I got the idea to do the [blonde] hair and I talked to Josh about it. He said it was a great idea that went with the visuals well.
The next thing was weapons, because I’d never really handled weapons to that extent before. I started doing some training at gun ranges in California with a few friends and colleagues that could help me. And then when we got to Oklahoma [to shoot] we had some amazing guys: Travis Donaldson who runs BlackJack Security Concepts and the guys at OKC Tactical. These are veterans who had served and were highly trained; they spent a whole day going over everything with Bella, Josh, Michael Sirow (who plays Kyle in the film), and me. So that was invaluable to, you know, look comfortable with the weapons and look lived-in, which was really important to this character.
It’s no secret that Bonnie and Clyde is quite prevalent as a theme throughout the movie and its promotion. Did you take any direct inspiration from that film for Infamous and for your role? Any from Warren Beatty specifically?
I didn’t, because when we started, there wasn’t as big of a comparison to Bonnie and Clyde. I know its mentioned by a newscaster in the film, but besides that we weren’t as focused on it. Since it’s come out, a lot of the media has drawn that comparison, but there were other films that Josh and I had talked about. A couple of those for me were Kalifornia with Brad Pitt, David Duchovny and Juliette Lewis. Natural Born Killers of course, Heat; On the Road even, ’cause Josh and I thought that this character was kind of like Dean Moriarty from [that film]. So there were several films that I did watch and draw things from but no, Bonnie and Clyde originally wasn’t one. I mean looking back, if we knew it was going to be such a comparison I might have watched it, but I didn’t want to lean too much into that anyway.
In many ways Arielle is a sort of caricature of modern social media influencers and Dean is more of a foil to her. What was that dynamic like? How was it playing off of Bella Thorne’s more chaotic energy?
It was great! Cause for me Dean is just a lot of reacting to Arielle and what she was doing. And Bella is just so massively amazing at creating this world and buying into it, so I can’t imagine anyone else in that role but her. The story is told from her perspective, so I never wanted to overshadow her like that. What she’s doing is the crazy stuff, and Dean is more passive, so I just wanted to be more reserved that way.
Your character Dean seems to be the only character to ever acknowledge how crazy things seem to escalate. Do you think Dean has more humanity than he lets on?
I think so. He’s definitely seen some shit, he’s not just some cookie cutter guy. It’s important that Dean had some depth and wasn’t just this grunting, all-American looking guy. He really wanted to just fly right; he did not want to go back into the prison system. So that was the focus of this character: he just wants a normal life.
The director’s statement says exactly that: he wants a normal life. But something about Arielle just keeps stringing him along for the ride.
Yeah, I think he’s fascinated [with Arielle]. He’s never had this kind of closeness from someone, so that’s addictive. It’s almost like he himself is watching just like the followers are. He’s there for it and he’s witnessing it and says “this is crazy,” but it’s hard to pull away, you know. He hopes and expects that [Arielle] is gonna change, but it just never happens.
You’ve been in quite a range of projects. Are there any particular kinds of roles you find you enjoy more, or gravitate towards?
I like the real people and true stories such as Midway. I love getting into a person’s headspace and personality. And there’s a responsibility that comes with that that’s very challenging and can be intimidating but ultimately very rewarding.
Bonnie & Clyde is such a uniquely American story that is being compared to the movie. Being from Toronto, Canada, was there any difficulty adapting or transitioning to American media?
I don’t think so. I think it’s so similar. I’ve lived in the states for a few years now, and before that I was splitting my time between LA and Toronto, so I never really thought about that.
Being from Canada, you study the US culture and media, and almost hear more about it than your own country. So, I don’t think that was particularly hard. Hopefully there was nothing that people would be like “Oh is this guy Canadian? We can hear an accent.” Especially with Dean, I wanted the way he talked to be very specific and different.
Is there anything else you’re working on at the moment we can look forward to? You started your career producing behind the camera, so do you have any of your own projects in the works?
I definitely want to pursue the productorial side of things more. I did a couple of shorts in the last few years that were massively rewarding to work on. I’m also looking to finish this feature that I’ve been working on with another actor/colleague of mine while continuing my show The Order on Netflix. The second season of that comes out on Thursday, June 18th. And Holidate, a holiday rom-com, is coming out later this year, so I’m excited for all of those things!
Interview by The Untitled Magazine