The St. Paul Saints were ready to play ball. Now if only they could find their pitcher.
“Hey! We’ve got to go!” barked a field manager, channeling the cranky spirit of Billy Martin as the startled guest hurler darted to the mound.
“Who is that?” a bleacher bum sitting above first base asked his companion as the obligatory first pitch from a celebrity got underway.
“Some obscure actor from ‘The Hangover,’ ” said his buddy, prompting the woman in front of them to turn in her seat.
“That’s my son,” said Olga Dale, shaming the smart aleck as only a mother can do.
To relegate St. Paul native Ian Anthony Dale to the obscurity department doesn’t only get under the skin of a loving parent. It also overlooks the fact that he’s holding down steady jobs on two high-profile series: TNT’s “Murder in the First,” which airs its season finale Monday, and CBS’ “Hawaii Five-O” — a double-duty dream of every barista in Los Angeles.
But while he may be becoming a familiar face, his off-screen identity remains somewhat of a mystery.
“Aren’t you in ‘Hawaii Five-O?’ ” said the checkout clerk at the CHS Field gift shop, where Dale was adding to his extensive cap collection. “I know who you are, but what’s your name?”
“My real name or my character’s name?” Dale replied.
“Your character’s name.”
“Cool,” she said, before moving on to the next customer.
Dale, who has also appeared in “The Bucket List,” “Mr. 3000” and “Hart of Dixie,” said only about 10 percent of strangers who approach him actually know his real name.
What’s keeping him from that next level of fame? His first crack at being the leading man.
“That would be the goal,” said Dale, 37, who openly admits being disappointed that his “Murder” character, Jim Koto (a politically ambitious lieutenant), was relegated to a hospital bed for much of the first third of the season after being wounded in a shootout.
Despite his popularity as the conflicted son of a mob boss among “Hawaii” followers, he only appears in about five episodes a season. “For a network, a studio or a writer to take a chance on somebody like me in the lead role, that would give me the ultimate satisfaction.”
It’s not that he lacks Hollywood looks. His slim, well-toned body suggests he could stay out on the baseball field long after throwing the first pitch. (As a catcher, he helped St. Paul’s Cretin-Derham Hall Raiders secure a high school state championship.)
He has the kind of face that makes a few days’ worth of stubble look sexy rather than lazy. No wonder he has ended up as Maxim cover girl Grace Park’s love interest on “Hawaii.”
More important, his baritone voice and unshakable confidence demand attention whenever he’s on screen, which explains why he’s often cast as police supervisors or intimidating villains.
Making the parents proud
Dale’s ability to play undaunted characters didn’t really register with his parents until he played a duplicitous agent on the 2010 NBC series “The Event,” which, despite being canceled after one season, provided the best showcase yet for their son.
“That was the first time we forgot it was Ian,” said father Jack Dale, a former Gophers hockey player who made the 1968 Olympics squad and later pursued a career as an abstract painter. “Before that, we couldn’t get past seeing him as a little chubby 2½-year-old boy running around hugging everybody. He’s normally such a mild-mannered guy.”
Despite an ever-expanding résumé, Dale is well aware that stardom will always be a crapshoot — especially in a business that rarely thinks of Asian-American men beyond supporting roles. He’s encouraged by the success of ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” and NBC’s fall launch of the Ken Jeong vehicle “Dr. Ken,” but he can’t help but worry that the industry’s commitment to diversity could snap at any moment and that “the pendulum could start swinging the other way.”
That may explain why he invests his sparse free time exploring other interests.
An amateur designer, he just constructed a Japanese-inspired fence for the new house he bought with his longtime girlfriend, a home just 10 minutes from Dodger Stadium.
He’s also hoping to launch a career in directing, a craft he originally studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before moving in 2000 to Los Angeles. He recently spent a week shadowing his friend Larry Teng as he helmed an episode of USA’s “Graceland,” the kind of high-octane drama that Dale has gotten to know so well from the other side of the camera.
“A CBS executive told me that if I have any ability to direct and as long as there’s a need to fill a diversity quota, I could find myself directing with a great amount of regularity,” Dale said. “If that happens, I may have to turn down some acting jobs. That’s not a bad problem to have.”
The Jon Hamm blueprint
He has at least one veteran in his corner.
“Ian is even-tempered and measured, but not afraid to articulate and ask for exactly what he needs artistically,” said Jesse Bochco, a co-executive producer and frequent director for “Murder.” “His humor, kindness, confidence, humility and undying work ethic make for the perfect balance of personality needed to have success as a director.”
But Dale hasn’t completely given up making the A-list for actors. He cites Jon Hamm’s career as a blueprint.
“Here’s a journeyman actor, respected by people in the industry, but was not a household name,” he said, moments before jumping into a town car to catch a pair of flights that will get him to Hawaii in time to shoot “Five-O’s” season premiere. “Then ‘Mad Men’ elevates him to stardom and all of a sudden he has the opportunity to do what he wants.
“Once you prove you’re bankable, you’re given the chance to run with it. I like to think if I play my cards right and I continue to establish myself through the direction I’m already on, those opportunities will come to me, as well.”