Daniel Garriga/Contour by Getty Images

Starring in three of the year’s buzziest big-screen blockbusters, James Badge Dale is about to have the best summer ever.

While you’re working on your summer tan, James Badge Dale will battle a zombie apocalypse, duke it out with Old West outlaws and engage in some good old-fashioned comic-book mayhem in World War Z, The Lone Ranger and Iron Man 3, respectively — three of the season’s most hotly anticipated blockbusters. “It’s shaping up to be a good summer,” he says, coolly.

After a decade-long career slow burn of intense, lived-in perform­ances in projects like 24, The Pacific and Rubicon, Dale — known to his friends as “Badge” — is about to become a household name. Celebrity is something he grew up with (both of his parents were professional entertainers) but remains ambivalent about. “It’s a strange thing growing up in the wings of the theater. You think it’s normal,” he says. “Then you get older and you find out it’s not normal; it’s actually very abnormal. It’s a strange existence.”

The past year has magnified that strangeness for Dale, who dons military fatigues and chaps in his next two flicks. Suiting up is nothing new for the 35-year-old, whose first love, hockey — which he played as a teen with an eye toward going pro until a serious injury derailed those plans — required pads, helmets and mouth guards. “After I got hurt, all my energy went into the ­theater, and what I found is that the same rush I got on the ice playing this very intense, live sport was there for me on the stage too,” he says. “I just don’t get hit in the face with pucks anymore.”

Pucks are nothing compared to squaring off with hoards of the undead in this month’s Brad Pitt–led World War Z, a gig Dale cracks was a “no-brainer” to accept: “Brad Pitt and zombies? I’m there.”

In the film, Dale portrays a seasoned military man intent on ­circumventing impending global doom. Offscreen, though, Dale says making the film was the time of his life. While he’s loath to reveal much about the film’s story, he does tease, “There just might be a video somewhere of me doing the Michael Jackson ‘Thriller’ dance with a number of zombies in between takes.”

As for 2013 being the summer of Badge, the actor isn’t placing any bets. “I think I look like a cross between Bill Clinton and Lyle Lovett — good company, by the way,” he says. “I’ll know I’ve really made it when I get to play one of those guys in a biopic.”