Paul Dano on acting, love and embarrassing parents: ‘They have way too many pictures of me’
27 days ago
Hes known for playing misfits in There Will Be Blood and Little Miss Sunshine now the actor is turning his back on Hollywood to take on Tolstoy
Paul Dano has the kind of body language that speaks before he does. On screen, he is often twisted, lopsided, stooped, crunched or otherwise cramped in such a way that instantaneously and viscerally communicates vulnerability. Off screen, wandering into a coffeehouse in Manhattan, he is mildly diffident, like someone who might try to read a volume while strolling along. Oh my goodness! he tells vaguely as we settle in, and there is something about Danos politeness and thoughtfulness that attains one want to ring to congratulate his mother.
As an actor, the 31 -year-old brings heft to the thinnest of scripts. Dano hasnt had that many leading proportions, but he is, to a certain kind of movie-goer, instantaneously and appreciably recognisable, as John Tibeats in 12 Years A Slave, Eli in There Will Be Blood and, most famously, his almost silent appearance as Dwayne in Little Miss Sunshine all cinemas in which his performance exerts a greater influence than the size of the role. Next month, he plays Pierre Bezukhov in the BBCs six-part, APS1 0m adaptation of War And Peace, a role that, before accepting, Dano put through his customary process of internal questioning in this case, reading the novel for the first time to see if Andrew Daviess script was up to snuff.
It felt like the responsible thing to do, Dano says. And had the scripts not held up after reading the book, which they did, and Andrew did as good a job as I think you can He tails off.
He would have turned it down? Maybe. I wouldve questioned it.
Dano has travelled to Manhattan on the subway from his home in Brooklyn, where he has lived for eight years with his girlfriend, the actor Zoe Kazan( the couple co-starred in Ruby Sparks, which she wrote ). If you had to guess, youd set Dano down as a Brooklynite rather than a animal of Hollywood; he is pale and unbuffed, and his speech is riven with qualifiers. There is something nearly ecclesiastical about his manner hesitating and a little ached, without being unfriendly a deliberation one recognises from his roles. Dano is the master of the small external indicator of vast internal churn, and his characters tend towards the marginal( later in the interview, I stimulate the mistake of using the word weirdos to describe them, which upsets Dano on the basis that his characters are real people to me ). Even his biggest role to date, as Brian Wilson in Love& Mercy, the Beach Boys biopic for which he received a Golden Globe nomination, turned on the contrast between Wilsons fame and acclaim and the critical country of his mental health.
In the opening episode of War And Peace, which co-stars Gillian Anderson, Adrian Edmondson, Greta Scacchi and the reliably excellent Rebecca Front, Dano strolls into the grand ballroom in St Petersburg with a slight stoop, because, as he points out, Bezukhov is meant to be a bigger person than I am; hunching his shoulders connotes, cleverly, a man who doesnt know what to do with his height. Bezukhov is a tricky character for an actor, developing for the purposes of the narrative from awkward ingenue to a human in possession of a huge, unexpected fortune. In preparing for the role, Dano guessed long about what type of gaucheness he was trying to embody. Im more the kind of person who thinks about the room Im walking into before I do, he says. I think[ Pierre] walks into the room and realises hes there, which is kind of awkward at a high society party. Hes not innocent or childlike, but hes less calculating than the people around him. That openness is what attains him different. Its a beautiful quality.
The physical facet is one of the ways into a role Dano most savors. Its always a super-fun component. The question is: where is the energy in this person? Some characters lead from their chest or their head more, or their dick more, or whatever. It might not be something huge and noticeable.
On the evidence of the first episode, it will be a terrific series, although the filming six months through the worst of the winter in Lithuania and Russia was so penalizing that Dano still appears a little traumatised. During the shoot, Kazan came to visit him twice, but there were no visits home and, as a result, Dano felt their own lives stalling. He had never done such a long shoot before most of his movie roles have wrapped in two months and he was shocked at how everything had to be put on hold. Even if its dealing with a bill, or seeing your family, you have to learn to maintain enough life running while working. Its not fun to be away, and its a strange lifestyle. A full detox was necessary afterwards. Ive definitely tried to forget about it, merely to move on.
He looks instantly mortified at having permitted himself to say something that might be construed as ungrateful, and adds: Its also a great escapade , not only the run, but places I might not have gone to, and friends you make.
Dano grew up in Manhattan, on the East Side, and later in the suburbs. The East Side is shorthand for massive banking wealth and, yes, Dano tells, he was raised in one of those ritzy neighbourhoods, but without much money. His papa was a financial consultant, but not the 1% kind, and his mother raised Dano and his sister. We were in a one-bedroom when we lived in Manhattan, in a really nice neighborhood, but we had bunk beds and my parents were in the same room. It was a nice apartment. But to move into a bigger place would have been too expensive, so we went to the suburbiums, an hour away.
It was when they moved out of township that Dano began are active in a community theater, one of many after-school activities; at the time, he would have said that his aim was to become a professional basketball player. After being invited to appear in a regional play in Stanford, Connecticut, he started to go for auditions in New York, and in 1996, aged 12, attained his Broadway debut in a play called Inherit The Wind, by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee. Im pretty sure I had to save the money, and Im also sure it was not a lot a week. It wasnt like all of a sudden I had a lot of currency.
He did, however, start to get a sense of how a career in acting might run, and how it might go wrong. As Dano began appearing in small roles on TV “hes in” a few episodes of The Sopranos, a single episode of the sitcom Smart Guy and, at persons under the age of 17, won a sizeable part in the movie L.I.E . alongside Brian Cox he started to worry about getting sucked into the celebrity rat race.