Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

Why Paul Dano Will Never Be a (Run-of-the-Mill) Movie Star

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire December 26, 2013 at 7:58AM

Many young, successful actors dance into the bright lights of fame as if were the path to the after life, but Paul Dano keeps slinking around it.
10
'12 Years a Slave'
'12 Years a Slave'

Many young, successful actors dance into the bright lights of fame as if were the path to the after life, but Paul Dano keeps slinking around them. On a weekday afternoon last month, the lanky 29-year-old sauntered into the folksy diner Rucola in Brooklyn’s Boeurum Hill neighborhood and looked relieved to find the place nearly empty. He sunk comfortably into anonymity and ordered a coffee.

"This is easier," he said with a sigh. "The whole being-in-a-room interview thing, at a junket or a film festival, is very inhuman. You meet the person, have five or 10 minutes to talk, and it's not like a conversation." His bulging eyes and towering figure belie a soft-spoken quality that gives the impression of discomfort with overexposure. "When you repeat yourself so many times, even if you're speaking the truth, the repetition starts to feel false," he said. "Sometimes, you just feel like the words you're speaking, even if they once had meaning, have lost it. And that makes you feel kind of silly."

But he's no stranger to the dog-and-pony show of the promotional machine. Dano has been singled out as a talent to watch ever since his nearly wordless performance as a disgruntled teen in 2006's "Little Miss Sunshine," which he followed up as the memorably slimy preacher opposite Daniel Day Lewis in Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood." Since then he has cropped in a lot of tortured-artist roles: He played a struggling musician and deadbeat dad in So Yong Kim's "For Ellen," an aspiring playwright in "Being Flynn" opposite Robert De Niro as his father, a successful novelist in the comic fantasy "Ruby Sparks" (written by his girlfriend and co-star Zoe Kazan), and a cross-dressing literary aspirant in "The Extra Man."

These days, however, he’s just being tortured, and that gets to the root of why he’s so sick of repeating himself. In Denis Villneuve’s fall release “Prisoners,” Dano plays another wordless type with creepier ingredients as the mentally disturbed would-be kidnapper Alex Jones, who gets beaten within an inch of his life by a ferocious Hugh Jackman as a livid father searching for his missing daughter. Dano also crops up in Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” as whiny racist carpenter John Tibeats on one of the plantations where the kidnapped Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is held. After forcing the slaves to clap along to a degrading work song, Tibeats ultimately faces his comeuppance from Northup, who reacts to a beating by grabbing the whip from Tibeats’ hands and giving him a taste of his own medicine. 

That means you can see Dano facing the wrath of two angry in men in wildly disparate, but similarly bleak, awards season dramas — neither of which he’s the star — and viewed alongside the blows he takes from Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood," it’s hard not to see a morbid trend. For months now, Dano's been forced to answer variations on the same reductive question: Why so many beatdowns?

Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhaal in "Prisoners."
Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhaal in "Prisoners."

"I know!" he said, springing to life when asked if the suggestion that his latest performances reflect some kind of masochistic streak drives him nuts. "I fucking hate that question." Naturally, the superficial connection between the two roles stems from the serendipity of their release dates more than anything else. "I was not expecting to have two such brutal films out at once," he explained. "They're both pretty rigorous experiences for audiences. It'd be fun to do a part where I smile more."

Dano found the chance for some cathartic release in his most recent production, "Love and Mercy," in which he plays a young Brian Wilson (the story also includes John Cusack as an older version of the Beach Boys musician). The project, which wrapped over the summer, allowed Dano the opportunity to escape the dark edge of his other 2013 gigs. “Even though Brian Wilson has gone into a black hole — he had his difficulties, to say the least — his soul was motivated to help make people smile and heal people,” he said. “That was such a gift.”

Lately, Dano's been lying low. A basketball injury put him out of commission just in time for the holidays, providing an unexpected excuse to stay in town and struggle through his first attempt at completing a screenplay. It also gave him the chance to reflect on the past year and see the bigger picture of his recent output. If there's a silver lining to the perceived trend of flagellation in his roles, it has to do with his non-commercial priorities. 

"With these two left-of-center dark parts in films out so close together, maybe it creates the perception that the risk is worth it to me when I think the film is going to have value," he said. "I would do a film like '12 Years a Slave' for my own vanity just because it’s what I like — both as a moviegoer and as an actor."

This article is related to: Paul Dano, News, Features, Prisoners, 12 Years a Slave, Interviews, Awards Season Roundup, Awards, Period Drama, Crime, Steve McQueen, Denis Villeneuve, Zoe Kazan, Little Miss Sunshine, Ruby Sparks






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More