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Paul Dano on Playing Spielberg’s Father in ‘The Fabelmans’: ‘The Stakes Felt Really High’

"You’re embodying one of the most important, influential, complicated figures in [Spielberg’s] life," the "Batman" actor said of his role.

Paul Dano attends the World Premiere of "The Batman" at Josie Robertson Plaza, Lincoln Center, New York, NY, March 1, 2022. (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Paul Dano

Sipa USA via AP

Paul Dano is getting plenty of attention for his transformative performance as The Riddler in Matt Reeves’ “The Batman,” but this fall, movie lovers will see him play a very different role in an equally buzzy film. Dano is starring in Steven Spielberg’s next directorial outing “The Fabelmans,” an original film inspired by the legendary director’s childhood in Arizona.

“The Fabelmans” marks the first time Spielberg has written one of his own films since 2001’s “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.” The all-star cast includes Seth Rogen, David Lynch, Michelle Williams, and Dano, playing a character inspired by Spielberg’s father. In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter to promote his role in “The Batman,” Dano admitted to being intimidated by playing the father of a Hollywood legend, especially considering Spielberg’s father had just died in 2020 at the age of 103.

“Somebody like Steven making a film about his life and you’re playing a version of his father … the stakes felt really high,” he said. “You’re embodying one of the most important, influential, complicated figures in [Spielberg’s] life. It was incredible to see how much of this was in his work the whole time. He’s sharing a piece of himself that I find very moving. There’s a real gift in it, when somebody of that stature and at that level of artistry is willing to do that.”

While “The Batman” will almost certainly be Dano’s biggest film to date, he has quietly carved out a reputation for himself as an actor who delivers bold performances in unique films like “Love and Mercy” and “Swiss Army Man.” A personal family drama from Steven Spielberg should lead to a very different type of performance from Dano, but he hopes “The Fabelmans” will help him reinvent himself as an actor.

 “[‘The Batman’] closes a certain type of work that I’ve done, and ‘The Fabelmans’ is the next chapter,” he said. “Sometimes people are like, ‘Oh, you always give these really big performances.’ Sometimes they’re like, ‘Oh, you always give these very quiet performances.’ I don’t know what people think of me, but even though the relationships are complicated in ‘The Fabelmans,’ the character is beautiful, and I think his heart is beautiful. And so after doing the Riddler, it was nice to go work with that part of myself that was more about being a parent and a husband than … you know.”

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