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Paul Dano Didn’t Want to Do ‘Prisoners,’ but ‘Massive Crush’ on Roger Deakins Sold Him

"Did I want to play that part? No. Like really, no," Dano said of the psychological thriller directed by Denis Villeneuve that took a toll on his "mental health."

Paul Dano in Prisoners



Paul Dano has played a “Batman” villain and a Beach Boy, but the Emmy nominee had no desire to play a presumed child kidnapper in “Prisoners.”

The Denis Villeneuve-directed film stars Hugh Jackman, Viola Davis, and Terence Howard as parents whose children are taken. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the detective on the case, as the local community fingers Dano’s character and his suspicious mother (Melissa Leo) as being involved. The 2013 film was nominated for Best Cinematography for Roger Deakins’ work.

“People love ‘Prisoners,'” Dano said while reflecting on his best roles for a GQ video. “This is one of those that you don’t really want to do, but you do, if you know what I mean.”

He continued, “I’d seen Denis’ film ‘Incendies,’ and he told me Roger Deakins was shooting it, who I had a massive crush on. Did I want to play that part? No. Like really, no. But like…yeah.”

Dano recalled the revelation that he could “actually see it” and found the way into the controversial character by embracing a physical transformation. “Then soon enough you’re doing it,” the “Batman” star said. “One of the important moments in the development of that was just, I remember thinking, ‘OK, if you’ve had that much trauma as a kid, and now what happens when we’re scared? What happens to our body?’ And just like, ‘OK, what would happen if you kept living with that?'”

The “Wildlife” director added, “So for me, the way into that character was just through the physicality of how I helped my body and my jaw even because I needed to find a way out from it for my own mental health. I needed to find a way to step in and out of that. I knew I did not want to engage with that material.”

Unlike portraying Brian Wilson in “Love & Mercy,” Dano wanted to discard his “Prisoners” persona immediately.

“For ‘Love & Mercy,’ that’s something where you’re going to stay in the soup for the time you’re doing it,” Dano said. “But with something like this, how do I, Paul, come out of it? If my body’s like this, then I’m entering into that character and then can I exit out of it easier?”

Dano credited co-star Hugh Jackson for easing the process.

“Luckily Hugh Jackman was the nicest man in the world. It’s true what everybody says. He’s just a super sweetie,” Dano said. “And so if you’re going to get beaten up by somebody, it’s nice to have Hugh on the other end of it.”

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