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Paul Dano: Watching Tom Cruise Do Stunts Changed the Way I Direct

Watching Cruise work on the set of "Knight and Day" changed Dano's understanding of filmmaking.

Paul Dano

Paul Dano

Getty Images for FLC

By the time Paul Dano made his directorial debut on the 2018 film “Wildlife,” he had already worked with legendary filmmakers such as Paul Thomas Anderson, Bong Joon Ho, and Steve McQueen. But when reflecting on the acting experiences that shaped his directing style, one movie comes to mind for him: “Knight and Day.”

Dano starred alongside Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in James Mangold’s 2010 action comedy about a runaway spy who befriends a classic car restorer while on the lam. And in a new interview with GQ, he explained that watching Cruise’s meticulous approach to doing stunts for that film was an educational experience for him. Cruise’s ability to consider how every aspect of the production would be affected by his work shaped the way that Dano approached directing “Wildlife.”

“I know when I was directing I wanted it to feel like when my actor steps on set everything changes,” Dano said. “I have a really clear memory of watching Cruise work with the stunt team and I remember seeing how he considered the audience and the impact of the stunts on the audience and how passionate and rigorous he was about that. It was a real lesson. I had not seen an actor consider the audience and the impact of how the stunt and the cut of the camera would feel for the audience. And I took that with me. I always think that the content lends itself to the form, and there’s a group of people, there’s a temperature and a vibration on set. That’s how the director works.”

Dano is far from the first Cruise co-star to express his admiration for the “Top Gun” lead’s commitment to practical stunts. Even after sharing the screen with Cruise in four “Mission: Impossible” movies (with two more on the way), Simon Pegg recently revealed that he still gets freaked out by Cruise’s death-defying stunts.

“There’s a frisson you get when there’s authenticity: the idea that this guy is actually jumping off a cliff on a motorbike and deploying the parachute 100 feet from the ground?” Pegg said. “It puts the willies up you.”

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