Paul Dano, 'Being Flynn' Star, Looks Back On 'Little Miss Sunshine' And 'There Will Be Blood'
There's something fascinating about Paul Dano. Perhaps it's the fact that there aren't many people who walk around thinking, I've got that guy figured out. I'm always skeptical of actors who just love doing press, and Paul Dano is definitely not one of those actors. Not to say that he goes out of his way to be mysterious or secretive -- he just kind of is. And that makes him interesting. Still, I have to wonder whether his reluctance to open up has harmed his career. After all, given the financial success of "Little Miss Sunshine" and "There Will Be Blood," you'd think he'd be a household name by now. But no.
Now Dano stars as Nick Flynn in "Being Flynn" -- a film based on the popular memoir "Another Bullshit Night in Suck City," about a drug abuser, Nick, and his relationship with his homeless father, Jonathan (Robert De Niro). When I spoke to the real Nick Flynn, who wrote the book, he told me that the movie originally tested with the title "Welcome to Suck City." Unfortunately, the people of Parsippany, NJ, where the movie was test screened, did not care for that title, so it was swapped for the rather droll "Being Flynn" -- a title that Dano is obviously concerned about, since he fears that people won't associate this movie with that book. Will "Being Flynn" turn Paul Dano into a household name at last? Probably not. And I get the feeling that Dano prefers it that way. So, in honor of the book's original title, here's another bullshit interview with Paul Dano.
So, how are you doing?
I'm all right. I'm good. We have a couple of days in L.A., hustling for the film. And now we're here. So that's a good thing.
"Hustling." That's a good way to put it.
Yeah, I think so. That's what we're doing. I mean, I'm very grateful to be in a film that I like and want to talk about. It makes this a lot easier. But, this is the part that, when you're on set and acting, you never think about. Then it comes and you're sort of like, "Shit, this is part of my job."
I've heard people in your position say that this -- doing publicity -- is what you're being paid for, not acting.
I get that. I understand that. Yeah.
You bring up an interesting point: Is it difficult to promote a film that you don't believe in?
I would think so. Luckily, I try not to do that too often. But, yeah, if I had to lie all day, I'm sure I'd go home and would have more trouble shaking it off.
Nothing against "Knight and Day," but it's not the best movie in the world. But if you had to tell everyone all day that "Knight and Day" is the best movie that you will ever see...
Yeah, but nobody's saying... I mean, I'm not going to tell you that this is the best movie in the world, you know? But I think it's a good movie.
I'm going to make that my headline, "Paul Dano on Being Flynn: Not the Best Movie in the World."
That would be perfect. They'd love it. They would love it. I'd be in good shape. Good shape, yeah.
In a perfect world, do you wish the title of this movie could have been "Another Bullshit Night in Suck City"?
I think [smiles]. Look, first of all, I think the book got out there a bit. I think it's a celebrated memoir, so, you know, I like that title. And just for the sake of the book. But, you know, I think we'll be OK with the title we have. And I do think that it does fit the film.
Couldn't they have just taken out the word "bullshit"? Just so people would still associate the film with the book?
You know, that's not my job, unfortunately.
I tend to fret. And I would fret that people won't know that this movie is related to that book.
I know. I know. Well, obviously I'm assuming that they take that into account and they choose what's best for the film. Yeah, I have nothing to do with those calls. Maybe someday?
That would be great if you did have that authority. "I want to call it 'Transformers.'"
That's right! That's what we should have done.
Why did the location change from Boston to New York?
I think Boston, back when this actual story took place -- I think New York just represented a timelessness better than Boston. Because you can argue if this is a period piece or not -- if it takes place in the '90s. And New York just has a nice, universal feel for whether it was the '80s, '90s or now.
Right, there are no cell phones.
No cell phones. And there are a couple of music things. And we didn't want to take away from the story by being in your face with the period -- which, sometimes, can happen.
I feel like after "Little Miss Sunshine" and "There Will Be Blood" you could have done anything you wanted. I know you had smaller roles in "Knight and Day" and "Cowboys & Aliens," but do you make a conscious effort to avoid the bigger budget movies?
I don't think I avoid them. It's just, I like characters that make me feel challenged and sort of inspired. You know, the most important thing is when you read something, if it lights you up in some way and you believe in it. I really don't want to go to work every day convincing myself of what I'm saying. I want the material to make me a better actor, then I try to return the favor to the material. As an actor, the toughest thing is being subject to circumstance. Meaning: What scripts are out there that are available? And you have the director that's involved. And I care about that stuff. I feel like it's tough. I wish I had the capability to just do anything and make some "big bucks," or something. But I feel a responsibility, weirdly -- it's just a personal thing. My face is in it. My name is on it. I feel like I have to be putting out stuff that I can be proud of, I guess.
Have you ever felt like you had to go to work every day and convince yourself of what you're saying?
[Pauses] I don't think so. I have certainly felt it when I read certain pieces of material. And I guess I try not to go there.
Even in "Knight and Day" and "Cowboys & Aliens," I feel your characters are still eccentric.
Yeah. I guess with those, it looks like, you know, they were supporting roles or smaller parts, but they looked like they had a little bit of fun in them. And with those, I got to work with some really good people.
Will your part in "Looper" be another eccentric role?
No. He's... I really don't want to say what he is, but I think that's going to be a bad-ass film. I think it's going to be very good.
When you first knew Paul Weitz was directing, was there any thought of, the director of "American Pie" and "Little Fockers"? Those are very different movies.
I think "American Pie" is great. I think, well, first of all, he adapted the book. And the script was very good. So if I guy can write this, I think he then can make it, too, because he did a really wonderful job adapting it. And it's not an easy book to turn into a screenplay. And I do think "About a Boy" is a good film. And I actually think "American Dreamz" -- I think there are people that actually like that film. I don't think it totally popped off.
It didn't, but there are some interesting statements made.
Yeah. So he's got something and I think this was a challenge for him and it was an important film for him. I think he did a great job and I loved working with him.
You're going to be in "He Loves Me," a film your girlfriend, Zoe Kazan, wrote. Did you co-write with her at all?
She wrote the whole thing. I mean, I was, you know, hanging out on the couch, while she wrote it. And I'd peek over her shoulder [laughs], you know. She wrote it and we both star in it.
It's a movie about relationships. You are a braver man than me.
We did OK. We have a good partnership. And we had our moments, but we did all right. Never on set; we were great at work. Sometimes, you know, driving home, what radio station we listen to, or something, can get contentious after a long day of work. But we did all right. I think it was actually one of the better experiences we've ever had, because we were working with such great people and we cared about the project so much.
So there was never a moment when one of you said to the other, "You said that one line a little too believably"?
You know... we... it was a challenge. Luckily, Zoe is a really good writer and the parts are not us. But, you know, there were scenes that were tough for us. As an actor, hopefully you're experiencing what's coming at you, so there is an extra layer when it's someone you love and if something bad is happening.
Is this Karl Rove movie happening?
I don't know.
You don't know?
No, I don't.
So it could?
Maybe. Maybe not. I think it might be gone.
So it's not just you not being able to say anything?
There's honestly nothing to say about it.
So it stalled?
Do you look back on "Little Miss Sunshine" and "There Will Be Blood" and think, That was a nice one-two punch?
Yeah, that was good. You know, it was great. I like both of those movies so I was happy to be there for both. And I definitely cherish both of those experiences. And now I just worked with Jon [Dayton] and Val [Faris] again -- who directed "Little Miss Sunshine." And they're like family now.
So you worked with De Niro in this film, but it really can't get more intimidating than Daniel Day-Lewis, right?
Probably not. But Bob has got... he's one of the greatest actors we've got. You pretty much, from the get-go, immediately try to exorcise any thoughts of who he is or what it means to work with him. You have to tuck that away and keep it away so that you're able to do what you want to do. There were days that we worked twelve hours on one scene, I'd get home, and think, I just spent 12 hours doing this great scene with Robert de Niro. And you let yourself have a moment of, "that's pretty cool."
Mike Ryan is the senior writer for Moviefone. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com, GQ.com, New York Magazine and Movieline. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter
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