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In Depth

People In Film | Paul Dano

Paul Dano | Finding the Real Nick Flynn

When Paul Dano, one of the most gifted young film actors working today, was cast by writer-director Paul Weitz in BEING FLYNN, he faced the challenge of playing a real-life figure. Being Flynn is based on Nick Flynn's memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City – about his unusual relationship with his alcoholic, absentee father, Jonathan – and Dano was tasked with not just giving his interpretation of a character in a screenplay, but also doing justice to a living person. “When I first met Nick Flynn, I was a bit taken aback because he was much different than my initial impression from the script, or even the book,” says Dano. “As an actor, you want to be faithful to the material, but also to personalize it, so as we talked a lot and spent more time together, I was able to take what I could from both the script – into which Paul Weitz had put so many pieces of Nick – and Nick himself, and then make my own contributions to the characterization. I wasn’t trying to do an impression.” In the end, Dano and Robert De Niro (who plays Jonathan Flynn) create a drama rooted in reality but given a new life with director Paul Weitz and his team.

Paul Dano | Bold Beginnings

Paul Dano in L.I.E.

From the very start, Paul Dano was going to be an actor. Born in New York City, he was raised in Connecticut, where in his early years he began to act in community theater and showed such talent that his parents were urged to start taking him to stage auditions in NYC. At the age of 12, Dano won his first major role, acting in a Broadway production of Inherit the Wind starring screen legends George C. Scott and Charles Durning. Asked by Collider what he learned from working with those two acting greats at so tender an age, the unassuming Dano says, “I wasn’t 12 years old onstage with George C. Scott thinking, 'Oh, I’m gonna take something from him and use it when I’m 26 years old.' I was acting then because you know, I liked it the way I liked basketball and I kind of fell into it...” Dano began taking small film roles two years later, and at the age of 17 turned in a breakthrough performance as Howie, a troubled teen who is befriended by a pedophile (Brian Cox), in Michael Cuesta's edgy indie drama L.I.E. Dano's subtle and complex portrayal won him not only glowing critical plaudits but also a string of awards, most notably Best Debut Performance at the 2002 Independent Spirit Awards.

Paul Dano | Here Comes the Sunshine

Paul Dano with Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine

While L.I.E. turned arthouse filmgoers on to Dano's prodigious talent, the young actor had to bide his time before he found mainstream recognition.He paid his dues on TV (taking a two-episode guest spot on The Sopranos), got his feet wet in Hollywood (with the comedy The Girl Next Door and thriller Taking Lives), and racked up more indie credits, including principal roles in Rebecca Miller's father-daughter drama The Ballad of Jack and Rose and James Marsh's slice of Southern Gothic The King. However, in 2006 –– five years after breaking through with L.I.E. –– Dano hit the big time, thanks to his eye-catching turn as the silent, Nietzsche-obsessed wannabe fighter pilot Dwayne in Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' crossover smash hit Little Miss Sunshine. Dano had signed on to appear in the offbeat family dramedy fully two years earlier, however funding problems had meant the film had been put on ice and Dano had begun to fear that he was too old for the role. Fortunately, Dayton and Faris stuck with Dano, who would have been loathe to give up this once-in-a-lifetime part. “As an actor, the whole being silent thing is a fairly unique experience,” Dano told Moviefone. “There's not that many times you get to do that. It was scary, but that's what also made it intriguing. And then, having a grandfather tuck a little girl in bed and give you this beautiful little moment, only to go in the bathroom and snort heroin – I thought, this script is great!” And Dano lived up to his part, taking the character way beyond the gimmick of silence. As New York Magazine’s David Edelstein highlights, “Paul Dano plays the weirdo brother (who has taken a vow of silence in deference to Nietzsche) with such angry, beseeching eyes that the teenage misfit is more than a one-joke character.”

Paul Dano | Blood and Beyond

Paul Dano as Eli Sunday in There Will Be Blood

Little Miss Sunshine massively raised Paul Dano's profile in 2006, and the very next year he appeared in yet another career-altering movie when Paul Thomas Anderson cast him in the dual roles of young preacher Eli Sunday and his twin brother, Paul, in There Will Be Blood. The film reunited Dano with star Daniel Day-Lewis, who Dano had worked with before on The Ballad of Jack and Rose, and having that past history helped Dano overcome any trepidation in going toe-to-toe with the great Method actor. “I think having the previous experience with him was invaluable to me, and also getting to know him a bit as a person before helped put aside any of that,” said Dano in a 2008 interview at IGN. “Truthfully, when we were on set he doesn't give you much of a chance to think like that because I was looking at Daniel Plainview and not Daniel Day-Lewis. It's pretty astonishing what he does.” But Dano clearly held his own. As Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers wrote, “All praise to the baby-faced Dano…for bringing sly cunning and unexpected ferocity to Plainview's most formidable opponent.” Great reviews, a BAFTA nomination and increased fame resulted from his participation in the Oscar-winning film, yet Dano did not get carried away by the lure of a celebrity lifestyle, instead opting to continue living a low-key life in New York. Since 2008, he has shown a propensity to mix things up, effortlessly moving from critically acclaimed indie hits like Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's quirky comedy The Extra Man and Kelly Reichardt's revisionist Western Meek's Cutoff to big blockbusters like the Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz comedy thriller Knight and Day and Jon Favreau's sci-fi/Western mashup Cowboys and Aliens.

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