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Paul Dano Explains His Process For 'Being Flynn,' Working With Robert De Niro & More

The Playlist By John Lichman | The Playlist March 1, 2012 at 10:59AM

Paul Dano certainly has been lacking in talented on screen sparring partners, and over the years he's impressively shared screen time with Daniel Day-Lewis ("There Will Be Blood"), Steve Carell ("Little Miss Sunshine"), Tom Cruise ("Knight And Day") and Harrison Ford ("Cowboys And Aliens") but in "Being Flynn," he works with the most celebrated actor of them all: Robert De Niro. In the adaptation of the memoir "Another Bullshit Night In Suck City," Dano plays his son, long estranged from his father, who crosses paths with him at the homeless shelter where he works, forcing the pair to face their past.
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Robert De Niro Paul Dano Being Flynn

Paul Dano certainly hasn't been lacking in talented on screen sparring partners, and over the years he's impressively shared screen time with Daniel Day-Lewis ("There Will Be Blood"), Steve Carell ("Little Miss Sunshine"), Tom Cruise ("Knight And Day") and Harrison Ford ("Cowboys And Aliens") but in "Being Flynn," he works with the most celebrated actor of them all: Robert De Niro. In the adaptation of the memoir "Another Bullshit Night In Suck City," Dano plays his son, long estranged from his father, who crosses paths with him at the homeless shelter where he works, forcing the pair to face their past.

The Playlist sat down with Dano a few weeks ago in New York to talk about his role in the film, acting opposite De Niro and some of the projects he has on the horizon.

Paul Dano Being Flynn
How did you feel about the title change from "Another Bullshit Night in Suck City" to "Being Flynn"?
It felt sort of inevitable they were going to at least remove "bullshit" from the title. I think it's all right. I like the original title. I think a lot of people read the book, so I want them to know the film is from the book. But that's not my job.

Getting into the role of Nick, was this coming before or after "For Ellen"?
This was filmed after actually. The director of "For Ellen," So Yong Kim, went and had a baby after our movie, so the editing process got delayed there for a bit. Yeah, we shot ["Being Flynn"] a year ago to date in late February last year. I got the part in early January, so I had a really quick process. Not a whole lot of prep time but enough to be able to do my job well. It felt hard and fast.

Paul Dano Being Flynn
Going from Joby to Nick, you could see a little parallel there. Are you bringing a lot from one to the other, especially with both being artists of a type, both fighting for family and legacy.
I think so. I think there is a link between them and I think also just because they're a different side of me that is not sort of my "daily hanging out with friends" or my girlfriend or whatever. They're both people who like to hit the beverage or something else to escape, or suppress or defuse. I think both [are] self-destructive. The artist thing I think, for me, doesn't seem as big a parallel. Because Joby wants to be something that he's not, more than the actual music or maybe he does partially. But he wants to be a fucking rock and roll star. I think Nick is a much different breed of artist: he's actually a good poet; it's hard to be a successful poet. He's been able to do it. I think there's something there, but for me they all feel super individually specific. I never know how they're going to read, but I end up learning about their journeys, it always feels new and different to me.

Is it ever weird to be playing wasted or act drunk without being a drunken caricature?
I mean, sometimes, you can have a little nip of something if you feel like it's going to be good for the scene, but sometimes you don't need to. Sometimes it's better to have all your faculties functioning, sometimes it's not. I guess in this film, it moves very quickly so I do think Nick is an addict, but it's not like you see him constantly drunk or snorting coke or hitting the crack pipe. You see the pieces of that and the most interesting thing for me was to not be the guy who's like holed up in a warehouse on the Lower East Side, like fucking shaking. There's sort a way that people look at drug addicts that's a little stereotypical. I think a lot of people we come in contact with everyday might go home and do the booze or something else, so I wanted it to be more of figuring out where he is emotionally and why he needs that--why he needs to be self-destructive and let the drug thing just be an escape.

Going off that, is yelling at Robert De Niro good catharsis?
It was good. But I try not to think about who I'm working with too much while you're doing it. Those days, we had a couple of really good scenes. You're walking home, or you get home, and you do sort of go, "Fuck. I just spent 12 hours acting with Robert De Niro." That's a nice feeling. I also think he's really good in the movie so I feel like I didn't just get to pop in and work with Robert De Niro. I got to really work with him.  Robert De Niro's sort of like a surfer, he doesn't really force anything. So if he catches the wave, or something spills out; to watch a guy be a force at what he does. He has a good worth ethic. Hopefully it'll prepare me for whatever happens next.

Is it true you were testing for Tetsuo when "Akira" was in production?
Well, the movie got shut down.

Paul Dano Robert De Niro Being Flynn

Did you really want to play an iconic anime character?
I'll say that's a tough one because it's a beloved piece of material. The way Hollywood works, you're never sure if their first thought is to make a great film and honor the material or just another business property. It might be a good thing that the movie is not happening for a bit, making sure they've got all their ducks in a row to make a decent film. 

The social and political aspect of "Akira" is hard to imagine that not being a big part of what the film should be. I don't know if that element plays like it would. I will say it is a bad-ass story.

Well, you are coming up for a repeat with Kelly Reichardt for "Night Moves." How's that coming along?
We're hoping to film this summer. And it's a thriller. I think it's really good and I think she's super talented. So hopefully we'll be doing that in a few months, so I'll see her soon. I'm excited about it.

Speaking of things you have coming up, what's the status of "He Loves Me?"
It's towards the end of the editing process. We made it this past summer. The directors are from "Little Miss Sunshine," Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. I think they're super talented and beautiful people. I think it's good. It's sort of a magical realist romantic comedy drama. It's got a great cast and my girlfriend wrote the script and we starred in it. It's going to come out later on this year. We haven't set a release date, but I think it's a good film.

What you can you tell us about the plot?
You know, it's [about] a young novelist who had success when he was 18, [writing] like a "Catcher in the Rye" type of coming-of-age novel. Ten years later and he can't follow it up. He has a dream about a girl and starts to write about this girl. So he's finally writing and he's inspired. He starts falling in love with the character that he's writing. One day he wakes up and she's in his house. He doesn't know if he's going crazy or she's real. But he embarks on a relationship with this person. I don't want to say anymore, so people should see it.

Going off the adaptation and authors, do you know how "Where I Lay Dying" is at?
I don't know where that's at. I know James Franco wanted to do it a while ago, he had written a script last I heard. He was going to trim down the script a bit, but I don't know if he'll holler or not. I'm not sure. It's an ambitious one.  It was a good, lengthy piece of writing. I don't know, we'll see. It's a tough one to get made. I remember reading it after "Meek's Cutoff" and being like, 'Boy I know what it's like to shoot out there in the wilderness with the animals.' It would be a tough shoot if it ever happened.

"Being Flynn" opens on March 2nd.

This article is related to: Paul Dano, Being Flynn, Akira (Remake), He Loves Me, As I Lay Dying


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