Actor Paul Dano knocks it out of the park with ‘Wildlife’, his directorial debut. Adapted from a 1990 novel by Richard Ford with his screenwriter partner Zoe Kazan, it studies an unhappy Montana family, particularly Carey Mulligan’s Jeanette, who’s had quite enough of being a model mother for her teen son Joe. We met Dano to find out why he was burning to make the movie.
What was it about Richard Ford’s novel that affected you emotionally?
‘The mystery of who our parents are really struck me. They have a past life; they struggle. They’re human, [so it’s] the warts-and-all version, not the idealised version. And this idea of just being thrust into adulthood suddenly. I think it was [about] seeing your parents change, seeing their marriage change.’
You’ve mentioned that you saw yourself in the story. In who?
‘Joe. One of the reasons we made Joe 14, instead of 16 as he is in the book, was that I moved to a new town when I was 14. And I saw my parents in this film. That post-war promise of a good life, the American Dream that something’s out there that’s meant to be better. And what happens when suddenly you’re like: “Oh, wait. Maybe it’s not.”’
Zoe Kazan gave you lots of notes on your first script draft. Is it better or worse getting notes from someone you love and trust?
‘Well, the first time wasn’t pleasant. But yeah, it’s much better to get it from her than somebody else. It was hard to hear, and that’s part of why she ended up writing on it. It [turned out to be] easier for her to show me than tell me.’
Dano with Jake Gyllenhaal on the set of ‘Wildlife’
Someone at a Q&A told Carey Mulligan that they found her character reprehensible. What are your thoughts on that?
‘There’s different expectations for female characters. If a male character fucks up a lot, sometimes it’s even lionised. There are double standards. I feel Jeanette’s struggle. That doesn’t mean it’s right, but it doesn’t mean that she’s a reprehensible human being.’
What are your memories of the climactic scene from ‘There Will Be Blood’? Daniel Day-Lewis was throwing bowling balls at you.
‘They were real bowling balls and real bowling pins. Maybe the lines get blurred because bowling balls are being thrown at me in the scene and I am scared for my life. It was a very long scene, and it was quite intense. But yeah, it was, you know, full-on. It was full-on.’
‘Wildlife’ opens Fri Nov 9.