Having never been a stranger to darker, complex and more mature roles, actor Paul Dano once again challenges himself in Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, which also stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman, Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard and more.
In the film, Dano plays Alex Jones, a young man suspected of kidnapping two young girls. Though all signs point to him being guilty, a lack of evidence forces the detective on the case (Jake Gyllenhaal) to let him go. The father of one of the girls, played by Hugh Jackman, isn’t too happy about this and decides to take matters into his own hands.
Last week at the Toronto International Film Festival, where Prisoners was playing, we caught up with Dano for an exclusive 1 on 1 interview at the film’s press junket. Though brief, it was an interesting discussion as the actor discussed what draws him to the roles he chooses, what the title of the film means to him, what he’s working on next and more.
Check it out below and enjoy!
Congratulations on having both this film and 12 Years a Slave at TIFF this year, that’s awesome!
Paul Dano: It is. Thank you.
You’re a relatively young actor but you tend to go for more mature and more complex roles. That’s not that common for actors of your age so why do you choose the films you do? And in particular with Prisoners, this is a very dark role. What made you want to do it?
Paul Dano: At the heart of drama is conflict. So maybe…well, I’m actually not sure of the answer to your questions. But maybe, the more conflicted the character the more I feel like I have to figure him out or sink my teeth into him. Also, the further the character is from me the better. That’s always the biggest turn on to me as an actor.
Certainly with Alex, his experiences in life are nothing like my own and that’s where I get the most kicks, by going out and creating a fully realized character. Not just showing up as me and doing whatever. So that’s something that excites me. I think it’s just happenstance though that some of these characters tend to be dark, it’s not necessarily what I go looking for. I think once I get to know these characters they all feel different to me because I know them so intimately. So it’s hard to kind of call them all dark.
With Prisoners, it wasn’t a job I wanted to take right away. The character was mysterious though and I was curious as to how does a person end up like that? But really, the subject matter was so intense that I couldn’t just jump into it lightly. But then I met with Denis [Villeneuve] and saw his films and I was like “this guy is the real deal.” So we met and discussed the film and we were both on the same page and it worked out.
You say you like roles that are far away from who you are in real life, so for Alex Jones, how did you really get to that spot that you needed to get to in order to portray him because he’s obviously so different from who you are in real life.
Paul Dano: Well, it’s a funny thing. You sort of never figure it out with acting. You’re always learning. With this character, I got a gut impressions right away, the first time I read the script. The first thing that actually came to me about the character was his voice, which I think is quite higher than my own. So when you get an instinct like that it means that it inspired something in you. And then there’s a lot of research involved about trauma and abuse, that stuff was really heavy looking into. It was difficult to build a history for the character because his history is not a pleasant one. So the preparation was the most painful part. Doing the actual scenes was kind of a release in a way.
You mention the voice of the character, how did you come up with that?
Paul Dano: I talked to Denis [Villeneuve] a bit and told him where I was headed with it but it was mostly me who came up with it. I think that this character just got stuck at a certain point in his life and receded far back into himself. Denis [Villeneuve] was super collaborative but when I was creating this character, I didn’t want to let on to what I was really doing with Alex. I wanted to just show up the first day and go for it and surprise everyone.
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