For a man of twenty-six who can’t grow a full beard, Paul Dano has checked a lot of items off the career to-do list: Appear in a Broadway show at age twelve with George C. Scott and Charles Durning; make on-screen man-boy love to Brian Cox; star in a Lifetime Original movie about teen pregnancy (Too Young To Be a Dad—a classic of the genre); play AJ’s friend on the Sopranos; steal the show with a mostly non-speaking role in an Oscar-winning film; fight Daniel Day Lewis in a bowling alley in another Oscar-winning film. Check. Check. Check. Check. You think he’d be satisfied, content to sit on the couch with a beer, his beautiful and incredibly talented girlfriend, actress/playwright Zoe Kazan, nestled to his chest. A lot of the time he can be found doing just that, but right now he wants to direct. So direct it is. Yesterday, I stopped by the set of Franklin and Matilda, Dano’s latest idée fixe, to snap some shots and check out the scene.
Franklin and Matilda, which Dano also wrote, is a short film shot in super16 black and white starring Kazan and Eddie Redmayne (who won the Tony this year for his performance in Red) as two lovers captured at various moments over the arc of their relationship. A family affair—Maya Kazan, Zoe’s sister, is producing the film, and Paul’s sister Sarah is also working on set—the gang is currently shooting at various locations in and around the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn, where Dano and Kazan live. They filmed a scene at the restaurant People’s Republic of Brooklyn on Smith St, and another in a friend’s bathroom.
The crew, which consists mostly of former Wesleyan students, friends of Maya Kazan, buzzed in the confined space of a Brooklyn Heights apartment, hanging lights, adjusting camera angles, and generally looking busy. Dano, sporting a French-inspired moustache, paced the set giving quiet instruction. Zoe Kazan lounged on a couch, catching some much needed chill-out time between shots as her sister juggled cellphones and paperwork and light fixtures, all the while smiling and exuding an impressive calm amidst the set’s chaos. It looked like fun.
It turns out Dano’s frenchy-trash-stache is no accident. “I wrote the film after watching Antoine et Collette, The Trauffaut short,” Paul told me. The film takes inspiration from the French New Wave, as well as quintessential New York directors Woody Allen and Jim Jarmusch. Indeed, there are nods to the dry wit and minimalist aesthetic of early Jarmusch films like Stranger Than Paradise in Franklin and Matilda. “I wanted to shoot something in NYC in black and white. I’ve never had the chance to act in something black and white,” he said. “So I had to direct something instead.”