Paul Dano is tired. The Interviewer can’t believe Paul Dano’s here. “I can’t believe it either. I’d like to be in bed,” Paul Dano sighs. Paul Dano explains: “I guess I was up ‘til 4:30 last night, so I feel so removed from this now.” The “this” Paul Dano talks about is Gigantic, for which he has already done several promotional interviews this morning. Paul Dano, all of 24 years old, with inexplicably boyish features, looks younger than his same-aged Interviewer by at least a few years, but is probably a few years more tired than him, too.
Gigantic, an indie dramedy also starring Zooey Deschanel and John Goodman, and helmed by first-time feature writer-director Matt Aselton, stars Paul Dano as a mattress salesman constantly trumped by the fiscal and social successes of those around him. Paul Dano’s character in the movie wants to adopt an Asian baby. But the real Paul Dano is sitting across from his interviewer at a table in Midtown Manhattan, trying to decide what to order, since he hasn’t yet really eaten* (or slept, for that matter).
When asked how he came to the project, Paul Dano sighs, and rubs his face: “I just got sent the script.” By Paul Dano’s agent, the interviewer asks?
“Yeah,” says Paul Dano. “I really liked it.” The interviewer looks at Paul Dano with a mixture of empathy and resentment: I know you’ve been asked this question twenty times today, already, the interviewer thinks, but you could at least try for something different. The interviewer sticks his recorder in Paul Dano’s face, to try to get him to elaborate. Paul Dano tries back:
“I thought it was funny, but I also just liked Brian, the character that I play. And I think it was probably because he was sort of a normal guy, in some respects. He worked at a mattress store, you know, smart guy, but then there was this other quality about him that was this balance of a sort of oppression, or depression, and a confidence. And he spoke through his actions a lot, for me.”
The interviewer wonders if Paul Dano is doing the same thing, speaking through his actions right now, and if these — silent boys becoming men, who go through different stripes of irrefutably loud action — are the types of characters Paul Dano is exhausting himself playing. He asks Paul Dano if Paul Dano is like the character in that regard. The interviewer is trying, maybe too hard, with Paul Dano.
And in response, Paul Dano looks at the interviewer strangely, now, as if he asked him something deeply personal, yet, also, somehow, completely asinine. “I … felt like I couldn’t do [the things Brian does],” Paul Dano extracts the words from the back of his head, the irritated part, the overworked part that wants to go back to bed. Paul Dano soldiers on. “Like, [Zooey Deschanel’s character] says ‘Come by my work,’ and he actually does. That’s not normal. I think a lot of guys our age or whatever don’t always do that. At one point, she says, ‘Can you see up my skirt?’ and he just looks, and says, ‘No.’ But there was also still like, a mystery to it, and I didn’t totally know him though, so I wanted to get into that.”
This strikes the interviewer as profound, though he could just be looking for a profound angle on Paul Dano to finish this story with. Then again, if Paul Dano were wrong, the interviewer wouldn’t be suppressing an urge to stand on his chair and start screaming at Paul Dano a list of grievances against this entire publicity process that forces both parties to promote something neither, it appears, are too interested in at the moment, at least not compared to their interest in sleep. Paul Dano is right about the kinds of all-too-common men occupying their 20s at the moment. Paul Dano is, at the very least, right about one other person in the room. Paul Dano is asked what he makes of this revelation, of pain, of pressure, of being in your 20s and maybe wanting to scream out — or do something, anything — more often than not.
“I’ve certainly felt enough pressures. I’ve had enough experiences that I’m able to understand situations like that,” Paul Dano receives the question with reluctance and hesitancy. “One thing that I don’t need to do is divulge any of my private life,” Paul Dano’s careful, and possibly now pissed off to even have to note, “but yeah, I think a lot of us have been in some position like that. The funny thing is, I know a lot of people who have great things going on and you go off and find the place where something is against you, or something is wrong. I think everybody can relate to something like that.” Paul Dano has now expertly dodged giving the interviewer anything resembling a revealing answer, and this, too, strikes the interviewer as incidental, and now, possibly ironic.
Because the interviewer thought Gigantic was a beautiful film, the unique kind that speaks through what isn’t said, and the silences that lay before the characters after their actions are fully received, the kind of movie Paul Dano is making a name for himself on. Paul Dano, who went tit-for-tat with Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood — enough said — and was the silent threat to the loud disquiet of those around him in Little Miss Sunshine. Paul Dano is in small stories with big, sprawling settings about family, with pointed intention of poignancy, that can’t really be encapsulated in an interview. Every movie Paul Dano makes could charmingly be called Gigantic, but the interviewer doesn’t know how it strikes Paul Dano — irritating, I guess, he thinks. The interviewer now sees Paul Dano with the compassion he commonly lacks for other human beings, and wants to wrap this up.
He asks — as he often must, for he works for a nightlife-oriented publication — what Paul Dano’s favorite places to eat and drink in New York are. Paul Dano is officially nonplussed.
“I live in Brooklyn,” Paul Dano confides, “so I‘m a little reclusive. I really like this dumpling joint called Eton, in Brooklyn. And I like this place called Char No. 4, on Smith Street — they have really good sausage and bacon, and they have a great whiskey selection. Frankie’s, that Italian restaurant on Court Street, and I like Chestnut, they make a good brunch.” This is the least profound — yet, most substantial — information Paul Dano has given me.
And somehow, that (and his preference for whiskey) makes the interviewer appreciate Paul Dano all the more. The narrative strikes the interviewer like a swift kick in the head: The young, working actor, he who has tried himself against and worked with the greatest in his craft, now too tired to talk about the things he does, too exhausted by the great work before and ahead of him to actually say anything even remotely interesting about it, the most telling thing about him about him being his name, and the connotation behind it, the one which can’t be spoken for but in one way: Paul Dano, Paul Dano, Paul Dano.
—— * It appears that Paul Dano eventually ordered fries, and gave nearly identical answers he gave the interviewer to the writer who came after him. For this, Paul Dano is absolutely Paul Dano.