Paul Dano, 32, receives his first Golden Globe nomination as Best supporting actor for portraying composer and Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson as a young man in Love & Mercy directed by Bill Pohlad, while John Cusack plays him in the later years when he was fighting mental illness.
Dano talked to HFPA about this experience: “In the spirit of Brian, I did try to summon any ghosts or angels that might come visit us, because he felt connected to something bigger than himself, while he was in the studio recording Pet Sounds back in the 60s. I did all my playing and singing live, as did all the other musicians, so we could actually build the songs, and it did feel like we were creating them. Truthfully, the songs kept revealing themselves to me and taking on new meaning. So I discovered something about singing that was really healthy and spiritual.”
A child actor since age 12, Dano showed his range by quickly going from playing a silent teenager in Little Miss Sunshine (2006) to an outspoken preacher and his twin in There Will Be Blood (2007) by Paul Thomas Anderson opposite Daniel Day-Lewis, having previously worked with him in The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005) by Rebecca Miller. He acted with Robert De Niro as his homeless father in Being Flynn (2012) by Paul Weitz. He played a writer in love with a girl of his own creation in Ruby Sparks (2012), written by his longtime girlfriend Zoe Kazan, also an actress and daughter of Nick Kazan and Robin Swicord, granddaughter of Elia Kazan. “One of my favorite things about reading the script was how funny and romantic and magical it felt,” he says about that film. “But then also how unexpected and surprising it was. While it was certainly an entertaining read, it also didn't shy away from actually exploring something. My girlfriend is amazing and she definitely makes me have to step up my game; not literally pushing me, but via her own hard work, she inspires me to want to do my best, and we give that to each other, which is nice.”
In just a few years Dano has built an impressive curriculum of supporting character roles in films like Cowboys & Aliens (2011) by Jon Favreau with Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, Looper (2012) with Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis, Prisoners (2013) by Denis Villeneuve with Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, 12 Years a Slave (2013) by Steve McQueen with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender. About playing the racist and abusive slave driver of a Louisiana plantation in the mid 1800s, Dano says, “Your first instinct is not to want to play a bad character, but if you can help tell a good story, then it becomes really exciting. And then it’s my job to figure out that character and why he’s spiteful, what he’s jealous of, the conditions he was raised in, in that time period.”
In 2015 Dano also acted in Youth (2015) by Paolo Sorrentino and was honored to be in the company of legendary actors Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel and Jane Fonda. “I got to play a character that I was really intrigued by; he is a young man trying to figure out what being an artist means.” That is one question Dano seems to have pretty well figured out.