Paul Dano Mans Up
Published July 22, 2010
MARION SELDIES AND PAUL DANO. COURTESY MAGNOLIA PICTURES
Set in the alternately absurd and now deeply familiar world of the Upper East Side, The Extra Man (out next week), directed by husband-and-wife team Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman, revolves around the struggles of the introverted Louis Ives, portrayed with care by Paul Dano. Based on the novel by Jonathan Ames, the film follows Louis and his mentor, Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), as they finagle their way into polite society with little more than a shoe polish and roast chicken. The film is made additionally strong by a cast of great New York actors, including Marion Seldies, Dan Hedeya, and John C. Reilly as a memorably hirsute and high-voiced tenant. However, the story remains firmly centered on the painfully shy Louis as he attempts to reconcile his predilection for cross-dressing and his desire to appear the perfect gentleman to the kind elderly ladies of Park Avenue. Dano spoke to us about working with married co-directors, surviving in a closet in New York, and preparing for his first makeover as a woman.
GILLIAN MOHNEY: Tell me about how you got involved with the movie.
PAUL DANO: Yeah, I got sent the script and saw that [Robert Pulcini] and Shari [Springer-Berman] were directing it. I was a fan of American Splendor, and knew that Kevin [Kline] was going to be in it, and would love to work with him. And so you’re always excited to read that script, and I met with Bob and Shari—I think I met with them twice—and then they liked me.
MOHNEY: Was there something about the character you were drawn to?
DANO: I mean, you know, there was a few things about it… But truly that scene, [of him] carrying the old lady up the stairs, for some reason that is what stuck with me. I was just like “I want to be that guy.” I don’t want to watch somebody carry her up the stairs, like I wanted to carry her up the stairs…But I sort of didn’t totally understand him, and that was actually like a turn-on: “Well, I know I feel this guy, but I don’t know why.” For some reason, that’s a good thing. I liked the external qualities versus the internal ones that he has. That sort of the gentleman, sort of romantic, trying to be a people-pleaser…
MOHNEY: Who’s also a cross-dresser.
DANO: Yes. But then on the inside, he sort of doesn’t know who he is. He’s trying to be this person but doesn’t really know who he is. It felt like there was really a lot of room to sort of play around there.
MOHNEY: How did you prepare for the cross-dressing scenes?
DANO: Well, you know, I went to some tranny bars. But I also went and saw a woman, Miss Vera, a really sweet woman who helps men fulfill their dreams of becoming women. She teaches a class, and she does private stuff. And so I spent some time with her, and she was really helpful in getting to understand, you know, why people do that. Because usually it’s not all sexual, you know, there are reasons. And a majority of the men who she works with are straight, and often they’re married. I never got dressed a hundred percent, because I wanted to save it for the scene where he actually does for the first time. But you know, I did enough where I sort of was able to get the feeling, and you know try and understand it.
MOHNEY: What’s it like working with a married pair of directors?
DANO: On this movie, I think it had its benefits. I didn’t see too many downsides, really. Because I feel like they’re connected enough where they’re still going after one vision. If you got in a situation where they each had a different vision, that’s trouble. I think that’s bad. I think too many cooks in the kitchen–that’s why you have a director. You need somebody who’s reining it in…And like I said, you know, we really just struggled with time and locations, and you know it was winter in New York, and we shot a lot outdoors.
MOHNEY: Shari [Spinger-Berman] was talking about how everybody had these-not even real trailers and you had these huge actors who could ask for anything.
DANO: Yeah, totally. We had the smallest trailers you can get, they’re called the Honey Wagon, where it’s just like eight little closets. And that’s totally fine. When you’re doing that, you’re obviously there because you want to be there. So, that creates a good spirit, of everybody working hard and doing their best. And certainly, we spent a lot of time together that way. I guess some movies, if you had a huge trailer, you might go back there and nap and do whatever one does in a big trailer. But you know, we would just hang out…
MOHNEY: Because you didn’t want to hang out in a closet on a New York street…So, you did this movie on a shoestring budget, and then you’ve done much bigger movies. At the end of the day is the harder, more difficult movies are a little bit more rewarding, after you fight through it?
DANO: I think it’s just different, you know, but I think there’s an element of that. It’s kind of when you chop your own wood does the fire feel better? You know, there’s something about it where it’s like “Ah, this is a really nice fire.” Or you know, you cook your own dinner. So maybe there’s a feeling of, yeah if you have to work yeah there’s a gratification to you know, powering through. So I think that could be true, but I haven’t had any big-budget experiences yet where I didn’t you know feel like I had to go work and still work hard or whatever. But yeah, I know what you’re saying and I think there’s some truth to it. I don’t think it’s exclusive though.
MOHNEY: Do you think it helps having [author] Jonathan Ames so integral to the production of the movie? I feel like it could go either way.
DANO: It could. It certainly did [help] for me, just because he didn’t put any sort of bad vibes out there. He was okay with letting the character be mine, but I certainly used him as a resource and it was great. It was definitely better than him not being there, for sure. And he’s also and interesting dude, and kind of fun to hang around.
MOHNEY: And he’s a stand-up comic.
DANO: Yeah. He’s a man of many trades.
MOHNEY: Can you talk about your upcoming films?
DANO: Yeah, so I’m doing right now this movie called Cowboys and Aliens… it’s a John Favreau movie, Iron Man, you know. It’s with Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde. That’s what I’m working on right now for the summer. You know, it’s a huge budget summer movie, but I’m having a great time.
MOHNEY: So are you a cowboy or an alien?