“There’s a reason you’re asked to be there, no matter how different from yourself you want to be or how transformative. There’s some part of your unconscious that’s coming along.” – Paul Dano
In The Fabelmans, Emmy Award-nominated actor Paul Dano plays a character based on Academy Award-winning filmmaker Steven Spielberg‘s father, Arnold– a man who had a profound influence on Spielberg’s career as a storyteller (Arnold died in 2020 at the age of 103). Speaking with Vanity Fair, Dano speaks about his initial conversation with Spielberg about the role and how he stepped into the character in the critically-acclaimed film.
Dano, who first met Spielberg about the part over Zoom, shares, “When he told me what the film was about, which I didn’t know going into the Zoom, I had a big feeling—I’m not an actor who thinks they should play every part or even wants to play every part, but as soon as he told me what it was about him, I really thought, “Ah, this sounds right.”
To prepare for The Fabelmans, Dano took an extremely deep dive into Spielberg’s personal life. He explains, “I had so many resources: Steven himself, and then an incredible, almost embarrassing access to Steven’s family and his family archives—eight millimeter footage, photographs. His father was a rather brilliant computer engineer. There were interviews that his dad had done and he was also in World War II, so there were interviews about that that had been recorded. Steven’s sisters would come to set. But mimicry or imitation was not of interest to anyone, I don’t think, on this. It was more about capturing the essence of Arnold and bringing that through Burt. I do think it’s different. And then there’s Paul somewhere in there, whether we like it or not. There’s a reason you’re asked to be there, no matter how different from yourself you want to be or how transformative. There’s some part of your unconscious that’s coming along.”
After learning all he could about Arnold’s life, Dano then considered how to portray a character who is based on that man for a film directed by the man’s son. “For being an engineer, I really just tried to build the character,” recalls Dano. “One of the first things I did was draw a stick figure and think, ‘Okay, how do I get to this? What part of Arnold’s past is going to help bring me there? And where is his center of energy?’ Steven didn’t want me to gain weight, but Arnold’s energy center felt very different than mine. I would say mine is a little higher and his was a little lower, so, How do I move? Things like that. I tried to follow the sort of engineer mindset, but then there’s a big part of the work that’s very emotional or spiritual or whatever you’re going to want.”