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Q&A: Paul Dano on tight pants, and playing a deadbeat rocker dad in 'For Ellen'

With his broad, serious face and lanky body, Paul Dano has always played the kinds of finely tuned characters that pop out for their intensity, from a black-haired, mostly silent 16-year-old in 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine to a screaming evangelical preacher, and his twin brother, in 2007’s There Will Be Blood. He’s also proved himself to be neurotically funny, as he was in this year’s romantic comedy Ruby Sparks.

But 28-year-old Dano has rarely played a dad on film (he adopts a baby in 2008’s Gigantic), much less the deadbeat rocker dad starring role he takes on in the Tribeca Film indie For Ellen, out now on VOD and in theaters in Los Angeles, Florida and Chicago on Friday, on top of already being in New York.

As scraggly hipster musician Joby Taylor, complete with chin scruff, long hair, snug-fitting pants, chipped black nail polish and fake tattoos, he deals with a looming divorce, and whether he’ll lose all custody of his estranged 6-year-old daughter Ellen, played by cutely somber newcomer Shaylena Mandigo. Dano and Mandigo play off of each other with the realistic awkwardness of a parent and child who don’t know each other. For inspiration, Dano read books about such hard-partying bands as Motley Crue. The film’s writer-director So Yong Kim, known for her female-centric South Korean language movies Treeless Mountain and In Between Days, based For Ellen on her own back story. Her parents divorced when she was a kid, and her father disappeared.

A trouper over the phone, talking to EW.com while sick with a fever, Dano delved into the surprising glory of wearing tight pants, how he hates shopping, the joys of working with a child actor and going deep into a part “so unlike me,” his part as a futuristic assassin in Looper, and other films on the horizon.

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Why I fell out of love with the films of Paul Thomas Anderson

\If I were to compile a list of my ten favorite movie experiences in the time I’ve been at EW, for number one — just edging out the night I spent drinking into the wee hours with Russell Crowe — I’d probably have to choose the first time I saw Boogie Nights at the 1997 Toronto Film Festival. It was a little like the first time I saw Pulp FictionBoogie Nights had that kind of virtuoso rock & roll Gen-X Scorsese dazzle, and it gave you that kind of brain-spinning cinematic high. Its writer-director, Paul Thomas Anderson, had taken on the most daringly degraded subject matter imaginable (he made a movie about beautiful dumb clucks who “acted” in porn films and thought that they were real stars), and out of that audacity he spun a story that was dark, exhilarating, moving, scary, and true. READ FULL STORY

Lisa Schwarzbaum's 10 best movies of the decade

It’s almost New Year’s Eve. I’m ready. Let’s party!

1. There Will Be Blood (2007), Paul Thomas Anderson. The entire decade, summed up in a singular American masterpiece.

2. Sideways (2004), Alexander Payne. The decade’s most adult film about men and women.

3. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), Peter Jackson. The grand conclusion to the decade’s best epic.

4. Yi Yi (2000), Edward Yang. The decade’s most beautiful family story.

5. The New World (2005), Terrence Malick. The decade’s most imaginative history lesson.

6. Zodiac (2007), David Fincher. The decade’s most unnerving crime story.

7. The Dark Knight (2008), Christopher Nolan. The decade’s best comic-book adaptation.

8. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), Cristi Puiu. The decade’s most profound expression of the personal as political.

9. Moolaade (2005),  Ousmane Sembene. The decade’s most potent handling of terrifying material.

10. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005), Park Chan-wook. The decade’s most thrilling tale of revenge.

Image credit: Melinda Sue Gordon

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