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.