Paul Dano talks getting tortured by Hugh Jackman in ‘Prisoners’

Paul Dano plays a man assumed to have taken part in kidnapping in "Prisoners." Credit: Getty Images
Paul Dano plays a man assumed to have taken part in kidnapping in “Prisoners.”
Credit: Getty Images

Paul Dano has eked out a career for himself playing repressed, often strange characters, including his breakthrough as the willfully mute son in “Little Miss Sunshine.” His “Prisoners” turn may be his oddest yet: He plays a mysteriously remote young man who lives in an RV and may either be involved or know something about two girls who were kidnapped. He spends most of the film locked in an abandoned house, tortured to no end by one of the girls’ hothead fathers (Hugh Jackman).

It’s not immediately apparent what’s wrong with the character you play: Is he mentally slow, or is there some horrible trauma. How do you play that, and how do you play that without giving the ending away?
When you first read it he’s a bit of a mystery. How did a person end up like that? That’s the fun puzzle for me as an actor. I looked at him as a wounded animal. You don’t know what happened to him before the film begins, so you build a fully realized person, even though the audience may not learn everything about the character. You want the internal life to be as complete as possible. Every unspoken word is as important as each spoken word.

Your scenes with Hugh Jackman have an intensity to them that’s hard to take. What was it like filming those scenes?
Hugh is such a kind man, he’s such a good man. Trust is one of the biggest things, no matter what kind of film you’re making. We trusted each other and our director. Safety allows us to be more dangerous. There’s a part where Hugh puts a hammer in the wall right next to my head, after he destroyed a sink. The sink was planned, and we had done the scene a few times. On one take Hugh put the hammer next to my head, totally unplanned. And then my character fainted. That was a great moment that just happened.

Do you have a regular method for getting into and out of characters like this?
Honestly each time it’s different. Sometimes you need to stay with it. You have to figure it out each time. For this, I wasn’t filming every day, which actually made it harder, I think. We delude ourselves — that’s our job. When you’re in the middle of a scene you get lost. Sometimes when you finish a day, looking back on it it can feel like a fever dream.

Was it the subject matter or who was making it that drew you into the film?
The script was a page-turner, but then you have to know whose hands it’s going into. After watching Denis [Villeneuve]’s films, there’s a lot of humanity in his work, even though it’s dark. I knew we were making a film that explores what real violence is like. You feel empathy for a character then question what they’re doing, or you feel anger for a character, then sympathy for them.

On the other Steve McQueen:
Dano also has a small but key role in “12 Years a Slave,” director Steve McQueen’s forthcoming adaptation of the memoirs of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and enslaved in the mid-19th century. It gave him a chance to work put McQueen (“Hunger,” “Shame”) on his list of great directors he’s worked with (including Paul Thomas Anderson, Richard Linklater, Ang Lee and Kelly Reichardt). “We all had a hunch [McQueen] would make a film about slavery in America that hasn’t been made before. That’s exciting to me as an actor and as an audience member,” Dano says. Not that he was immediately thrilled to play one of the film’s most hissable characters: a slave driver who hurls epithets and whips at Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor). But it was a good challenge. “With characters who act a certain way you may not agree with, you find this strange empathy,” he says. “Something made them that way. You’re able to get in there, get inside them. You have to have some care for the character, even though you don’t like them.”



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.