When Paul Dano signed on to star in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood,” he anticipated it being a quick job.
There was just one scene as Paul Sunday, an opportunistic man hawking valuable prospecting info to Daniel Day-Lewis’ maniacal oil man, and that would be all she wrote.
However, when the original actor cast in the role of Paul’s evangelical brother, Eli, didn’t work out, Dano found himself thrust into the spotlight of the bigger role — one in which he’d go toe-to-toe with Day-Lewis. As Dano recalls, he didn’t think twice, and, indeed, relished the opportunity to test himself.
“It was a complicated and fierce part, but I think that’s sort of the goal, finding the parts that you don’t know how to do,” he says. “And for a young man and an aspiring actor, there’s nothing much more attractive than working with Paul Thomas Anderson and alongside Daniel Day-Lewis.”
It was a viewing of Rebecca Miller’s “The Ballad of Jack and Rose,” which, ironically, also starred Day-Lewis, that convinced Anderson to approach Dano with the project in the first place. Now calling Anderson a friend, Dano says he found the experience to be a real treat knowing that, however brazen he allowed himself to be, the helmer was going to capture the performance in the right way.
“You can tell by watching his movies that he loves actors and wants them to do what they want to do and take risks in the same way that he does,” he says. “He’s a very ballsy filmmaker.”
In the film, Eli commands the faith of the masses as a preacher in Little Boston, a small town in the developing West equally persuaded by the pulpit and the prospector. It was a role Dano says he found “unfortunately likable” and one that ultimately afforded a level of insight into the craft of acting itself.
“The character is very spiritually seductive,” he says. “And he loves to hear himself talk. I think he gets off on it, actually. There’s a lot of ego and power involved, and to have people in the palm of your hands, to have them worshipping you is a real rush for him. But Eli definitely believes in himself, which is a lot like acting, in a way. I have to believe in myself in order for you to believe me.”
Favorite film: “A Man Escapes,” “Opening Night,” “The Thin Red Line,” “Dumb and Dumber”
Young actor you admire: Ben Foster
What you want in a director: “Balls.”