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Paul Dano on Making His Directorial Debut With ‘Wildlife’

Paul Dano, the intense star of “There Will Be Blood,” makes his directorial debut with “Wildlife,” a coming-of-age drama. The IFC release debuted to strong reviews at Sundance and will be the opening night film at Critics’ Week in Cannes. “Wildlife” stars Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal as an unhappy couple, and examines the strain that the dissolution of their marriage puts on their son (Ed Oxenbould). Dano wrote the script with his partner Zoe Kazan.

Why did you want to adapt “Wildlife”?

It had this great passage about how from the outside a family can look happy, but if you look closer, you realize that behind closed doors something is deeply wrong.

Did Richard Ford give you any advice about making the film?

He wrote me and said, “My book is my book. Your picture is your picture. You’d be doing me a disservice if you try to please me.”

Was it hard to write the script?

I wrote a first draft and showed it to Zoe. She tore it apart and did her own pass. That broke my heart for a day. I secretly thought it was good.

Did you ever think about appearing in the film?

I never wanted to be in it. I wanted to focus on the other elements. Where to point the camera, the composition and working with all the actors.

Ed Oxenbould, the star of the film, looks a lot like you. Was that intentional?

People tell me that, but it surprised me. It wasn’t a conscious decision. He was just the best actor that we saw. Kid actors can be all craft, he seemed real.

What’s the best and worst thing about making a low-budget film?

Getting a group of people together and fighting to make something meaningful is a really good feeling. The worst part is having to compromise.

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