In the Toronto International Film Festival premiere “The Fabelmans,” Paul Dano plays family man Burt Fabelman, in a part modeled after director Steven Spielberg’s own father Arnold. The role is a marked contrast to his most recent theatrical appearance in this year’s “The Batman,” where he portrayed a sadistic and terrifying version of comic book villain the Riddler. Speaking with Variety senior entertainment writer Angelique Jackson, Dano spoke about making the shift between the two very different characters.
“I was so relieved that Steven would ask me to play this part, especially after that,” Dano said at the Variety Studio presented by King’s Hawaiian at TIFF. “It was a really good antidote to get to play someone who has so much integrity and so much kindness.”
“Who’s not a serial killer,” co-star Seth Rogen added.
“Yeah, someone who’s not a serial killer,” Dano said. “Yeah that was good for me, good for my family.”
Dano and Rogen were joined at the Variety Studio by Gabriel LaBelle, who portrays main character Sammy in “The Fabelmans.” During the conversation, Dano called portraying a fictionalized Arnold Spielberg “a heavy cloak to bear,” and revealed that they shot the final scene of his character — named Burt Fabelman — on the one year anniversary of Spielberg’s father’s death.
“That was a really beautiful day of going to work and you knew you kind of had to trust the spirits that day,” Dano said. “Even though it was a very scary, challenging scene, we knew we had something else on our side there.”
While prepping for his part, Dano researched Arnold Spielberg extensively, pulling from interviews with him and resources Spielberg provided. In doing so, he found that Arnold Spielberg — an electrical engineer who worked for General Electric — was far different from himself, and had to push himself in embodying him.
“One of the first interviews I listened to of Arnold was he said something like ‘electronics were a way of life for me.’ That was kind of the first entry that’s different from my brain, which is not a math/science brain. So starting there, trying to understand what’s different from my mind, from an engineer’s mind, his body, his energy,” Dano said. “As fun as it was at times to make this film, it was quite a challenge, and not like something I’ve ever done before, in that regard.”
“The Fabelmans” will receive a limited theatrical release from Universal Pictures on Nov. 11, before opening wide on Nov. 23. Watch the full video conversation above.