Dano greets me in front of his local Starbucks with a faint smile and a relaxed, “Hi. Are you hungry?” We decide to ditch the coffee chain in favor of a better spot near the neighborhood park. He is friendly but reserved. The inside of his left wrist features a fading penguin stamp from last night’s party and I can’t tell if his hair is greasy or just gelled.
Despite the average-dude presentation, he possesses an intimidating résumé. Dano’s been acting professionally since he was a kid, but it was his role as Dwayne in the 2006 indie hit Little Miss Sunshine that introduced him to the wider public. In the year following, he solidified his place as a serious young actor when he held his own alongside Daniel Day-Lewis as the hypocritical preacher in There Will Be Blood.
Even in the wake of his critically acclaimed performance in There Will Be Blood, he has continued to challenge himself, bypassing blockbusters for smaller films such as this year’s Being Flynn with Robert DeNiro. His newest film, an eccentric rom-com entitled Ruby Sparks, will land in theaters on July 25th. Following that, we can catch him opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the sci-fi noir Looper and Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave.
Dano says that living in Brooklyn allows him to get away from his career as an actor. “I think enough about what I do already, and it’s too hard for me to escape it there,” says Dano, as we walk down a quiet street in his Cobble Hill neighborhood. “I feel Los Angeles is also sort of an isolating place. You’re really catered to out there, as an actor. I don’t like being catered to. I’d rather, I don’t know, be around people.”
Brooklyn feels more like a neighborhood to him, where he’s befriended people who work at the local bars and restaurants. “It is easy to hate on L.A., but I think there’s a reason it’s easy to hate on L.A.,” he says, laughing.
Though he was born in Manhattan, the 28-year-old actor grew up an hour-and-a-half away in Wilton, Connecticut. He was involved in theater for most of his childhood, and it wasn’t long before regional theater gigs turned into a Broadway debut at the tender age of 12. A few years later, he starred in the dark independent film L.I.E. and won an Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance.
After an iced coffee stop, we head to the park and seek out the only bench that hasn’t been air bombed by pigeons. Beneath a linden tree that shakes tiny yellow blossoms onto our heads with each gust of wind, Dano speaks thoughtfully, but often drifts off, letting me fill in the blanks. He cracks the occasional wicked joke but seems too kindhearted to finish them, sometimes losing steam mid-sentence.
He admits to being “a little bit more on the shy side,” but he’s happy to discuss his new film, Ruby Sparks. He’s equally forthcoming about his real life girlfriend Zoe Kazan, who wrote the film and plays the title character. Dano stars as Calvin, an author struggling with writer’s block while attempting to pen the follow up to his best-selling debut novel. When he dreams up a girl named Ruby Sparks, she suddenly materializes in the flesh. The script is equal parts Pygmalion and Weird Science, with a healthy dose of Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
The film also reunites the actor with Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the husband-wife duo who directed Little Miss Sunshine. Kazan had written less than 20 pages of the script when Dano handed it off to Dayton and Faris, confident they would be the perfect team to helm the film. His hunch was right, and they ended up taking the project.
Kazan and Dano have a history of working together—they met a few years ago while working on an off-Broadway play—but he was still concerned about the toll that shooting a feature film could take on their relationship. “Acting together was not hard,” he says. “Going home at night after a 13-hour day—an hour car ride home—that was harder than acting was.” He laughs lightly. “Sometimes.”
Dano has spent much of his life as a performer, but he’s gradually becoming more active behind the camera. The actor has produced a few films, and he hopes to direct one in the next few years. He talks passionately about getting a great script, putting together the right people for the job, and building a fitting creative atmosphere on set. “I’d like to do a drama, I’d like to do some kind of romance,” he says, still holding a nearly full iced coffee. He also considers a period film, such as a Western. “I’d like to make a film about family,” he finishes.
Towards the end of our chat, the conversation meanders to the characters he’s played on screen over the past few years. I playfully offer up a round of Kill, Fuck, Marry that includes Eli, the preacher from There Will Be Blood, silent Dwayne from Sunshine, and writer Calvin from Ruby Sparks.
“Well, I guess you’d have to fuck Eli; he’d probably be the freakiest in bed,” he says, completely serious. “I guess marry Dwayne because he doesn’t talk and that sounds like…” he says, beginning to laugh. “And then, I guess I’d have to kill Calvin,” he says, still chuckling. “Yeah, kill the one that’s closest to me.”
Photography: Robert Nethery for ArtListParis.com
Photography Assistant: Johnny Knapp
Styling: Eugenie Dalland at EugenieDalland.com
Styling Assistants: Michelle Lee and Shea Daspin
Grooming: Marki Shkreli for ArtListParis.com
Grooming Notes: Instant fix oil control by Anthony Logistics for Men