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During casting for the upcoming drama ‘Being Flynn’, producer Andrew Miano identifies as “a key theme in the film, that of a young man in his late 20s grappling with life and trying to figure out where he belongs,” drew several notable young actors to the role of Nick Flynn, the main character and real-life author of the memoir upon which the movie is based.
Paul Dano found himself “moved by the script” and landed the part. Dano was keen to meet with the real-life Nick, and vice versa. Once a meeting was scheduled, Dano made tracks to get ahold of the memoir. He explains, “I went to my local bookstore to buy it, and the people at the bookstore said, ‘Oh, no, we have a different copy for you.’ They brought me out a copy – with a note written in it to me from Nick. I was spooked; how did he know what bookstore I’d visit to buy the book? Turns out he lives in my neighborhood.
“I loved Nick’s book. It’s a beautiful memoir. I feel that he’s a survivor, given what he went through with his parents. My story is not his, but I could relate and empathize with his.” Before the in-person meeting with Dano, Nick asked his wife Lili Taylor for advice. With her actor’s perspective, Taylor – who has an on-screen supporting role as drug-addict-turned-shelter worker Joy – recommended Nick honestly answer questions Dano asked.
Nick says, “What Lili told me turned out to be the way to go; I followed Dano’s lead that day he and I first met at a café. He is the age I was while I worked in the shelter, which was appropriate. But, you know, it’s a strange experience to sit across from someone who’s going to play me.”
Even if it was a bit unsettling at first, the real Nick and the reel Nick soon found their conversation to be surprisingly fluid. Dano and Nick also reasoned that since they lived within a few blocks of each other, they could meet up often, which they proceeded to do. Dano elaborates, “When I first met Nick, I was a bit taken aback because he was much different than my initial impression from the script, or even the book.
First of all, he’s older and at a different place in his life, having conquered some demons. But in the screenplay, he’s more terse, and here I was with this gregarious guy. Yet he’s also a no-BS kind of guy. I have to say that I enjoyed filming scenes where you see the anger Nick had in him.
“As an actor, you want to be faithful to the material, but also to personalize it, so as we talked a lot and spent more time together, I was able to take what I could from both the script – into which Paul had put so many pieces of Nick – and Nick himself, and then make my own contributions to the characterization. I wasn’t trying to do an impression.” Taylor remarks, “We have to go into this story through Nick, and Paul’s openness as an actor invites us in.”
Part of Dano’s process entailed “listening to music that Nick listened to at the time, which I learned about from either asking him or from reading the memoir. For me, music is an art form that I feel slips into your bloodstream. Hearing it on-set helps me stay focused. I would also listen to music that I found relevant in some way to Nick or his story; I think that Nick has a little bit of a punk rock spirit in him.
“The lyrics of songs were useful to me as well, since Nick is also a poet – which I’d guess is even harder than being a novelist or a screenwriter.” Ultimately, Nick sensed that “Dano is a fine actor who was able to find levels of complexity in the story that I probably couldn’t find when I lived it the first time. I was startled sometimes by his acting; he got to different levels of emotional resonance.”
To that end, Dano joined other members of the cast in spending time at New York shelters in order to get acclimated to the milieu. He remembers, “I found there were people who made a choice, or felt forced to make a choice – and there were certainly people who had no choice.
“The theme of homelessness is not just Jonathan’s being homeless and people in the shelter being homeless; Nick no longer has a mother and never knew his father.” Olivia Thirlby volunteered for several days and reveals, “After being in the shelter all day, I’d walk out into the night with a very different perspective. My eyes were opened to people on the street.
“The experience influenced my portrayal of Denise; to be at work full-time in a shelter speaks volumes about a person’s character, their tendency to help others – and themselves.”