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The rapport between Robert De Niro and Paul Dano exceeded everyone’s expectations on the set of ‘Being Flynn’; there was an actor-to-actor connection, but it was one punctuated with interactions that mirrored the dissonance between their characters. Dano enthuses, “Working with him was inspiring.
The first day I was on the set, it did hit me – I’m in the ring with Robert De Niro! – and unfortunately it was with the camera rolling. I had to very quickly extinguish those feelings, because we both had our great parts to play.
“I wasn’t always sure what was going to come out of him, which is what you want from any actor you’re working with. There were a few moments where he’d pull a line out of nowhere, and I’d be processing it and trying to not smile because he had upped the ante. Luckily, it would mostly happen when I was not in the shot.”
Producer Andrew Miano recounts, “They were playing out one scene where Jonathan is arguing with his son, and I thought, ‘This is a moment I’ll remember forever; two terrific actors going at it with each other.’” Nick Flynn, author of the memoir behind the movie, marvels, “Their scenes together are so powerful; they have to battle each other emotionally, and also convey a love story.
“I would watch the actors do 10 takes and at least 5 completely different ones would seem perfect to me. Paul Weitz was open to trying things in many ways. I don’t know how he keeps it all balanced in his head, directing a movie and then working with the film editor.” As part of ensuring that the movie’s representation of the homeless was accurate, Nick arranged for filmmaker meetings at several non-profit organizations that he and his wife Lili Taylor are actively involved with.
The filmmakers visited the Bowery Mission in lower Manhattan as well as the AIDS Service Center (ASC). Cast and crew met people with empowering stories of rebounding from homelessness and addiction. Director Paul Weitz was so impressed that he moved to incorporate some of them – and some of their own stories – into the film.
Among the non-actors cast in speaking parts was Lorenzo Murphy. He remembers, “My sister told me, ‘Someone from your poetry group [at the ASC] is trying to get in touch with you.’ That was Nick Flynn. So I did a screen test, and got cast as a morphine addict. I didn’t know how that felt, so I did a little research.
“Doing the scene scared me because it was like being back in NA [Narcotics Anonymous] again. That’s how real it was; Paul Weitz nailed it. I feel that this movie will inspire people to listen to someone’s story and do better in their life.” Miano notes, “We take casting actors very seriously; it may be my favorite part of making a movie.
But having these non-actors in the movie lent us that much more authenticity, and these men’s experiences lent themselves so seamlessly to what we were looking to achieve. These may be brief moments in the movie, but they’re among the most real. Their faces are ones you remember.
“Through Nick and Jonathan’s experiences, in reconnecting with each other and their shared past, Being Flynn directly address a question that we all ask ourselves; ‘Are we destined to become our parents?’” Dano comments, “Nick has persevered, and one of the aspects of this story that I find so truthful is that it ends on a note of, ‘You are still going to struggle to deal with everything, though maybe not daily any more.’”
Having come a second time to the end of a journey to get his story told, Nick muses, “What I found in writing the book is that on one level it’s about me, my father, and my mother. But when you work on something like this long enough, at some point it transforms into something larger; hopefully, into something universal.
“In talking to actors, extras, and crew members on the shoot I found that people felt connected to the material; everyone has a complicated relationship with a loved one. It might be a parent, a sibling, or a child with whom they are trying to navigate their way through. I was lucky enough to do so.”
Image Courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/BeingFlynn