THEATERMANIA: Paul, what was it like for you to actually have the real Nick Flynn on set almost all the time?"
PAUL DANO: Well as it happens, we're also neighbors in Brooklyn, but we'd never met before. Nick's wife, Lili Taylor, who is a favorite actress of mine, got us to meet. And it was really comfortable, because Nick is very low key in person and after all, it is his story. We met in a café first and he wasn't what I expected from the script. He's much looser and more gregarious, but of course he's older now and not at the stage he was in the story. After that, we'd meet often to talk.
TM: At 17, you were already acting professionally, so how well do you relate to Nick's story?
PD: It wasn't my life at all, luckily for me. Nick's mother, whom he loved very much, was dead, and he never knew his father. I grew up in Connecticut with a home and a family. But Nick's story is also about finding yourself and caring about others and everyone goes through that in some way or another. In fact, the cast all volunteered in some of the different shelters here in New York. Another thing that helped a lot was asking Nick what music he was listening to back then so I could listen to that for mood. There's a bit of punk in there.
TM: Now to Paul Weitz. The film notes say that you did 30 drafts between the book's publication in 2004 and the film you made in 2011. Is that true?
PAUL WEITZ: There's so little time in a film narrative - a film is to a book as a poem is to a film - that you have to be really spare and try to be true to the spirit. So as I worked on each draft - and there were 30 of them - what kept me going was that it finally boiled down thematically to almost a fable.
TM: So what's the Fable of Being Flynn?
PW: How much of our identity is inherited from our parents and how much are we able to create ourselves? In this story, a guy is happily working at a homeless shelter and one night his long-absent father shows up as a guest. And he's not an abject hat-in-hand guest but someone who demands a private room and wonders why his son doesn't have the clout to get him one!
TM: Did Robert DeNiro stay on through all 30 drafts?
PW: What can I say? His casting was key for me and he stuck with us all those years while I was writing it, knowing it would be an extremely low-budget film, and all that that implies. Because Bob is such an iconic figure in American film, and he brings the weight and baggage of all those great performances and in this case I thought that would work in a good way on a subconscious level with the audience. And this material obviously spoke to him on some level as well.