The star of Ruby Sparks talks about playing writers, having a fake girlfriend, and sharing a milkshake with Daniel Day-Lewis.
1. He’s not quite sure why he’s become the go-to guy for struggling writer types.
In Ruby Sparks, Dano plays a former whiz-kid author bumping up against a creative block. It’s the follow-up to his fine performance in this spring’s Being Flynn as real-life poet Nick Flynn. “It is peculiar that those two films came out in the same year,” says Dano, but he doesn’t think he’ll be getting pigeonholed as the bookish type anytime soon. He says that he related to the role more in terms of its portrait of a young man dealing with the consequences of having too much too soon—a sobering theme for a 28-year-old actor who has already worked with many of cinema’s heaviest hitters. “I’m super-intrigued by the idea of success, and how other people try to determine what success is for you,” he says. “I loved that aspect of this film. I think there’s a strong undercurrent here of what the creative process is, and about [how] writer’s block [figures into] that idea of success.”
2. He doesn’t want to see any more manic pixie dream girl movies, either.
“When the trailer first came out, a lot of people said ‘Oh, it’s another manic pixie dream girl thing,’” he says. “But it’s not. I think it’s playing to the concerns that those people might have.” Indeed the title character, played by Dano’s real-life squeeze, Zoe Kazan, is only as quirky as Dano’s character makes her: The film is about a writer who falls in love with his own fictional creation and then tries to change her on a whim. “I think it’s powerful, the notion that we ask people to be the idea of something,” he says. “I think men can do it to women, and I think that women can do it to men.”
3. He knows that everybody wants to ask him about There Will be Blood.
Dano says that P.T. Anderson’s iconic oil pipeline melodrama is the film he gets recognized for more than any other: Getting physically and verbally battered by an insane, scenery chewing Daniel Day-Lewis has its perks, but there have been some drawbacks to the experiences. “I don’t order too many milkshakes,” he says, alluding to the classic scene where he plays a rural preacher who gets schooled about the finer points of oil-well drainage by way of an ice-cream-drink–based metaphor. “I’ve been sent milkshakes by random people at restaurants. I just say ‘okay’ and sort of wave back.”
Ruby Sparks opens Aug. 3.