In Steven Spielberg’s latest film “The Fabelmans”, the director was staggered by how much Paul Dano resembled his late father in the semi-autobiographical drama about Spielberg’s life.
The film’s casting was extremely important to the legendary director, 75, since it centres on how he overcame a family divide in his early life, as a child growing up in post-World War II America, in order to pursue his passion for movie-making.
The project, which Spielberg considers his most vulnerable movie and “first coming-of-age story [he’s] ever told,” allowed him to explore both his creatively-minded mother and “methodical” father’s influence on his life, especially through the divide between them, as reflected by his stand-in Sammy Fabelman, played by Gabriel LaBelle.
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While it was crucial that Spielberg found actors who could capture his parents’ look, it was also significantly important that they could embody their mannerisms and mentalities. The acclaimed filmmaker told The Hollywood Reporter that nobody quite captured his father, Arnold Spielberg, like Dano did.
Although Spielberg’s kind, quiet, morally-strict father seemed like an odd role for Dano to portray, given his typically darker, more eccentric roles in films like “The Batman” and “There Will Be Blood”, the director decided to approach Dano for the part after hearing chatter from others within the industry about the actor’s out-of-character temperament.
He set up a Zoom call with Dano, who admitted he was extremely nervous for the meeting, however the actor quickly calmed down after Spielberg detailed the story to him and asked him to take on the role of his father.
“My heart did leap. I just could see it,” Dano told the publication.
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During their initial call, Spielberg knew immediately that he too had made the right decision.
“I certainly didn’t want to come on my first meeting with Paul and be a little too familiar,” the director said. “But there was something so evocative of my dad. Ten minutes after the Zoom, I was choking. I was holding back my emotion.”
When it came to shooting the film, Dano put everything he had into portraying Spielberg’s father accurately. He spent plenty of time getting to know the “Jurassic Park” filmmaker over Zoom and even immersed himself in Arnold’s world. On set, Dano went the extra mile by ordering a crystal radio set to assemble, in order to get a sense of Arnold’s love of electronics, which led him to become a skilled engineer.
“The Fabelmans” hits theatres on Nov. 23.