Paul Dano has been a Sundance fixture since his first trip to the festival when he was 16. He returns this year for the first time as a director, with his adaptation of Richard Ford’s Wildlife, co-written by Zoe Kazan. At Deadline’s Sundance Studio he expounded on his love of Ford’s work. When he picked up Wildlife, he told me, “Pretty much from the first sentence I knew I was going to love this book. I thought after reading it there might be a film here and maybe a film here for me to make.”

And Dano promised he wasn’t one-and-done; Wildlife is the first step of a move into directing, he said. When he sent Zoe Kazan his original draft, “It wasn’t really a script, it was more of a treatment,” she said. “It was very hard for me to give him notes on it, and we just fought. We didn’t get past page five, and then I said, ‘I think you should just let me rewrite this for you.'”

The result is a touching drama about a couple strained by a lack of work. When Jake Gyllenhaal’s Jerry disappears to the mountains to earn pennies fighting a wildfire that threatens to engulf their Montana town, Carey Mulligan’s Jeanette starts to wander into the arms of successful businessman Warren Miller (Bill Camp). The destruction of the small family unit is witnessed through the eyes of Joe, their 14-year-old son, whose life spirals as he deals with the absence of his father and the infidelity of his mother.

“Usually the part of a child is either the kid of someone or maybe someone at school,” said young actor Ed Oxenbould, who delivers a revelatory performance as the troubled Joe. “But this was a really interesting character because you only ever see this family affair through this kid’s eyes.”

For Mulligan, sinking her teeth into a female character with multiple dimensions was the prize of the role. “Just to get to play someone who makes a lot of mistakes,” she said, was her primary motivation. “Lots of times in films women aren’t allowed to make mistakes or be bad mothers. Or if they are bad mothers, they are only bad mothers and they are destroying the protagonist in the doing of that. That’s not what this is. It’s just someone who’s having a bit of a moment. She’s a good mum but she has moments of not being a good mum and not being a good wife.”

Check out more from the Wildlife team above.

The Deadline Studio is presented by Hyundai. Special thanks to Calii Love.