Since it premiered at Sundance, Paul Dano’s directorial debut Wildlife has been one of the more resilient titles on the festival circuit, stopping off at Cannes’ Critics Week in May before pausing in Toronto on its way to the London Film Festival next month. Set in 1960s Montana, the film stars Ed Oxenbould as Joe Brinson, a teenage boy who witnesses the breakdown of his parents’ marriage. Stopping by the Deadline studio with Carey Mulligan, who plays Joe’s mother, Dano talked about the genesis of his passion project.
“The starting point was a book called Wildlife by Richard Ford,” Dano explained. “I read it, and read it many times within a year, just sort of turning over the idea of it, [wondering] if it could be a film, because it really spoke to me and haunted me, and immediately I started just obsessing about it and thinking about it all the time. Family is just always [a subject] that’s been important to me, always something that I’ve known that I’ve wanted to kind of a make work about, and the American dream has always been something that I’ve found just really beautiful and hard. I’ve loved it in art, and my parents’ life, and in my life and I felt all of that in this book.”
But to get it to the screen, Dano credits his longtime partner Zoe Kazan, with whom he shares a writing credit. “I basically wrote a first draft,” he said, “and I gave it to Zoe, because she’s a proper writer. She was the first person to see it. I thought, secretly, it was pretty good, and she really just tore it apart—there was red pen on every single page. We fought [about it] and then she said, ‘Why don’t you just let me do a pass? I see what you’re trying to do.’ So she did a pass on the script, and then we basically just started passing it back and forth. We would chat for two or three hours, and then one of us would take it, and I think it was a really healthy way to work, and a fun way to work. I know it had its challenges, but also we had the advantage of just doing it at home, meaning we had no time pressure, we weren’t answering to anybody. We took our time, and it was great.”
Hear more from Dano and Mulligan by clicking on the video above.