Sundance 2012 Interviews: Paul Dano and Jon Heder of 'For Ellen'

Posted Fri Feb 3, 2012 at 11:30 AM PST by

by Luke Hickman

So Yong Kim's 'For Ellen' stars Paul Dano as a one-hit-wonder rock star whose 15 minutes of fame are just about up. Along with the loss of his dream, he's about to lose his wife and daughter in a nasty divorce. Trying to aid him on this rough road is his inexperienced lawyer played by Jon Heder, who not only does everything he can to help him with the legal matters, but shows his compassion by trying to help him out in his personal life too. Paul Dano and Jon Heder teamed up to talk with me about their film right after the second screening of 'For Ellen' at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival last week.

HDD – Luke Hickman: Hey, guys. How's it going?

Paul Dano: It's been great. We've had a couple of really good screenings and today things are finally getting to slow down a bit. We get to hang out and chat with our friends about the film.

HDD: Have you gotten to or will you get to go out and see any films?

Paul Dano: I haven't gotten out to see anything, but hope to start seeing some tonight now that my press duties are finishing up.

HDD: What about you, Jon?

Jon Heder: I'm leaving today – but I saw 'Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie.' It was fun. Interesting to see at Sundance because it's not what you typically see here – but that's what's fun about the festival, you can see all sorts of different stuff.

HDD: You haven't been here in a long time, have you?

Jon Heder: It's been eight years.

HDD: Paul, you were here -

Paul Dano: It's been a couple years, but I've now been here two or three times.

HDD: 'For Ellen' – great movie.

Paul Dano: Thanks!

HDD: What drew you to it?

Paul Dano: I knew So [Yong Kim], the director, a little bit and she sent me the script to read more as a friend. She said, "I wrote this character," gave [the script] to me, and I thought, 'Wow. This is an amazing part.' I immediately saw the character and what he looked like – the clothes and everything – I thought, 'I'd really like to do that. It feels like something that I know I can do – I'm not 100 percent sure that I can do – but I think I can.' It just felt like a different role for me, so I talked to her and we decided to do it together. It was such a delicious part. He's got a lot going on, an interesting guy. So it was great, a lot of fun.

HDD: What challenged you? You say that you weren't 100 percent sure you could -

Paul Dano: I just think that he's a lot different from me. I'm not a guy who wear a red leather jacket and tight pants who curses people out. He's sort of aggressive and agitated. He drinks a lot, smokes a lot, and is really a hard rock kinda guy – not me, but it felt like somebody that I should play.

HDD: I truly loved your drunken lonely rock star moment in the bar. That was my favorite sequence in the whole film because it said everything without saying anything.

Paul Dano: Yeah yeah yeah. My favorite sequence in the film is when I go to Butler - or Jon's character's house - for dinner and then go to the bar. Our sort of strange dynamic see-saws. There's a bit of levity, then all of a sudden – "Ooh. That was mean."

HDD: Jon, what drew you into this dramatic role?

Jon Heder: I loved the script, thought it was a chance to play a great role that was certainly a departure for a lot of roles that I've played. It was a chance to work with a director like So. After having read the script and watching some of her past films and knowing that Paul was attached, I thought, 'This would be a great project to work on – great people and the opportunity to return to independent filmmaking.' I'd done other independent films, but nothing of this caliber. I was excited to get to do this sort of project.

HDD: Paul, you've worked with younger kids before. Was it any different this time around? The scenes between your character Joby and Ellen are awesome.

Paul Dano: Thanks. That's great. You know, it always seems like it's going to be a little bit of a pain or something, but then you realize that they just keep you honest. You are kind of caring for them in the scene. Like if we're walking down the street, you're paying attention to them in a way that is the character, but you're also thinking, 'I gotta make sure this kid doesn't run out into the street.' It helps you lose self-consciousness and you forget that you're acting. You're taking care of a kid at the same time, so I actually really enjoy it. And [Shaylena Mandigo] did a great job. She's a local girl in the city of New York where we filmed. We went to the school where she goes and observed kids in kindergarten, first grade and second grade, talked to some girls and asked Shaylena to do it. We started hanging out in front of the camera just talking – and those are our scenes.

HDD: Jon, was there anything that challenged you with the role?

Jon Heder: I certainly felt the pressure of trying to create a character that's not trying to make people laugh – which is what I'm used to doing – but at the same time, what I felt was most challenging was learning to trust my instincts. Because of So's filmmaking style, she would just let the camera roll. She wouldn't give you tons of direction, but she'd talk with you a lot about the character. For a scene, it would contain skeleton dialog and she'd say, "Let's just get this together," and it very much required me to jump into character and work my way – we didn't have any marks or anything. We didn't really have any hardcore studio direction, if that makes any sense. That was a challenge, but it was very rewarding and refreshing to do it.

HDD: Did this process change the movie at all from script to screen?

Paul Dano: The script was great. I don't think So needed to do anything. In fact, when I first saw it, I said, "You can take some of that [improvised] stuff out. Your script is good." The film did change from script to final cut - a little bit – but not a ton.

Jon Heder: It was very much how I pictured it.

HDD: Is it hard as an actor to trust in your director, that what you read and what you envision is what you're going to see in the end?

Paul Dano: That's the most important thing and the hardest thing about being an actor. You step away from the film and it goes on and has this other life in the editing room. Sometimes you see it and you're really proud of who you worked with, other times you see it and you're like, "Oh, that different than I thought it would be." But that's what you try and work with people whose films you like. I liked [So's film] 'Treeless Mountain' a lot. I thought it was an interesting film with a very good script, so you trust that and choose to go for it. You can't worry about that on-set.

Jon Heder: It's true. I just trust them and put it in their hands. I do my part and trust in whatever happens – especially with this project because it is so different from projects I've done in the past. With some, it's a little easier to predict what it's going to be like. So, she doesn't do a lot of cut-aways. She lets the camera keep rolling. It's interesting to see the film and see what she used – hearing my voice but not seeing myself. She made some really cool and interesting choices. You've really just got to trust. For me, I shot it and didn't see any of them for a long time. I was really excited to see the film.

HDD: What's up next for you guys?

Paul Dano: I have a film coming out in March called 'Being Flynn.' It's me and De Niro, based off a memoir called "Another Bullshit Night in Suck City" – another fantastic work. The film is really good. Focus Features is releasing it in March. Hopefully they'll get it out there a little bit and people will see it. For De Niro, it's his best work in a while. He's great in it.

HDD: I've really liked Focus' film slate recently. Look forward to seeing it. What about you, Jon?

Jon Heder: I'm still in the middle of promoting the 'Napoleon Dynamite' animated series for Fox, which has been great.

HDD: How has it been revisiting your iconic character?

Jon Heder: It's been really fun. It was nice to have a seven year break, then revisit it. It's like a reunion being back together again with the other cast members and the writer and director. It's really fun because it's a totally different process to do an animated show. So there's that and another independent film that I'll be shooting this summer called 'Alive and Well.'

HDD: Can you talk about 'Alive and Well?'

Jon Heder: I can't because we're still trying to secure the rest of the cast. Rob Rugan, first-time director and commercial director, is great. I've met with him several times and I'm excited to work with him and really look forward to it.

HDD: Are you shooting to bring it here next year?

Jon Heder: I don't know what his plans are with it, but it would be great. It would be awesome. It's really fun to come here with a film.

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Tags: Fun Stuff, Luke Hickman, Jon Heder, Paul Dano, Sundance 2012, Sundance Film Festival (all tags)