Paul Dano Explains How Watching Tom Cruise Do Stunts Influenced Him As A Director

Paul Dano Tom Cruise
(Image credit: Universal/Paramount)

Paul Dano is known for his impactful dramatic performances, frequently working with auteur directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and Denis Villeneuve. As of recently, he has garnered widespread attention for portraying The Riddler, an iconic comic book villain in Matt Reeves’ The Batman. However, this prolific actor has also stepped behind the camera, making his directorial debut in 2018’s Wildlife, which starred Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan. The film was a critical success, and apparently Dano was influenced by the stunt work of Tom Cruise when directing.

In a recent interview with GQ, the Little Miss Sunshine actor broke down some of the most important projects and characters of his career. One film he discussed was 2010’s Knight and Day, which he co-starred with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. He explained the impact working with Cruise had on his own work, in particular how the Top Gun star approached the movie making process. Dano revealed: 

I know when I was directing I wanted it to feel like when my actor steps on set everything changes. I have a really clear memory of watching Cruise work with the stunt team and I remember seeing how he considered the audience and the impact of the stunts on the audience and how passionate and rigorous he was about that. It was a real lesson. I had not seen an actor consider the audience and the impact of how the stunt and the cut of the camera would feel for the audience. And I took that with me. I always think that the content lends itself to the form, and there’s a group of people, there’s a temperature and a vibration on set. That’s how the director works.

Audience experience is certainly something Tom Cruise has always considered and clearly gives his all into every role he takes on. Cruise didn’t want to make Top Gun: Maverick unless the special effects and stunt work was up to snuff in order to make the audience viewing experience as spectacular as possible. He also does his own stunts in films, as it feels more authentic and elevates the film. In addition, he is constantly pushing the envelope with his work in the Mission: Impossible films, with never before attempted stunt work. Cruise’s approach is what separates himself from other action hero movie stars, and gives his films their edge.

Paul Dano must’ve learned a lot from Cruise when it comes to acting performances as well because some of Dano’s more recent work has been extremely physical as well. When he played the Riddler, Dano wrapped his head in plastic in order to submerge himself into his character. He also carries around Daniel Radcliffe (or a full size dummy) around during the film, Swiss Army Man. The body is supposed to be all dead weight, so that role must’ve been extremely grueling. In addition, anyone who has seen There Will Be Blood knows that Dano exhausts his entire body in the role of the enigmatic preacher Eli Sunday. At this point, the Prisoners actor is practically known for getting beaten up in movies. 

Both are extremely physical actors that aren’t often compared, however when it comes to being passionate about a project and throwing themselves into roles, Dano and Cruise are both prime examples of actors who always give their all to a performance. Dano seems to have enjoyed this process, as he has expressed an interest in returning to the Riddler for the sequel to The Batman. In addition Tom Cruise will be performing more death defying stunts in Mission: Impossible- Dead Reckoning Part One which is set to release in theaters July of 2023. If the trailer is any indication, Mission: Impossible fans have a lot to look forward to, and Cruise never disappoints.

If you want to catch both of these iconic stars perform alongside each other, James Mangold’s Knight and Day is currently available to rent on all major platforms. In addition, Paul Dano’s latest film The Fablemans, which is directed by Steven Spielberg, is set to hit theaters on November 11th. For more potential Oscar contenders coming to theaters later this year, check out our 2022 movie schedule. 

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