How Paul Dano Came to Adapt a Richard Ford Novel for His Movie “Wildlife”

Paul Dano sized up the menu at Dumpling Galaxy, a brightly lit eatery inside a mall in Flushing’s Chinatown. “I’ve never been here, so I wanted to try it,” he said. “And it’s a good name, Dumpling Galaxy.” He wore a denim shirt, round glasses, and a red cap bearing the logo of a ranch store in Scottsbluff, Nebraska—a gift from his longtime partner, the actress Zoe Kazan, which she brought home from the set of the new Coen brothers film, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” At thirty-four, Dano still has the boyish, pincushion face he had at twenty-two, when he played a spazzy teen-ager in the indie comedy “Little Miss Sunshine,” though his manner is that of a sedate old gentleman. “Lamb and squash,” he told the waiter. “And what beef one do you recommend?”

That blend of youthful befuddlement and wise-beyond-years reflection suffuses his directorial début, “Wildlife,” which opens this weekend. Set in small-town Montana in 1960, it follows an adolescent boy (Ed Oxenbould) who watches his parents’ marriage disintegrate. Mother (Carey Mulligan) is a part-time swimming instructor with a self-destructive flair; Father (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his job at a golf club and heads for the mountains to fight a wildfire. The film is based on a novel by Richard Ford, which Dano discovered several years ago while browsing at BookCourt, the erstwhile store in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. He was hooked by the first few lines, which he recited from memory: “ ‘In the fall of 1960, when I was sixteen and my father was for a time not working, my mother met a man named Warren Miller and fell in love with him. This was in Great Falls, Montana, at the time of the Gypsy Basin oil boom, and . . .’ ” Dano trailed off. “Something about ‘My father had come here hoping to get a piece of that good luck.’ ” He scrunched his face. “It’s very good, and I’m not happy that I can’t remember it.”

Dano was struck by the book’s unhappy family portrait. “There’s something moving to me about the idea that we just don’t know what’s going on in the lives around us,” he said. He knew that he wanted to make a film version after envisioning the final shot, so he wrote to Ford, who granted him the rights and added, “My book’s my book, and your picture’s your picture.” “That was such an incredible sense of permission,” Dano recalled. He wrote a first draft and showed it to Kazan, who is also a playwright and wrote the screenplay for the 2012 film “Ruby Sparks.” “She was, like, ‘It’s good . . .’ in a way that was totally not believable,” Dano said. “She had notes on every page.” They became co-writers, trading off drafts and occasionally reading aloud in their Brooklyn apartment. The script took several years to finish: at one point, Dano went to Russia for six months to play Pierre in a BBC One adaptation of “War and Peace,” while Kazan starred in films like “The Big Sick.” “ ‘Wildlife’ was my little secret,” he said. “When I was on the subway, I had something to daydream about.”

For atmosphere (and location scouting), he and Kazan took a road trip from Lewiston, Idaho, where the film’s fictional Brinson family moves from, to Great Falls, Montana. “I don’t think we wrote—we took some pictures, hung out, did bed-and-breakfasts,” Dano said. He was determined to shoot in Montana, but Great Falls looked too modern to play itself, and the state lacked the right tax incentives. So they budgeted four days in the Montana mountains and shot the rest in Oklahoma. Day Three, Dano recalled, was a doozy. The crew had rented two identical forest-green vintage cars, to save time switching camera angles, but one of them came with a busted windshield. That, plus iffy weather, an indie budget, and an underage lead actor with restricted work hours, made the whole thing a logistical feat. “That was the first day I had to drop a shot,” Dano said. “I remember feeling, Oh, fuck.”

He drew on his past collaborations with directors including Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”), Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”), and Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”). Of Anderson, he recalled, “I remember seeing him wait for the oil to be dripping right. It’s time and money, but it’s got to be right.” A New York City native, Dano has been acting professionally since age eleven, when he was in a play in Stamford, Connecticut. He made his first appearance on Broadway soon after, in a 1996 revival of “Inherit the Wind,” starring George C. Scott and Charles Durning. (“I remember he’d often eat raw tomatoes,” Dano said of Durning.) One night, Arthur Miller came to see the show and asked to meet Dano, but Dano has little memory of it: “I was more concerned with getting Ben & Jerry’s afterwards.” He met Kazan in 2007, when they acted together in an Off Broadway play directed by Ethan Hawke—Dano had played a younger version of Hawke in the film “Taking Lives.” This winter, they’ll play brothers in a Broadway revival of Sam Shepard’s “True West.” “We’re quite different, which is good for the brothers,” Dano said.

He finished up his dumplings and went exploring. There was a grocery store hawking dragon fruit and pigs’ feet, an underground DVD shop stocked with action flicks. Passing through a Chinese herb store, he said, “It’s really fun to be so out of your element, so close to home.”

 

Japan … Lisa Issenberg photos

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I asked may I take your photo, they laughed and insisted that we each sit with them for the photo. 

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“OHENRO WALKING STICKS.”

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Noguchi’s favorite stone 

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Noguchi Garden Museum

IMG_0066  ” Mantra of Light chart.  Woodblock stamps for each of the 88 temples of the Shikoku pilgrimage.”IMG_0067

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Temple phone booth

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“Shrine stickers”

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Ramen at Ofukuro (Mom’s Place), Takamatsu, Shikoku.”

5 Things We Learned From Paul Butterfield Doc ‘Horn From the Heart’ ~ RollingStone

From cutting his teeth in the Chicago blues scene to nabbing one of Dylan’s best sidemen, our takeaways from new doc on legendary bandleader

Paul Butterfield

Bandleader/blues legend Paul Butterfield, the subject of music documentary ‘Horn From the Heart: The Paul Butterfield Story.’

Kathy Butterfield

During the blues revival and rediscovery of the Sixties, few dominated like Paul Butterfield, the hard-puffing, hard-living harmonica player and band leader. Assertive and experimental Butterfield Blues Band albums like 1966’s East-West, featuring equally manic and inspired guitarist Mike Bloomfield, were essential college-dorm listening. And during the following decade, Butterfield’s mighty harmonica powered a version of “Mystery Train” at the Band’s Last Waltz concert and movie.

These days, over three decades after his death, Butterfield is largely known only to blues cognoscenti — a situation that could hopefully be rectified by director John Anderson’s documentary Horn From the Heart: The Paul Butterfield Story, which opens at select theaters around the country on Oct. 17th. The movie includes interviews with friends and fellow musicians like Bonnie Raitt, Todd Rundgren, Paul Shaffer, Al Kooper and the late B.B. King, and traces Butterfield’s story from blues-loving Chicago kid to his groundbreaking work and his subsequent health and addiction issues. (He died from an overdose of substances, including heroin and alcohol, in 1987 at 44.)

Even for those who know his best work, from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band to his overlooked 1970s group Better Days, Horn From the Heart is an enlightening look at an under-documented musician. Here are five things we learned along the way.

Forget any clichés you have about harmonica playing.
As seen in clip after clip, even during the difficult final decade of his life, Butterfield didn’t just play the harp; he shredded it. The documentary elucidates the difference between his aggro style and those of harp legends like Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson and Junior Parker. One reason: Butterfield played the harmonica upside down, possibly because he was left-handed. Whatever the reason, his style wasn’t just motorized; he seemed to throw himself onto — and into — the instrument, blasting out single notes over chords and making for a pained, expressive wail all his own.

Especially in Chicago, the blues were bigger — and drew more inter-racial crowds — than you may remember.
As recalled by singer and cohort Nick Gravenites, Chicago was home to an astounding number of blues bars — between 50 and 70 — when the two musicians were starting out. Butterfield himself was raised in Hyde Park, a neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side that had been predominately white but was racially integrated during his formative years. One of his early gigs was playing a dance party, and we see both white and African-American kids doing the Twist, of all moves, to the blues. That legacy wasn’t only heard in Butterfield’s genre of choice but even his band, whose members were both white (Bloomfield, guitarist Elvin Bishop and keyboardist Mark Naftalin) and African-American (drummer Sam Lay, bassist Jerome Arnold) at a time when that was rarely seen. In the movie, Lay also recounts that Butterfield offered him $20 a night — a big bump up from the $7 nightly Lay was getting backing Howlin’ Wolf.

Bloomfield turned down Bob Dylan to hook up with Butterfield.
One of the top-gun guitarists of the era, Bloomfield was something of an American Eric Clapton. In 1965, played on Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited; he was also in Bob’s band at that infamous Newport Folk Festival electric show. When Dylan offered him a regular spot in his group, though, Bloomfield declined — and went with Butterfield instead. “I just want to play the blues,” he told Kooper. The guitarist probably lost out on a sizable paycheck, but the clips of him and Butterfield going head to head —Bloomfield’s hands swarming over the fretboard, matching the bandleader’s harp frenzy — confirm he made the right decision, even if left the band not long after.

Butterfield played Woodstock.

Since one Butterfield Blues Band track appears on the original Woodstock triple LP, this shouldn’t be a complete surprise. But since the band wasn’t included in the movie, it’s still startling to be reminded that they were indeed there, ripping it up with a lineup that included saxophonist David Sanborn.

Butterfield really did live the blues.
As shown in the doc, Butterfield’s high school yearbook sported one of the most poignant inscriptions you’ll ever read: “I think I am better than the people who are trying to reform me.” Yet he struggled with reforming himself. Raitt admits she had a crush on him, and for a brief period he seemed to lead a cozy, domestic life with his wife and young son in Woodstock. But Butterfield’s hellraiser side was always lurking. Even after he was diagnosed with peritonitis, an inflammation connected to the abdomen, he didn’t always take care of himself; Shaffer, who played on his final album in 1984, recalls him eating “the worst fried peppers” despite his stomach problems. Nor did return to a clean and sober lifestyle after his health problems intensified. (This writer had a particularly petrifying experience with the musician a few years before his death, when an initially friendly Butterfield agreed to an interview, disappeared into his dressing room at New York’s Lone Star Café for a lengthy period and re-reemerged as an entirely different, paranoid and irate person.) White blues players were sometimes accused of being dilettantes, but that charge could never apply to Butterfield, who lived it as he sang and played it.

DNA Test Reveals Donald Trump, Jr., Is Fifty Per Cent Idiot

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—Donald Trump, Jr., has taken a DNA test that reveals that he is “fifty-per-cent idiot,” Trump confirmed on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference in Trump Tower, Trump said that he had undergone the DNA testing “to silence all of the haters who have been saying I’m a total idiot.”

Crowing about the test results, Trump said, “According to this test, I am fifty-per-cent idiot, which is way less than half.”

Trump’s results drew a skeptical response from the scientific community, with many leading geneticists questioning the integrity of his DNA sample.

According to Davis Logsdon, a genetic scientist at the University of Minnesota, “Any test of Don, Jr., that comes back lower than ninety-per-cent idiot is going to set off alarm bells, scientifically speaking.”

Trump, Jr., first boasted about his test results on Twitter, where he misspelled “DNA.”

 

  • Andy Borowitz is the New York Times best-selling author of “The 50 Funniest American Writers,” and a comedian who has written for The New Yorker since 1998. He writes the Borowitz Report, a satirical column on the news, for newyorker.com.