Paul Dano makes an impressive directorial debut with “Wildlife.” We were on the red carpet for the film’s New York Film Festival premiere on Sunday evening at Alice Tully Hall presented by Citi.
Dano and his partner actress/writer Zoe Kazan adapted the screenplay from Richard Ford’s novel of the same name. Fourteen-year-old Joe played by Ed Oxenbould, is the only child of Jeanette (Mulligan) and Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal)—a housewife and a golf pro—in a small town in 1960s Montana. Nearby, an uncontrolled forest fire rages close to the Canadian border, and when Jerry loses his job—and his sense of purpose—he decides to join the cause of fighting the fire, leaving his wife and son to fend for themselves. Suddenly forced into the role of an adult, Joe witnesses his mother’s struggle as she tries to keep her head above water.
Check out our red carpet interviews below:
The Knockturnal: Speak about your collaboration with Writer/Director Paul Dano.
Carey Mulligan: So Paul and I have known each other for a long time. I’d been very good friends with Zoe and Paul since we were children. Since we were in our early twenties, and we had always wanted to work together. We’d always been looking for things to do together, and I always jokingly said to Zoe “You’ve got to write something that I can either be in, or we can be in together.” And then they did, but not for me, but they wrote this brilliant script and were kind enough to send it to me, and I read it, and just loved it, and it has been a great process.
The Knockturnal: It’s kind of Jeanette’s story because Jerry leaves pretty early. It’s also non-judgmental, which I like. Can you talk about your character?
Carey Mulligan: Yeah, I think we are often expecting the female characters, and the maternal characters on our screens, to represent our ideas of what mothers and women should be. I think that means that somehow there’s been this sanitized idea of motherhood on screen. What I love about this is that you’re seeing a mother really struggling and not being a perfect mom and making lots of mistakes. And making quite serious mistakes, but that doesn’t define her character, and that hopefully as an audience, you still empathize with her and want her to be alright. It was written so well and I think the judgment in the way he directed it is so brilliant, but ideally, you come to the end of the story, you kind of hope the best for all of them, as opposed to wanting her to fail because of her choices.
The Knockturnal: Was there anything about the period that you explored before diving into Jeanette?
Carey Mulligan: I’ve done films set in the 50s and 60s before this, and in America, so it’s not a sort of alien territory to me. It’s always fun to listen to music. It’s always fun to look at news events that were going on at the time. I think the main focus on anything I did before this was looking at the expectations of women in the home because she’s such a perfect housewife. She’s made a nice home with a limited budget in multiple different places, so she had a really presentational nature, so I looked at lots of adverts and what they were selling women in the 50s, which was mainly vacuum cleaners, so that was interesting. It was sort of a rough research, but to be honest, most of the work that I did in this happened in the room with Paul in rehearsal.
The Knockturnal: What was Paul like as a director, since this was his first time?
Carey Mulligan: He was brilliant. There was not one day where it felt like it was his first feature. I always imagined that he would make a great film and that he would be very lovely to work with because he is a great actor and has great instinct, and he makes brilliant choices. So I imagined that he would mirror that in his work, and he has.
The Knockturnal: What was the hardest part of working on something like this together? You’ve worked together in the past, but nothing quite like this.
Paul Dano: Zoe’s a proper writer. This was just my first time. I was really eager and happy to have the help, so hopefully, it made me a decent collaborator. It was probably easier to write together than to act together just because we never actually wrote together. So one of us would take the script and work on something, and then pass it off, and talk, and daydream. It was really nice to share such a big experience together.
Zoe Kazan: It was a first for both of us because I had never collaborated writing before, Paul had never written a screenplay before, and I had never adapted, so we were learning as we went. We optioned the book ourselves, so we didn’t have a timeline. We were our own bosses, and I think that really helps. We worked on it for about three years together … We also have to spend a lot of time apart, so having something to work on together was actually a pleasure. One of us would go away to shoot something, the other one would take the reigns of the screenplay for a little while, and it became kind of a touchstone between us.
The Knockturnal: Did you have disagreements during the writing process?
Zoe Kazan: We’ve been together a decade, so by the time that we started working on this five years ago, we already knew how to fight (laughs).
Paul Dano: I’m sure there were lots of things along the way, but if you’re doing something creative together, you’re fighting on behalf of an idea or the characters. Hopefully, you’re not fighting each other. So usually, again, with time, it’ll resolve itself for the film.
Zoe Kazan: We were often advocating for some idea that we had about the character or about a scene, and once the other person understood our idea, then it became not an argument anymore. Also, he was going to direct it from the start, so in a way, I was helping mid-wife his idea into being. He was always the boss. His vision was the final say in some ways. It made it so that there wasn’t a power struggle.
The Knockturnal: Can you speak a little bit about casting?
Paul Dano: Yeah, we were very, very, very lucky as first-time filmmakers to have these actors. Carey and Zoe did a play together a long time ago, so she’s been a friend of ours. She’s a phenomenal actor, and she luckily fell in love with the part right away and was sort of all in from the get-go, and really gave herself to the entire process, to the entire film, and I’m really proud of her. Jake is also someone who I’ve known for some time, and Carey and Jake have known each other. I knew that they would maybe want to work together, and thought it would be a fun pair. Jake’s a phenomenal actor, also a phenomenal champion as a producer, and I think that they’re both really, really good in the film. Then, Bill Camp is incredible, and our Australian kid Ed Oxenbould is an absolutely beautiful young actor. Great casting director, Laura Rosenthal, here in New York. We got a tape from Australia. Never would have thought we would cast a kid from Australia in this very American film.
Zoe Kazan: He was the last kid we saw.
Paul Dano: He was so good and had so many thoughts in him, and that’s what the camera needed. We’re so lucky to have found him.
A fun after-party followed at The Ribbon where guests enjoyed signature cocktails by Casa Noble Tequila (Nobel-Rita and Noble Twist). Carey, Jake, Zoe and Paul were joined by Mira Nair, Ang Lee, James Schamus, Ramin Bahrani, Ben Stiller and Rebecca Hall. The film hits theaters on October 19, with sneak previews on Oct. 16 and 18.
Photo Credit: Kristina Bumphrey/Starpix