The Fabelmans is Paul Dano's "Antidote" For Batman's Riddler Role (Exclusive)

The Fabelmans takes a look at the life of its own director Steven Spielberg, through the lens of fictional characters enduring experiences similar to the prolific filmmaker's own. Not only does it explore Spielberg's younger years when he discovered a love of film but it dives into his family's history and personal details, with Paul Dano playing Burt Fabelman. Burt is The Fabelmans' version of Spielberg's real life father Arnold, with the character representing Arnold's resistance to supporting his son's pursuit of a career in the art of filmmaking. Dano spoke to about working on The Fabelmans, a film he is releasing on the heels of playing The Riddler in The Batman earlier this year.

"I'm so lucky to have had the antidote of Burt in a way and making a film about family and something that was truly guided by love and a man of integrity and decency, and there's something very classically American," Dano said, when asked about the experience of going from Riddler to Burt Fabelman. "So, this was really about, 'How do I build a life? How do this life that's been lived based on Arnold, Steven's dad?' And it's still hard for me to fully digest that Steven would want me to play his father. And it's really meaningful for someone like Steven to see that. I mean, weirdly, one of the things he was saying when we were first meeting, he was like, 'I just loved Escape at Dannemora,' and, 'I'd read the script.' How do you get from Escape at Dannemora to Burt? I was like, 'That's kind of cool.'" Escape at Dannemora saw Dano star with Benicio del Toro and Patricia Arquette for a TV mini series about a prison guard who falls in love with two inmates and ultimately helps them escape. 

While Dano claimed to have no knowledge of whether he will be returning to The Riddler in The Batman sequels or spinoffs, he did share enthusiasm for working with DC Comics to publish a story detailing the history of his character. "I love it," Dano said. "I am working with this wonderful artist Stefan Subic who's a Serbian artist, his first comic here. I think his work is very good. The first issue just came out, next one's coming out later in December. So, I keep an eye out for that."

(Photo: The Fabelmans / Universal Studios)

There are several sequences in The Fabelmans where Dano gets to bring heavy intensity through his emotional performances but the inspirational story of Spielberg's young life as adapted through Sam Fabelman calls for a bit more levity than Batman or Dannemora in Dano's case. Dano's presence as Burt brings a heart to the film, driving a very personal story forward alongside Gabriel LaBelle as Sam Fabelman and Michelle Williams as Mitzi Fabelman.

"That courage started with [Steven] wanting to tell the story in the first place," Dano said of playing a role which dives into heavy, often accurate details of Spielberg's family life. "And right from our very first meeting, which I was very nervous for, to meet him, he was so open and vulnerable and sort of honest and naked and emotionally intuitive about it, that it opens the door for you to be... In fact, you have no other choice but to embrace that what he's giving you and that courage and bringing it yourself... As soon as he told me about it, there's only so many jobs where your heart really does truly leap. Like, 'Oh, this is beautiful. There's something here, and I get to be a part of that.'"

The Fabelmans, like its cast and filmmakers, is a movie that loves movies. As it showcases Spielberg's early journey to becoming a filmmaker, the audience will see the moment where Sam Fabelman falls in love with film so much so that he is ready to take the leap into pursuing a career in film. For Dano, a number of artists and titles similarly drove him to pursue acting. "There's many along the way and they change and they keep coming, too," Dano shared. "When I was a kid, I grew up in New York, I think actually it was going to the theater and the feeling of when the lights went down, the curtain was gonna open, and just the moment of anticipation and just how big that feeling was." That magically moment of being blown away by such a storytelling experience is on display in The Fabelmans with a sequence featuring Dano as Burt taking LaBelle's Sam to the movies for the first time.

"I think there was kind of a first wave of Jim Carrey love that I don't think I was anything like that but I felt lit up by whatever the juice was there," Dano added. "And then I think seeing Jack Nicholson's work and something like Five Easy Pieces, I started to go, 'Okay, that's kind of something that if I could ever aspire to that, that would be nice.' But then I fell in love with movies and wanted to make them."

Are you excited to see The Fabelmans? Share your thoughts in the comment section or send them my way on Twitter! The Fabelmans is now playing in theaters.