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Little Miss Sunshine's Paul Dano Details The In-Character Rehearsals That Prepared Him To Play Dwayne

Paul Dano has a history of portraying creepy, twisted, or disturbed characters who are nonetheless complex, entertaining, and even sympathetic or likable at times. For example, Dano portrayed the deranged Riddler in "The Batman" (2022), as well as Paul and Eli Sunday, the eccentric and unstable twin brothers from "There Will Be Blood" (2007). None of Dano's roles are ever easy because the characters he portrays are usually such intense and unusual people. However, certain roles he has played present additional challenges compared to others.

Dano played Dwayne in the 2006 film "Little Miss Sunshine," the angsty teenage brother of Olive (Abigail Breslin). The film chronicles the quirky family's road trip taking Olive to a child beauty pageant in another state. This was a particularly challenging role because though Dwayne is one of the major characters, he has taken a vow of silence throughout most of the film so he has almost no lines. Instead, he has to be incredibly expressive through his facial expressions and body language. That is, of course, until he finally breaks his vow of silence in a very dramatic screaming scene near the end of the film.

Paul Dano went bowling and to a diner with the cast to practice his nonverbal communication

In an interview with GQ, Paul Dano described the particular challenges he faced while portraying Dwayne in "Little Miss Sunshine," particularly in the scenes where he is still practicing his vow of silence. Dano said that in order to make it seem like his character was participating in the family's dynamic and conversations without speaking, he had to practice. After all, most teenagers are not used to expressing themselves through entirely non-verbal means. 

Dano said, "I tried to experience the world a little bit like that — to communicate without speaking and use the notepad." Although Dwayne has taken a vow of silence, he does sometimes jot down brief responses to his family's questions using a pen and notepad that he carries around. However, many of his family's attempts to communicate with him do not warrant any response at all, save for a snarky facial expression or eye-roll. 

Dano also shared that he and the rest of the cast did some fun in-character rehearsals to help him develop his non-verbal communication skills. They would get in the van and go bowling or to the diner, and he wouldn't talk. Certainly, this practice helped Dano to perfect his role as Dwayne, who is incredibly expressive without speaking a single word throughout most of the film.