Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

How Paul Dano Got Into Character For The Fabelmans

"The Fabelmans" may be at the top of Oscar predictions lists, but that's not just because of Steven Spielberg's reliably great direction or storytelling. It's in large part due to the performances at the movie's core — especially those of Michelle Williams and Paul Dano. As the meek, but empathetic Burt Fabelman, who happens to be an on-screen surrogate for Spielberg's real-life father, Dano delivers a fully lived-in performance. At turns effusively compassionate and quietly furious, Dano is a perfect counterpart to Williams, who nails her flashier and instantly indelible performance as Mitzi Schildkraut-Fabelman.

Though Dano's performance is less bombastic, that doesn't mean that he phoned in his performance. After all, this is Paul Dano, who, while playing The Riddler in "The Batman," developed insomnia because he wrapped his head in plastic and gave himself headaches every day (via IndieWire). Naturally, Dano committed himself, heart and soul, to his role in "The Fabelmans." In fact, Dano even went so far as to learn how to build a radio.

Dano became a self-taught engineer to play Burt

In a recent Actors Roundtable interview with the Los Angeles Times (via YouTube), Paul Dano revealed that his role of Burt Fabelman presented more of a challenge than he'd originally predicted. "I can say it was an absolute pleasure and joy, but it was a heavy cloak to bear," Dano said.

Though Dano had played real-life people in the past, he took on a rather different approach to portray the patriarch of "The Fabelmans." Rather than simply use his imagination to fill in the blanks of Burt's life, Dano decided to actually put himself in the shoes of the lovable engineer. Knowing Burt was a genius engineer and computer whiz, Dano obtained a toy crystal radio set like the one Burt might have played with when he was five years old. From there, Dano began to read actual engineering manuals from the 1940s and 1950s, thus putting himself in the literal headspace of Steven Spielberg's father.

Overall, Dano seemed to deeply appreciate the experience of playing Burt. "I love playing people who have either been alive or who are alive," Dano said. "There is some different kind of contact to make than just with your imagination, which is also wonderful." As for whether his rigorous research pays off, Dano will just have to wait until the 2023 Oscar nominations are announced on January 24.