Paul Dano on Playing Steven Spielberg's Dad in The Fabelmans 'Heavy Cloak to Bear'
Paul Dano as Burt Fabelman in The Fabelmans

Paul Dano found playing legendary director Steven Spielberg’s father in The Fabelmans to be quite a “heavy cloak to bear,” the actor said on Saturday at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The Fabelmans is based on Spielberg’s own childhood, with Gabriel LaBelle playing the character based on Steven himself, named Sammy Fabelman; Dano playing Burt Fabelman, based on Spielberg’s father, Arnold; and Michelle Williams playing Mitzi Fabelman, based on Spielberg’s mother, Leah.

“We were blessed with a really beautiful script to build our characters from by Steven [Spielberg] and Tony [Kushner]. And Steven was also very generous about letting us into his life. So I think Steven and I probably Zoomed, not quite once a week, but for several months, talking about him and his life, and [I] had access to photographs and home movies and sound recordings,” Dano told the audience during The Fabelmans Q&A after its world premiere at TIFF.

“The goal was to sort of — how do you capture a life lived? How do you fill out the essence of that in a two-and-a-half-hour film? And I think Burt and Arnold were both like a sort of quintessential American man in a way… especially in that time, and it really reminded me of my grandfather, as well. So I was trying to bring something from my life along with me to make it equally personal.”

“It was a heavy cloak to bear at times, playing Steven’s father, and the spell that we sort of all had going on the sound stages — but a beautiful experience,” Dano added.

Williams spoke about what it was like playing Spielberg’s mother while being directed by him at the same time.

“It felt like a couple of kids on the playground. It just felt like we were — it felt like anything was possible, it felt like a place where — it just felt like we were climbing every day. Like, I just felt like we were sort of like exploring together,” she said. “I have never been so early to get to work.”

Spielberg said he felt like Williams and Dano embodied his parents well.

“I will say that that film is, for me, is a way of bringing my mom and dad back,” he said.

“My mom gave me a ton of permission to chase tornadoes, metaphorically, for my entire life,” Spielberg added. “I just wanted to meet the person who did Blue Valentine, and so she was always lingering as a sort of pre-frontal frontal lobe idea about Mitzi, or my mom, Leah, and then I had felt the same way about Paul. He shares so many of the same kind of pragmatism, also the patience my dad — the deep, deep, profound kindness of my father, and the genius that my dad had in the world of computer design. So immediately, those were the first two characters Tony and I started to discuss.”

The Fabelmans also stars Seth Rogen, Jeannie Berlin, Robin Bartlett, and Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord.

The Fabelmans arrives in theaters on Nov. 11. Watch the trailer here.

Main Image: Paul Dano as Burt Fabelman in The Fabelmans.