A Rooftop Chat with Dan Kwan and Paul Dano about Swiss Army Man.
Most people at 5pm on a Friday are on their way home from a busy day at work and are looking forward to a nice relaxing weekend. My Fridays are usually spent writing, working on a podcast schedule, running to the movies to play catch-up, and of course, co-hosting the We Live Entertainment podcast. However, last Friday was something truly special.
Earlier in the week, I received an invite from A24 to attend a very special happy hour in Hollywood to celebrate the release of Swiss Army Man which opened in limited release last weekend. This special happy hour not only featured a life-size corpse of Manny played by Daniel Radcliffe in the film but also Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, and Paul Dano in person.
Thanks to this awesome event, I got to spend 15 minutes talking with Dano and about 20 minutes talking with Kwan. I recorded the entire conversation on my usual voice recorder but given the outdoor setting and lack of a microphone made the audio rather hard to hear when attempting to revisit that evening. Luckily, I was able to recap some of it and have this unforgettable experience too boot.
I first spoke with Dano along with Jimmy O from Joblo.com and my wife and fellow journalist Ashley Menzel. Dano mentioned that he took on the role of Hank because he doesn’t like typical roles. He pointed out that he gets bored very easily but something about this story and working with the Daniels really spoke to him. Dano mentioned that he doesn’t take roles just to get paid at his age because he’s “too young.” Dano talked about not having kids so “at this point in my life, the roles I chose are always about a personal connection and not about the money.”
When I asked Dano about his experience with Swiss Army Man at Sundance and being part of the audience during that first screening, he had quite a lot to say. “It was tough because I really like film and all the screenings after that were a lot of fun and like I was expecting.” He talked about how he heard so many different expectations of the film like some people thought it was going to be a “drama” but ultimately concluded that people didn’t know what to expect and that the film was “a lot to take in.” Dano loved the surprise of not knowing the reaction of the audience.
Dano talked briefly about the various reactions to the film. He mentioned that he is surprised by how many people are getting the underlying message and are able to talk about the film in greater detail. He also ackwoledged that a lot of people will never look past the farting. He stated, “it’s not just about farting but there rather a certain level of intimacy to the film.” We talked a bit about how emotionally charged this role was and as well as his previous roles including the fact that all three of us agreed that he was overlooked for an Oscar nomination for playing a young Brian Wilson in Love and Mercy.
As being a long time fan of Dano’s work, I couldn’t help but ask him about being in a relationship with Zoe Kazan and whether they work together collaborating on their various roles. Dano mentioned that acting was “very personal” to him and that they don’t really discuss things prior to being part of a project. He went as far to say that him and Kazan don’t even judge each others work until months after its released because as actors; they are both very “vulnerable.”
Dano ended our conversation by bringing it full circle and talking a bit about the day after the Sundance premiere. He mentioned that he was unaware of any negative reaction at the screening. He was seated pretty close to the front so he was unaware of anything negative. In fact, he mentioned that he didn’t even know anything about the negative press prior to publicists reading him reviews and talking to him about walkouts and the mixed reaction to the film.
During the 20 minutes that I spent talking with Kwan, we talked about everything from the Sundance World Premiere to my interpretation of the film. Kwan was an absolute blast to talk with and incredibly genuine. When we discussed the Sundance premiere Kwan mentioned that it was “a unique experience.” and that he was very lucky that A24 didn’t touch the film after purchasing it. It goes without saying that many studios have attempted to edit a film to make it more “appealing” to audiences and just like Kwan, I couldn’t be more thankful that not a single frame was edited.
In terms of the ending, Kwan didn’t want to discuss the ending without hearing my take on it first. I spent about 5 minutes discussing how I felt the film ended before Kwan jumped in to discuss his feelings. “We wanted Manny to be completely open to interpretation by the viewer” stated Kwan. He went into great detail about Manny and Hank’s relationship but give the fact that it goes into spoiler territory, I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone who hasn’t seen the film. If you are interested in how Kwan viewed the ending, feel free to leave a comment below and I will be happy to tell you exactly what Kwan said. This is a very special film so I don’t want to take anything away from anyone who hasn’t seen it prior to reading this.
Kwan and I talked about some of the film’s themes and underlying messages. He told me that the ultimate theme of the film was all “about loving yourself” and “being so scared of something that you can’t look past it.” He pointed out that he finds in interesting that the film is all about “judging something before you can truly understand it” and yet some audience members are doing the same. He ended the part of the conversion by stating that “its the living embodiment of our film.”
I attended the Sundance World Premiere of the film and because I was part of that audience, I had to dig a little deeper into what it was like to take to the stage after the premiere. Speaking from my own experience, I went into the film knowing nothing about it other than the one sentence plot description found online and that Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead were in the film. There was nothing else known at that time which made the premiere so unique. Swiss Army Man quickly became known as the “farting-corpse” film after that screening.
Kwan stated that Sundance “was the origin of all the press” and was like “the mythos of the film.” He discussed the experience as unique and one of a kind. It was something that as a first timer was unlike anything he experienced before and wasn’t quite sure what to really expect. Kwan than stated talking about casting the film and how he wanted to cast people who would be shown as believable outcasts. Kwan wanted to make a movie that “inspires people” and wants movies that are more than what others are defining films as.
We ended our chat on the whole reason why the film was even made in the first place. Scheinert and Kwan wanted to make a film for a long time and were approached by many different studios to make various films that ranged from everything from your standard rom-com to the latest G-I-Joe film. Kwan stated that doing a film like that “didn’t feel right.” He developed the idea of Swiss Army Man as a half joke until one producer called them out and told them to write it. He believes that Hollywood deserves to be “shamed” because they keep “funneling money into the same old thing.”
Needless to say, I completely agree with Kwan’s stance on Hollywood. While I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I do enjoy the occasional big budget sequel here and there; I am all about telling unique and interesting stories. The point alone is one of the main reasons why I have been talking about this film pretty much non-stop since Sundance. Its a film with multiple layers and is memorable because it dares to be different. It isn’t your typical film and as a result is something that stands out from the rest. A lot of filmmakers will say their film is different from others but Swiss Army Man is truly unlike anything I have ever seen before. It gets a ton of bonus points for being creative and deep with its storytelling and for challenging audiences to think outside the box. I think Swiss Army Man is a rare film that requires multiple viewings to be fully appreciated.
Be sure to check the film out for yourself this weekend as expands throughout the USA. Once you see the film, be sure to come back to We Live Entertainment and let us know your thoughts on it. Be sure to check out my spoiler-free review of the film here as well as Ashley’s review here.