After much worry and controversy, Spike Jonze’s film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are was the No. 1 film at the box office over the weekend, extracting an impressive $33 million from miraculously non-terrified moviegoers. Yesterday we spoke to Paul Dano, who voices Wild Thing Alexander, about the voice-acting process and the movie’s success despite its unconventional tone.
Is it more satisfying to take a risk with a project and have it succeed than have similar success with something more conventional?
Yeah, I think so. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of films that you don’t exactly know how they’re going to turn out. Material like that is very inspiring, because it gives you a place to explore and mess around in. There’s certainly a lot of scripts I read and films you see that you know what it is. That has its place, too. I’m not knocking that, but I do generally find it more exciting to be a part of something that you don’t totally know what it is. It’s an exciting feeling but it’s also a nerve-wracking feeling.
This film will most likely mean something different to every person that sees it.
I think the film is highly personal, which is what it should be. I think that’s what the book allowed by not filling in all the gaps and not having the ending tied up in a ribbon, like a lot of children’s things are, so you know exactly what the point was. The book allows you to have a very personal and private experience and the film does, too. That book was not for everybody when it came out, too, and I think that’s great. I think the film is about childhood in a way that not a lot of films are.
Your character, Alexander, obviously craves attention, but he’s also perceptive.
I think he’s the closest to Max in terms of age of the Wild Things. I think Alexander is a little bit of a teenage Wild Thing. Not only does he want attention, but he also has a sarcastic sense of humor and he’s got some attitude. And being the closest in age to Max, I think he and Alexander have a competition between each other. And he is perceptive.
He wasn’t fooled by Max saying he was a king.
Right! But, part of that was jealousy. He didn’t want Max to be the king, either. He probably thought at one point, “Max is the king,” then, “No, he isn’t the king.” I don’t think it was a sure thing. I think part of it was attitude and jealousy, but by the end he could relate to Max because they share some things.
The voice-recording process with all the actors present is considered unconventional, though, you would think more projects would set it up that way.
I think so, too. That was a great way to do it because for the actors it was a real experience. We spent a month and put it in our bodies, not just our voices. What I say affects what you say back to me right now, and what I say back affects what you say. That’s what acting is. The people change the performance. If we were in a booth alone, it would be a different performance, so hopefully, by doing it that way, there’s some kind of added depth to the performances, because there was a real connection made. It’s also a lot of fun. I’m surprised it’s not done more often, as well.
What was the reaction like when the cast finally saw the finished project?
The first thing, for me, was I never saw any of the opening stuff filmed before he sails off. And that stuff was great. I was like, “My God, Max’s home life is set up so well and you get a real sense of him and his family.” Then going to the island, I just thought it was really magical. I like the tangibility of it. They felt more real than if other people had made the film. Spike definitely took the right approach to this movie.