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Paul Weitz and Nick Flynn on Being Flynn, Shooting Without Permits, and Robert De Niro’s Dry Humor

Nick Flynn and Paul Weitz. Photo: Patrick McMullan

The movie Being Flynn, out this weekend, is based on Nick Flynn’s 2004 book, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City: A Memoir. Paul Dano plays Flynn in the late eighties, when he reunited with his estranged father (played by Robert De Niro) while working at a homeless shelter. Director Paul Weitz, who previously explored father-son dynamics in About a Boy, went through 30 drafts over the course of seven years to adapt the book for the screen. In turn, Flynn is now turning the experience into another book, The Reenactments. Clearly, these two have a lot to talk about, so Vulture sat them down together to find out how the low-budget, New York–based shoot went, from snagging surprise cameos to stealing shots on the fly.

Nick, Paul Dano says you stalked him. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around, if he’s portraying you?
Flynn: I stalked Paul Dano. [Laughs.] I’d ride my bike to set, usually, because we were shooting in Little Italy most of the time. But if it was further away, or cold out, sometimes I would just walk to Paul’s car. I knew Paul was getting a ride …
: Sometimes I would force Paul to take a car, because it was pouring.
Flynn: So sometimes I would tap on the window of the car, and tell the driver, “I’m the real Nick Flynn.” And I’d just get in the back of the car. And then Paul would get in the back of the car, all tired because it was six in the morning, and I’d be sitting there already — surprise!

Did you steal any shots? You were shooting in some parts of the city without permits.
: I tended not to ask if we had permits to shoot in certain places! [Laughs nervously.] About a month before shooting there was a blizzard, and I knew I needed some shots of De Niro walking around in the snow. We weren’t supposed to be shooting yet, so when I got the weather report, I called De Niro up and I said, “What are you doing tomorrow?” And he said, “Why?” I said, “How do you feel about getting your costume on and jumping in a car and going out in the street?” And he was game for it. It was really like shooting a student film, because we had no permit. It was down in the financial district, because I wanted to do something in rush hour, when people were trying to get to work so they would ignore the camera and go around De Niro.  
Flynn: Sometimes it just seemed like we needed to have De Niro shake the hand of the owner of a place, if it was a little shady. That was enough to get us in.
Weitz: The funny thing is, I’ve known him for a while now, because he was one of the producers of About a Boy, and for the first couple of years I knew him, I could never tell if he was joking or not, because he has such a dry sense of humor. He’s pretty much constantly pulling your leg, but you’d never know, usually, because he brings all the baggage of all the roles you’ve seen him in.

How did the conversation go to get Lili Taylor, Nick’s wife, in the movie?
Weitz: You’d have to be a fool to not want Lili Taylor in your movie, because there’s going to be some part there that she can knock out of the ballpark, and in this case, Nick had the in …
: She couldn’t say no. [Laughs.] She was also one of the last edits I got into the book.
Weitz: Oh, wow.
: Because at the last minute, I met her just as this book was going to press, in 2004. I just sort of inserted her name as a reference, something like, “Tonight, the role of somebody, played by Lili Taylor.” And it’s this little bleep in the book. It goes by in a second.

Did she give you any acting advice for your cameo in the Alcoholics Anonymous scene?
: No one gave me any input! I didn’t even get hair and makeup. Paul just grabbed me and said, “What would you say in this situation? Write a line down.” And I sat in the chair and said it. I couldn’t even watch myself on the screen. I went completely white. I think I passed out.

You don’t want to pass out when you watch the movie of your life! That makes it sound worse than it is.
: No, just when I see myself. But Paul Dano also says he has a hard time looking at himself, as an actor. Not that I’m an actor.

Technically, now you are.
: And the phone hasn’t stopped ringing. [Laughs.]

Now you’re writing a memoir about the whole experience of making the film. Do you get to have your revenge, and turn Paul Weitz into a character and take some dramatic license with him? Are you letting him read it?
: He’s got it.
: I’m working on my notes. [Laughs.] I think part of what allowed me to make the movie in the first place is Nick’s ironic remove from the material of his own life. I did this weird thing with him when we first met — do you remember? — where I asked him, “Can we talk about a character named Nick Flynn?” As opposed to me saying “you” and you saying “I.” Which is a very artificial thing to do …
: Was that at our first meeting?
Weitz: It probably was. Nick was incredibly generous, and probably more generous than I would be in his situation, partly because no matter how much of a travesty I might make of things, he was going to be amused by it, because he casts a jaundiced eye towards life. [Turning to Nick.] Also, it was interesting, you told me when the book came out, you were on the reading circuit with some people who had some extremely successful memoirs, and since then, some of them had been found to have fabricated parts of their lives. And while you had not fabricated things, you would be careful to say, “While these events happened, you’re not getting an unadulterated truth.”
Flynn: Because I had created a character. It’s a kind of cheating, a matter of selection and choosing what fits into that moment of your life, you know? You don’t exist as yourself in a book.

Paul Weitz and Nick Flynn on Being Flynn, Shooting Without Permits, and Robert De Niro’s Dry Humor