The Daniels Couldn't Have Picked A Better Time To Pitch Paul Dano On Swiss Army Man

Before the massive breakthrough success of their second feature film "Everything Everywhere All At Once," it's safe to say that directorial duo the Daniels (a.k.a. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) were considered extremely niche filmmakers. Eight years before they wowed the world with their multiversal dramedy they released their first film "Swiss Army Man" to a far more lukewarm reception. So much so that when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016 it even triggered some walkouts.

In retrospect, "Swiss Army Man" even at its most absurd is far milder than Daniels' second film. Sure, there's a moment when castaway Hank Thompson (Paul Dano) uses Manny's (Daniel Radcliffe) post-mortem erection as a compass and an abundance of farts. But "Everything Everywhere All At Once" also boasts two fight scenes that make spectacular use of both dildos and butt plugs. Which begs the question of whether those same audience members walked out again after seeing Stephanie Hsu's floppy dildo beatdown of two cops. The point is that the Daniels have never compromised on the stories they've wanted to tell, and for their first movie, they managed to enlist like-open-minded actors.

Dano discovered the Daniels via their music videos

It turns out Dano himself was already a growing fan of the Daniels well before he got the call to play Hank. Prior to their feature film debut with "Swiss Army Man," the directors had earned quite the reputation for their music videos, which is exactly what Dano discovered late at night during a fall down a YouTube rabbit hole. "These guys are f***ing brilliant" was the actor's first reaction according to an interview with GQ. His second: "What is this?" It's unclear exactly which music videos Dano watched but honestly his reaction could fit any of the 11 they've done over the years.

But what's interesting is just how much the videos feel like a precursor to both the films they'd eventually go on to make. Take for instance the music video they created for Foster the People's "Houdini," which sees the band's lifeless bodies being mimed by green-screen-covered actors to create the illusion they're performing. Something that's extremely reminiscent of the way Hank uses Manny's limp corpse — not to mention the whole Chad (Harry Shum Jr.) and Raccacoonie (Randy Newman) bit in "Everything Everywhere All At Once."

While the intricately layered and surreal music videos for Manchester Orchestra's "Simple Math" and The Shins' "Simple Song" seemed to signal their ability to juggle incredible tonal shifts and multi-versal storylines. From Tenacious D to DJ Snake and Lil Jon they've created engrossing and bonkers narratives — each of which could probably be their own movie — over the course of just a few minutes. If ever there was a necessary introduction to the Daniels' unique vision it's these videos. Which explains why Dano was ready and willing for whatever oddity the directors wanted to enlist him in when he found out they were sending him a script.

What hooked Dano to Swiss Army Man's weirdness

Dano didn't have to wait long before he'd get his chance to be part of one of the Daniels' bizarre narratives. The actor told GQ only about two days after his music video binge his agent emailed him that the directors had sent over a script. "And I was like, 'No effin' way.' And I opened it, and I read the first two pages, which involved my character riding a corpse-farting jet ski," Dano explained. Luckily, he was prepared enough for the weirdness that he withheld any pre-judgments about the movie.

"I was like, well, this is it. This is exactly, you know, who I am," the actor said. "In almost every script there's a — I don't wanna say a key, but there's like a moment, an image, something where you're like that's my first, you know, hook in with that one." For Dano, that image was emblazoned by the image of his character riding Radcliffe across the waters, "singing at the top of [his] lungs," to music fittingly scored by Manchester Orchestra members Andy Hull and Robert McDowell.

Dano even told Sun Sentinel in 2016 that early on both directors gave him a rather succinct — if not slightly odd — goal for their film. "One of the earliest things I remember the Daniels telling me was 'is it possible to make a film where the first fart makes you laugh and the last fart makes you cry?'" he revealed. "And that felt like an impossible task, but it felt like a worthy thing to aspire to." The only problem was that not everyone would turn out to be as enthusiastic about either the film's premise or its propensity for flatulence.

The controversy of farts

Radcliffe told Entertainment Weekly in 2016 that he was "intrigued" by the walkouts at Sundance, saying those who left clearly missed the point of the film. Which tends to happen when you decide to leave prematurely. "There's some body humor in there but there's nothing that we haven't seen a million times in other movies. That, to me, is not what sets this film apart," the actor said. "What sets this film apart is that it's somehow held together — all that ridiculous body stuff and stupid jokes — are all held together [in] a really beautiful, profound, reflective movie."

Radcliffe also said part of the reason he thinks "Swiss Army Man" received such vehemence was because it was being propped up as an Oscar contender. Which is doubly ironic given that "Everything Everywhere All At Once" is currently being raved about as itself a likely nominee and winner. Dano for his part echoed his co-star's sentiments about the film. "Right now it's the farting corpse movie, but for people who've seen it, I hope it will be more than that," Dano said. "Ultimately there is pretty big heart, dealing with loneliness and melancholy and also joy. I think it is about learning to connect in a world and how hard it is and how isolating that can be."

Like the crowd of people on the beach who watch in disbelief as Manny farts himself over the waves at the end of the film, any audience watching is going to have plenty of confusing grimaces — but there'll also be a few smiles. I've always seen it as a little nod to those who "get it," who know that its absurd toilet humor is far from the point of the movie. And few people understood that better than both Dano and Radcliffe themselves.