Paul Dano Only Had Four Days To Prepare For There Will Be Blood

In "There Will Be Blood," Paul Dano plays the dual role of Eli and Paul Sunday, twin brothers, the latter of whom only appears in a single scene. The larger role is Eli, the weaselly church leader, but Dano was not writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson's first choice to play the part. Anderson had already cast a different actor, Kel O'Neill, as Eli, and in fact, they were already halfway through the 60-day shoot, according to The New York Times Magazine, when Anderson decided that it wasn't working and that he needed to recast the role.

In came Dano, whose role suddenly increased from one scene to the second most important character in the movie after Daniel Plainview, the oil prospector played by Daniel Day-Lewis in an Oscar-winning performance. Scuttling O'Neill's scenes as Eli meant they would need to go back and reshoot three weeks' worth of material, with Dano taking over as the antagonist opposite Day-Lewis, a notorious method actor known for staying in character on the set at all times.

Day-Lewis had already won one Oscar and been nominated for two others prior to "There Will Be Blood," and his reputation preceded him. It might have been daunting for any actor to face off with him, but for Dano, it stood to be doubly so since he only had a few days to prepare. Years later, Dano spoke to Indiewire and recounted his experience of coming on board late as Eli in "There Will Be Blood," saying:

"On 'There Will Be Blood' I was cast at the last minute. I had 3 1/2 to 4 days to get ready for the first day. I just went for it, threw myself in there and gave it everything I had. That was just guts and instinct, not a lot of preparation. I was in good hands with Paul and Daniel, I felt I had to cut loose and go for it."

Why Kel O'Neill left in the first place

O'Neill also spoke out around the time that "There Will Be Blood" was celebrating its 10th anniversary, refuting old rumors that he left the film because he was intimidated by Day-Lewis and his method approach. In an interview with Vulture (via Indiewire), O'Neill explained that the role of Eli entailed showing up on the film's set in Texas two weeks before production commenced to acclimate to the remote, early-1900s setting. He and Anderson never seemed to get off on the right foot and the actor just chalked it up to a lack of chemistry, saying:

"Filmmaking is so alchemical that sometimes certain factors don't add up. Some directors I've worked with just had a way of making me feel comfortable. For some reason, even though every other actor I know had a relationship with Paul that was super positive and where they did their best work, that just didn't happen with me."

Ultimately, Dano made the role his own, and while he and Day-Lewis weren't necessarily evenly matched in terms of sheer heavyweight acting, he created a character who would serve as the perfect foil for Daniel Plainview. Eli helps illuminate aspects of Daniel like his guilt over sending his adoptive son, H.W. (Dillon Freasier), away on a train to a school for the deaf after a gas blowout robs him of his hearing.

Dano has since gone on to distinguish himself with other roles such as the Riddler in "The Batman," and "There Will Be Blood" was the film that put him on the map. It remains a modern masterpiece and his performance as Eli remains an essential element of it. Knowing that it was done on the fly opposite Day-Lewis, one of the greatest actors of his generation, can only increase the viewer's appreciation for what an enormous challenge Dano took on and how well and truly he succeeded.