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Paul Dano had to perform for Brian Wilson before singing in Love & Mercy

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Francois Duhamel

Actor Paul Dano says he was “probably 51 percent excited and 49 percent scared” at the idea of playing the young Brian Wilson in director Bill Pohlad’s film, Love & Mercy (now available on digital HD, Blu-ray and DVD). Those figures might well have been flipped had Dano known he would effectively need to audition for Wilson before being allowed to perform the legendary Beach Boys songwriter’s tunes in the movie.

“I sing a bunch in the film,” says Dano, whose previous acting credits include There Will Be Blood and 12 Years a Slave. “There’s a couple of scenes where I’m alone at the piano, I’m playing and singing, and we just did that live on set, and that’s what they used. Then, in the studio, it often starts with me singing and then, as the song builds, we transition into the [Beach Boys’ version of the] finished song. I was cast in the part before they heard me sing — and I didn’t play the piano. But Bill, our director, trusted that I could sing, because I said I could.

“But there did come a time in the process when Brian’s piano player, a lovely guy named Darian (Sahanaja), came out to New York to kind of see where I was at,” Dano continues. “At that point, I’d already been working on my singing quite a bit and he was going to help me learn to play the piano as well. When he got there we started working and he said, ‘Okay, I’m going to record something and send it to Brian.’ I was like, ‘Whoah! That’s something I should have known about.’ I was so scared. So, I think just on an iPhone we recorded something and we sent it to Brian. Then, later, Brian and Melinda (Wilson’s wife) called together and they were really excited. And once that happened, I actually felt like, ‘Okay, now I can run with this, I can go do my work’. Because if they thought I sounded okay singing these — you know, they’re not easy songs, Brian’s range is just enormous — so if they were excited by that, it felt like it gave me permission to do my thing.”

You can see the trailer for Love & Mercy — which costars John Cusack as an older version of Wilson and Elizabeth Banks as Melinda — below.

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