He was getting over a cold and had a four-month-old at home — he and Ms. Kazan, with whom he co-wrote “Wildlife,” welcomed Alma in August. But he was warm and genial, brightening as he began to report on his fledgling days of fatherhood.
“I didn’t think I would like it so much; I mean, I thought I would like it, but it’s really quite astonishing,” he said. In a crisp, black-and-blue flannel, a nest of light-brown hair and olive librarian glasses he could have passed as an adjunct at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. “There’s just a sort of … I don’t know, a hope or something. Seeing something so innocent and pure and unsullied by the world.”
Mr. Dano, who has self-diagnosed “dorky impulses” and relishes researching a role, spent that last movie-less year, in 2003, as a New School freshman studying English and Russian literature. To portray the Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson in 2015’s “Love & Mercy” he learned to play piano. But now he’s found the ultimate research project.
“There’s something about being there for the first moments, the fragility, which really begins at conception,” he continued. “And the heart has this chemical reaction on the first breath — the chambers change, because you’ve switched from breathing amniotic fluid to oxygen. And then that breath just keeps going, and going, and it doesn’t stop until we … It’s just mind-blowing stuff.”
He was born in Manhattan to a father who was a financial adviser and a mother who raised him and his younger sister (a half brother is 16 years older). Mr. Dano was acting in school plays and community theater as far back as he can remember, “a summer activity that ended up gathering steam,” and by the time he was 12 he was performing on Broadway, with George C. Scott, in the 1996 production of “Inherit the Wind.”
At 16, he starred in his first feature film (and won an Independent Spirit Award) as a reckless, libidinous teenager coping with his mother’s death in the Long Island-based indie “L.I.E.”
Mr. Dano’s family wasn’t especially arts-oriented. (“They don’t even like good music,” he confessed). But his parents did everything they could to support his dream. With Alma, whose primary talents to date include smiling and using her hands, he can pay it forward.