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Paul Dano as Pierre: ‘War and Peace’ Character of the Day

One of the next arrivals was a stout,heavily built young man with close-cropped hair, spectacles,the light-colored breeches fashionable 
at that time, a very high ruffle, 
and a brown dress coat. 
This stout young man was an illegitimate son of Count Bezhkhove, a well-known grandee 
of Catherine’s time who now lay dying in Moscow.” 
                                                           page 14, War and Peace

That physical description of Pierre, in stark contrast to the longer, leaner image I hold in my head of Paul Dano initially threw me off. While I’m trying to divorce the actors from my mind as I read War and Peace, it’s not easy. And while Lily James fits the part of the impassioned Natasha—except for her hair and eye color—and James Norton is the handsome brooding prince, Paul Dano doesn’t encompass the kind of big, socially clumsy, bear of a man Pierre represents to my way of thinking. Although it’s clear from the BBC image, Dano gained weight and softened up for the role, beginning to look as I imagine Pierre. 

According to the Guardian, the physical aspect is one of the ways of approaching a role that Dano most relishes. 

“It’s always a super-fun part. The question is: where is the energy in this person? Some characters lead from their chest or their head more, or their dick more, or whatever. It might not be something huge and noticeable.”

Dano, who read the classic novel prior to accepting the part, knows Pierre is “meant to be a bigger person than I am.” Smartly, the actor ‘thought long about what type of gaucheness he was trying to embody. 

“I’m more the kind of person who thinks about the room I’m walking into before I do,” he says. “I think [Pierre] walks into the room and realises he’s there, which is kind of awkward at a high society party. He’s not innocent or childlike, but he’s less calculating than the people around him. That openness is what makes him different. It’s a beautiful quality.” 

That openness is what frightens Anna Pavlovna (Gillian Anderson) about him! Who knows what impolitically correct thing he may say next?

Anna Pavlovna greeted him with the nod she accorded to the lowest hierarchy in her drawing room. But in spite of this lowest-grade greeting, a look of anxiety and fear, as at the sight of something too large and unsuited to the place, came over her face when she saw Pierre enter. Though he was certainly rather bigger than the other men in the room, her anxiety could only have been reference to the clever though shy, but observant and natural, expression which distinguished him from everyone else in that drawing room.
page 14, War and Peace 

For more on the enigmatic Paul Dano, check out The Guardian’s full article.