It isn’t easy to find somebody who can truly understand you. Everyone needs that one person with the ability to dispense appropriate advice, someone to spill secrets to, or perhaps, just someone to make you soup. So what happens when that individual is nowhere to be found and you’re desperate for comfort? In Richard Dunn’s (Jeff Daniels) case, you create an imaginary friend and, in Paper Man, that pretend pal is Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds).
How excellent is Captain Excellent? Excellent enough to make Daniel wish that if he had a make-believe buddy, he’d be just like him. “I wish he could be and look like Ryan Reynolds. That would be nice,” Daniels told ComingSoon.net. But there’s much more to Captain Excellent than his bold blond hair and colorful costume. Richard relies on the Captain for support, maybe even more so than on his wife Claire (Lisa Kudrow).
In an attempt to overcome a bad case of writer’s block, Claire drives Richard to a quaint location in Montauk. She spends the weekends with him, but come Monday, must return to her surgical duties at New York’s Presbyterian Hospital, leaving Richard alone with his typewriter, Captain Excellent and a Heath Hen, none of which makes much sense. Richard timidly rejects his wife’s laptop offering, an older man with an imaginary friend is simply taboo and, what’s up with the Heath Hen?
The American Heath Hen is the core of Richard’s second book and, at first, Daniels wasn’t quite sure why the animal was given so much attention. “I asked [writer/directors] Kieran [Mulroney] and Michele [Mulroney], ‘Why the Heath Hen?’ ‘We don’t know, we just liked the name.’” The inclusion of the bird is partially instinctive, but Daniels pointed out truly a significant similarity, “that it was about to be extinct and the last one died at Montauk.” He continued, “Which is what Richard thinks he’s doing, he’s dying, he’s stuck, he’s never going to do anything else for the rest of his life, just like the Heath Hen he is over, he is finished.”
Writers aren’t the only professionals who feel finished upon hitting a wall of creativity. Both Daniels and his co-star, Emma Stone, know about detaching from their craft. Stone recalled, “Actually after this last movie I did, last summer I did three in a row and I’d never experienced doing three in a row, which how lucky am I? I got to do three in a row!” She continued, “But there comes an exhaustion after that that I was dead and I didn’t know if I was going to snap back. And then I came back, thank god, but if there’s ever a day when I’m dead and it’s over because you have to be pulling so much constantly as an actress. Emotions have to be free-flowing and if that stops, I’m not going to push it.”
Perhaps Stone and anyone else struggling to be artistic can benefit from Daniels’ advice. “In my theater company in Michigan, Purple Rose, we call it Fire the Judge and don’t judge yourself, especially early on in a rehearsal for an actor. Make mistakes. That’s what rehearsal is about. If you’re writing something or you’re crafting something or whatever it is you’re doing, make big mistakes early.” In addition to acting, Daniels enjoys writing plays and music as well. When working in those mediums, he keeps this in mind, “You write without even knowing what you’re writing sometimes and then you can rewrite that. You can’t rewrite nothing, but you can rewrite, even if it’s garbage, you can rewrite 98% of it and then you’re off and running.”