Nick Flynn is working at a homeless shelter on a brutal winter's night when he has the surprise visit of a lifetime . . . his father has arrived looking for a warm bed.
A con man long absent from his son's life, the elder Flynn seizes the opportunity to establish a relationship. Nick, then in his 20s and still reeling from the sudden suicide of his mother, struggles with the notion of reconnecting with a man he hasn't seen for 18 years.
In the early 2000s, Nick Flynn wrote about the chance encounter in the gritty award-winning memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, which recently has been adapted for the big screen as Being Flynn. Robert De Niro and Paul Dano play the roles of father and son, with Julianne Moore as the writer's mother. The movie opens today in Houston and across the nationa.
Flynn, who now teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Houston, joined a packed crowd for a sneak preview of the film at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston last week — part of a national promotional tour aimed at raising awareness for a variety of local homeless outreach programs.
"I just don't anyone who's had Robert De Niro play their father," author Nick Flynn said. "OK, I take that back. I guess there's [This Boys' Life author] Tobias Wolff, but I don't know him."
The next day, CultureMap spoke with the author about the strange experience of having oneself played by a professional actor.
"You know, I always had a point of reference when I was writing Another Bullshit Night in Suck City," he said. "I've a lot of people whose parents struggled in various ways, people who'd seriously lost their direction at some point in their lives."
"But for the experience of making the film? I just don't anyone who's had Robert De Niro play their father . . . OK, I take that back. I guess there's [This Boys' Life author] Tobias Wolff, but I don't know him."
Fortunately for Flynn, he's married to actress Lili Taylor (Six Feet Under, I Shot Andy Warhol), who also stars in the film.
"I suppose I knew a little about the acting process when we started, but I still had to ask Lili things like 'What do I do? What does an actor want to know?' After all, they must need something from you, right?"
He laughed, saying his wife gave him explicit instructions not to coach the actors. "Apparently, a huge mistake to suggest how someone should read a line. They will kill you if you do that, just absolutely crush you."
Luckily, Flynn said, his life was in the hands of Paul Dano — a young actor talented enough to keep up with Daniel Day-Lewis as the ambitious boy-preacher in 2007's There Will Be Blood.
"I've hung out with Paul quite a bit, actually. Turns out he only lives two blocks from me in Brooklyn, so we'd spend time walking around the neighborhood and talking. Somehow he synthesized things along the way, but it wasn't like I'd glance over and find him staring at me oddly or anything."
"At one point, though, he did sent me a list of questions about tattoos and scars, or if I'd worn a chain wallet or rings at the time," said Flynn. "Honestly, I'm not sure what the answers would've meant to him, but it was interesting. I guess he needed something ephemeral."