Paul Dano on his 'Spaceman' role voicing an ancient alien spider (exclusive)

a large hair spider clings to an interior wall of a dingy-looking spacecraft
An alien spider named Hanuš, voiced by Paul Dano in Netflix's sci-fi film 'Spaceman.' (Image credit: Netflix)

Actor Paul Dano is a provocative actor whose skills seem boundless after bearing witness to his memorable performances in films like "Little Miss Sunshine," "There Will Be Blood," "Okja," "The Fabelmans," and his chilling rendition of The Riddler in director Matt Reeves' "The Batman."  

In addition to his work in front of the camera, Dano also directed the 2018 drama, "Wildlife," from a screenplay written with his wife, Zoe Kazan, and even plunged into the comic book arena to pen a grim origin story, "The Riddler: Year One," with artist Stevan Subich for DC's Black Label imprint.

Known for delivering a searing originality and intensity to all of his characters, nothing could prepare Dano for providing the soothing, slightly-creepy, therapeutic voice of a timeless alien spider named Hanuš in director Johan Renck's new sci-fi fairy tale starring Adam Sandler, "Spaceman." 

This multi-eyed telepathic entity appears as a scary stowaway aboard Czech cosmonaut Jakub Procházka's (Sandler) spaceship to offer sage advice to the lovelorn star voyager whose wife back home is leaning towards a divorce. Dano accepted the intriguing opportunity with his usual gusto and exemplary professionalism, resulting in a mesmerizing odyssey forming a very strange interspecies fellowship.

"The longline alone, before I even read the script, was basically Adam Sandler alone on a spaceship talking to a giant spider, sounded like something fun that I'd want to watch," Dano tells "Adam's comedy albums from '96 and '97 were super formative for me and my friends. I still hear those lines from those in my head. He was huge in those early movies like "Billy Madison" and "Happy Gilmore" so he has a place in my heart forever for making me laugh.

"And he's a big basketball fan and a New York Knicks fans as am I. I really love him."

Paul Dano attends the "Spaceman" photocall during the 74th Berlinale International Film Festival Berlin at Grand Hyatt Hotel on Feb. 21, 2024 in Berlin, Germany.  (Image credit: Dominique Charriau/WireImage/Getty Images)

Dano was lured into the project in his interpretation of Hanuš as a sort of spirit guide hurtling towards what seems like a noble death or heavenly rebirth.

"There was something about being the voice on Jakub's shoulder that seemed moving and I loved the idea of him and I in space with a jar of Nutella. I love space and science fiction and it's something I really enjoy watching on a big screen. 

"Worldbuilding for artists is really a fun thing too. I think 'Spaceman' is speaking about a very common science fiction metaphor, which is how can we try to understand this other thing when we don’t understand ourselves. It's what Stanislaw Lem was writing about in 'Solaris,' which is one of my favorite books."

Adept at conveying character through movement is one of Dano's many strengths and giving his vocal role those elements for a cosmic spider presented challenges. 

Hanuš the alien spider (Dano) suprises Czech cosmonaut Jakub Procházka (Sandler) aboard his spaceship. (Image credit: Netflix)

"I definitely did try, in the privacy of my own home, what it was like to do the work crouched or on all fours, or various positions like a spider and didn't find that to be the key," he explains. "As an actor you dig around and hopefully something hits. So you research about spiders and the symbolism, but for this it was more about age and wisdom because Hanuš has traveled for thousands of years throughout galaxies and throughout time. The key was in the history of the character. And there's a lot of freedom being in a dark vocal booth alone. It's much different than being on stage or being in front of a camera with a crew.  

"There was something very intimate about working with a microphone, especially because the spider has some sort of telepathy and can ride Jakub's memories and thoughts. There's a whisper there. Something deeply intimate." 

The team of production designers who conceived the final look of Hanuš was extremely collaborative and that aided Dano in becoming more familiar with the creature's overall backstory and emotions.

"When I met with them, the amount of questions they had for me about what I thought about the character and the script, and the amount of thoughts they had, was so impressive. They were just doing what I do, which is trying to fill out as much to do with the emotional, psychological, philosophical, thematic components that somehow goes into the work."

Hanuš aboard a spaceship. (Image credit: Netflix)

Director Johan Renck had a crystalline vision of what he wanted for this cerebral adaptation of Jaroslav Kalfař’s novel, "Spaceman of Bohemia," and Dano was only too happy to try and accommodate his wishes.

"Johan was great and Adam and Carey would say the same thing," he recalls. "We all really loved him. He's also a bit of a trip in a good way. The first time I met him he had some giant fur jacket on and he had a life as a '90s pop star previously. He was very clear about not having any interest in being reverential to previous great science fiction works. He felt really connected to the piece thematically and Adam did too. We all felt he was a real collaborator. We were in it together and always discovering what the movie is, because it’s kind of its own thing.

"I haven't done much voice work so there was something fun and free about just being in the dark and speaking. Getting to work with Adam was really meaningful to me. I never know what's next and I'm just hoping to learn and be surprised by something and continue to do what I do."

"Spaceman" is now streaming on Netflix.

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Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.