The duo hits the streets of New York City in the new film Daddio, a one-location drama that tracks a single conversation during a cab ride from JFK to midtown Manhattan. Aside from a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment with an airport taxi attendant and a tiny, dialogue-free turn from a little girl in another car, Penn and Johnson are the only faces you'll see for the entirety of the movie. Daddio marks the feature directorial debut of playwright Christy Hall, who originally wrote the project as a stage play.
Jessica Kourkounis Dakota Johnson in 'Daddio'
The film revolves around an intimate, intense conversation between two strangers, who discuss everything from romance to computer science and childhood trauma on the long journey home. Their connection may sound unusual, but Hall asserts that it's a fairly common experience in a place like New York because of the city's anonymity: "It's easier, I think, to bare your soul to someone like a cabbie, because you know you're never going to see them again," she tells EW.
Hall says Johnson (who also produced alongside her producing partner Ro Donnelly) elevated her material far beyond her expectations. "[Johnson] brings a remarkable complexity to her character, skillfully excavating profound depths in ways that took this role to places well beyond what I had imagined," Hall explains. "From start to finish, you truly cannot divert your gaze. She embodies a character who is confident yet vulnerable. She seamlessly balances between being sexy and foul-mouthed while still maintaining an innocent softness. She also has this cheeky curiosity, a playful grace that permits this conversation to unfold, because her character isn't afraid of the colorful personalities that roam the city of New York."
Jessica Kourkounis Sean Penn in 'Daddio'
Hall wrote the cabbie character with an abundance of internal paradoxes, so it wasn't difficult for her to realize that Penn's consistent on-screen complexity made him a perfect fit for the role. "His immeasurable talent affords him the unique ability to ride that razor's edge that we all have within us, that thin dividing line between our greatest angels and our darkest demons," Hall says. "Our cabbie needed to be both deeply charming and wildly offensive. He is vastly intelligent and shockingly base, highly evolved and stuck in his own era, has a hardened exterior and also a tender heart. I don't know anyone else in the world who could so effortlessly allow all these truths to co-exist within one unforgettable character."
The movie's theatrical origins and emphasis on dynamic performances meant that the filmmaking process wasn't too far from Hall's stage roots. That doesn't mean the film was without its technical challenges, though. The cast and crew only had 16 days to shoot, which meant they had to bring their A-game to every single take. "It was beyond challenging for all of us," Hall says. "But together, we made it."
Jessica Kourkounis Director of photography Phedon Papamichael and writer/director Christy Hall on the set of 'Daddio'
Finding a cost-effective way to capture a car ride in the busiest city in the country proved to be immensely difficult, so the filmmakers opted to primarily shoot on a soundstage with immersive LED screens that displayed the taxi's urban surroundings. And Hall took inspiration from other one-location dramas, including Rear Window, 12 Angry Men, and Locke.
Jessica Kourkounis Sean Penn and Dakota Johnson in 'Daddio'
The ultimate inspiration, though, was New York City itself, which Hall has called home for over a decade. "[It's] the place I found myself, time and time again, caught up in the most life-changing conversations with complete strangers — sitting at a bar, riding the train, and yes, hailing a yellow taxi cab," Hall says. "Our characters aren't based on anyone in particular or any specific incident, but they do represent this quintessential New York experience of having the audacity — or pleasure — to just talk to someone, to open up, to be real for a moment. To allow those cosmic confessionals to reveal themselves right when you need them the most."
Daddio will have its international premiere next month at the Toronto International Film Festival.
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