Dan Fogelman on the Catchy Tunes and Life Lessons of ‘Danny Collins’

The ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ scribe dishes on the making of his directorial debut.

Dan Fogelman, director of "Danny Collins," photographed at the Liberty Hotel on March 13. –Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe

Replace a crooning Al Pacino with Neil Diamond and Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre with Fenway Park, and the opening concert scene in Danny Collins would feel eerily like the eighth inning at a Red Sox game.

Nostalgia and familiarity are exactly the moods Dan Fogelman wanted to evoke with “Hey, Baby Doll,’’ the catchy call-and-response song featured in his directorial debut. The infectious tune has fans singing along in their seats, but for Pacino’s Danny Collins—an aging rocker akin to a Diamond or a Rod Stewart—it’s lost its luster.

Fogelman notes that these types of anthems songs are more about “the process and everbody else singing’’ than the performance itself, which is probably why singers like Collins get sick of performing them all the time.


“Neil Diamond is an interesting example because, unlike Al’s character, Neil Diamond, voice-wise, is very much at the top of his game and he clearly loves what he’s doing,’’ Fogelman said. “But sometimes you watch some of the performances of ‘Sweet Caroline’ at Fenway, like the one he did after the Boston Marathon I believe, and it was like, you’re not even hearing him anymore. It’s about the audience, the holding out of the microphone.’’

Al Pacino as Danny Collins in a scene from the film ‘Danny Collins.’ —Henry Diltz/Courtesy Bleecker Street/AP

Tired of doing the same old song and dance, the titular character regrets selling out for fame and fortune in his youth. However, Collins is inspired to get back to his musical roots and reconnect with his estranged son after unexpectedly receiving a letter from John Lennon that was mailed to him decades prior.

The premise is loosely based on the true story of musician Steve Tilston, who actually did get a letter from Lennon years after it was sent to him. Tilston never “sold-out’’ like Collins, but Fogelman felt he needed to alter some the story in order to create a more entertaining narrative.

While the plot revolves around Pacino’s character wishing he got the letter when he was supposed to, Fogelman believes that Collins wouldn’t have benefited from it as much had he received the note when he was still an up-and-coming performer.


“The truth is, if Al’s character had received the letter when he was meant to at 20, it probably wouldn’t have made that much of a difference in his life,’’ Fogelman said. “What’s interesting about the movie is that the letter comes to Danny Collins at a time in his life when he is ready to receive the letter. I don’t know that any of us are ever ready to make paradigm shifts to our existence in our 20s—we’ve barely lived. You have to make the mistakes to then need to correct them.’’

As the creator of the ABC comedy Galavant and the scribe behind Hollywood hits such as Crazy, Stupid, Love and Tangled, Fogelman knows all too well the potential dangers of selling out and getting pidgeon-holed into a certain style or genre.

For the writer-director, it’s all about finding that balance between fame and staying true to his inner, artistic self.

“There’s certain things you’ll always be identified with when you are doing art that merges with commerce, and for Danny, it’s this song,’’ Fogelman said. “It’s not that he hates the song, he hates the type of performer he’s become because it’s not what he set out to do… By the end, you almost get a sense of guy who has an opportunity to maybe find a balance where, yeah, he’ll write stuff but he doesn’t have to hate the stuff that means so much to so many people either and find a middle ground.’’


‘Danny Collins’ opens March 27.

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