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Ruby Sparks - Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris interview

Ruby Sparks

Interview by Rob Carnevale

HUSBAND-and-wife filmmaking team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris talk about making their long-awaited comeback to cinema with Ruby Sparks after the success of Little Miss Sunshine.

They also talk about some of the challenges involved, such as marketing the film, and the pleasure of working with the film’s writer and star Zoe Kazan.

Q. It must be a big positive to be a married couple and working together on a movie like this. What are the plus points?
Jonathan Dayton: I was very glad to have a partner on this movie in particular, because it explores a lot of gender politics. It was such a luxury not to have to try and represent the opposite sex because I had collaborators [Valerie and Zoe Kazan] on either side of me.

Valerie Faris: We’ve worked together our entire careers; I guess we’re the kinds of people who like to mix our work and our personal lives and it works for us. I think it keeps us closer. It’s not for everyone.

Q. Falling in Love is magic. Where did that line come from?
Valerie Faris: I actually remember we [Zoe and I] were having a long conversation; Jonathan and I had a long conversation about what that speech needed to be and needed to say and then I realised there was this long silence on the end of the line and she said, I think I have it and then you wrote it. I don’t know if you were listening to us.

Q. As the film progresses and the process of creation moves on to manipulation, you get the sense it’s moving to an emotional car crash, and when it comes, the madness at the end is really unsettling, I wonder how you decided upon how dark you wanted to go with it?
Valerie Faris: I think even in what we shot, we made the decision not to go as dark as it could have gone and we probably did more work on that than we did on any other scene. But it felt like it reached the emotional place we felt it needed to go to. It was hard to write, it was harder to rehearse it. And so it really came together on the shoot day and once we’d seen the whole film, it felt like it really reached the right place that matched the tone of the whole film.

Jonathan Dayton: It was something we were very excited about taking on. The very first week we got the script, Val and I acted it out on our own to understand the feelings that we were going to be asking of the actors. It was a scene that was continuing to evolve, especially in the editing where you could really control the smallest elements and the music and all those things were critical in finding the right balance. And it’s tricky, because it’s a place where people don’t necessarily expect it to go, but we felt it had to go there.

Q. How did you go about casting Steve Coogan?
Valerie Faris: He loved the script. We sent it to him and he loved it and completely understood the character and we’re such big fans of his work that we thought it was a done deal. And then as his schedule started getting really full – it was only three days in the states – he’d have to fly between other things he was doing, so he actually turned us down. And we were so devastated… we couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. So, we sent him this pleading email and he said it worked, we had flattered him into submission. So, he came in for three days. He was just the perfect fit for that.

Q. The film tackles the burden of expectation felt by the lead character following his early writing success. Could you relate to that sense of burden after Little Miss Sunshine became such a big hit? What was that period like for you both?
Valerie Faris: Yes, we could relate to that. Or at least, we thought it was funny that there was this coincidence that he’s facing the same thing. But I think for us, every time you go to do a project you feel that responsibility and that fear that you know this could be the end of your career so I don’t really think that it created any additional pressure. If anything, it was nice to have that experience behind us in many ways. I don’t think we really related to it quite as Calvin other than just our normal fears and wanting it to be as good as it can be. You don’t want to let the writer down, you don’t want to let your actor’s down. I think I feel more responsibility to that than I do to following up a successful movie.

Q. And Jonathan?
Jonathan Dayton: We worked on movies continuously after Little Miss Sunshine. I think for us, that was such a profound experience we wanted to protect the filmmaking process, so as we worked on various films, it was clear they weren’t ready to be shot, even though people said, let’s go make them. We had to really protect ourselves and say no it’s not ready. This was the first film where we felt all the elements were there and we thought, we know what this is and we can make this film now. You all see films all the time and go what were they thinking? Didn’t someone recognise the problems inherent in it? And I can tell you, you do see them and for various reasons films have to go into production. But we were lucky enough to say no until things were right.

Q. Is that a polite way to say you were being offered some big budget nonsense hoping you could work your magic on it?
Valerie Faris: Something like that [laughs]. I think there’s a lot of that kind of magical thinking.

Q. How difficult was this to pitch given that it doesn’t conform to any easy genre?
Jonathan Dayton: I appreciate the issue being raised and it is a very genre-bending story and we live in a world where people’s exposure to it is a two minute trailer or a 30-second spot, and it’s frustrating so it’s hard to communicate what the movie is in that space. So, no pressure but we rely on all of you to communicate the complexity of the story and help us find our audience. It’s not a film for everyone, but for some people it could be a meaningful experience.

Read our interview with Zoe Kazan