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Ruby Sparks - Zoe Kazan interview

Ruby Sparks

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ZOE Kazan, who has previously starred in TV’s Bored To Death and films such as Meek’s Cutoff and It’s Complicated, talks about writing and starring in Ruby Sparks and some of the creative challenges she had to tackle along the way.

She also talks about why she viewed the movie more as an examination of what people do to each other while in love rather than an attempt to address female stereotypes and her love of Greek mythology.

Q. This film film deals so eloquently with those elements of wish fulfilment, fantasy and reality and yet it’s far easier said than done – how did you all manage to walk such a fine line to make us care and yet adhere to the internal logic of the story?
Zoe Kazan: I want to credit Jonathan [Dayton] and Valerie [Faris] for a lot of that. It’s easy for me to conceive of something like that, because for whatever reason, that’s how my brain works. So, I saw the internal logic of it, but when I started to show it to people, a lot of people said: “Well, how do you intend to shoot the fantasy stuff?” And I would think like, ‘mmm, I don’t think they were speaking the same language’. But when I brought the script to them [Jonathan & Valerie] they saw the same movie that I did. In fact, I think they saw a better movie than I did and when we started talking about it, that was one of the most important things that we talked about. How do we keep it real and grounded and let the emotional content of the movie sing by not burdening it with a lot of fantasy elements? I re-wrote the movie for nine months under their care and during that period of time that’s where a lot of the work was in creating that balance.

Q. In writing the film and then directing it, how consciously were you trying to interrogate the stereotypes that tend to reduce women to one-dimensional caricatures in films?
Zoe Kazan: That’s something that happened accidentally, or inadvertently, because we were putting the spotlight on what it means to write a character, to make a creation. To me it had a lot more to do with what we do to each other in love. When we meet someone we tend to automatically put them in a box in terms of the way they look, the way they talk, the way they dress, what they smell like; they make a lot of assumptions and then later a more complicated picture emerges and you have to kind of wrestle with that first image and accept the person for who they are. So, some of those labels that we may put on a character that isn’t fully written we may put on a person, put them in a box that isn’t sufficient for the complexity of a human person.

Q. How much did you experiment with the concept in terms of what he could make her do?
Zoe Kazan: I think, honestly, I didn’t experiment too much, you really listen to what your characters are telling you, and Calvin is not a manipulative person. He’s not a sadist. So, everything he did to change her really came out of his fear that he’s going to lose her. I also wanted to keep her in the realm of how people actually change. Aside from the French, which is sort of a funny touch, all the other ways in which she changes are ways that I can change and not know why. I wanted to keep it in the realms of her being able to justify why she changes, like I just feel funny today, I don’t know why.

Q. How did you pitch this without pigeon-holing it?
Zoe Kazan: I can’t pitch things, I didn’t pitch. I’ve sat in those rooms and I can’t do it. I told Paul the story. But when it comes to ‘oh, it’s Forest Gump meets Les Miserables…’ I can’t do that. I thank you for not thinking it’s just a piece of whimsy. It’s hard to talk about because it is unusual. That was intention. The movies we like are hard to put in one sot and I like that this movie is hard to define. It would be very hard to walk into a studio and say, this is the movie I want to write. I wouldn’t know how to do that. What I did know what to do was to write it to the best of my ability and give it to people who would understand it

Q. Falling in Love is magic. Where did that line come from?
Zoe Kazan: I don’t know. That part of the movie we talked about so much and I have no idea how many drafts there are. I don’t even have that text in my draft that’s on my computer. I think I wrote it via Skype to you guys.

Q. At what point in the process did you realise you’d made an incredible declaration by sending out a public love letter to your other half [Paul Dano]?
Zoe Kazan: Well, I’m still dealing with the ramifications of that [laughs]! I’m glad you read it that way. It was a lot of pressure to put on a relationship actually. We had been together for four years when we made this and it’s a long time to be together, but it’s not a long time in the grand scheme of things. So, I’m just glad we came through it and it made the relationship stronger. It could have done the opposite.

Q. And as a writer, how did you enjoy the collaboration process with your co-directors?
Zoe Kazan: My parents are writers and I was always taught that the word is king and you don’t mess with what’s on the page. And very early in my acting career I felt like I had to get everything word perfect and I couldn’t ask any questions like: ‘can this be changed?’ And recently, since our movie, I’ve totally revamped my feelings about that, because things like that scene, I felt so strongly that what we had originally was going to work, but when we came to perform it – and there were other scenes like that – that even though I wrote them, when we got to them, I was like, this isn’t right at all. So now I’ve become the writer’s worst nightmare. It’s done something strange to my strange.

Q. Could you explain your passion for Greek Mythology?
Zoe Kazan: Yeah, my father is half Greek and they’re atheists so those myths were the first religion that I got. So, they were primal rather than something learned. The Myth of Pygmalion and Galatea were something that I thought of spontaneously. I saw a Mannequin in a dumpster and it scared me; I thought it was a dead body and I thought of Pygmalion and the idea of the sculptor in his studio who turns his head and thinks he sees the sculpture moving. So, I thought, what would I do with that if I was going to write something?

Q. Can you give us more details on the Dumpster incident?
Zoe Kazan: It was in the summer of 2009. There was a pile of trash by a tree in our neighbourhood and I was walking home from work and my mind is so dark I thought someone had killed a person and dumped them in the trash. And then I woke up in morning and started writing.

Q. An actor will often search for something challenging, what was your goal in writing this for yourself?
Zoe Kazan: I tried to put it out of my head. I know it’s rare to get a good part, but I think its even rarer to have a really good idea. I had had other ideas for movies and started writing them and thought, oh, there’s no movie there. But with this it just kept filling me up. It kept exciting me and exciting my imagination, so I didn’t want to burden that with thinking about what do I want to play, how do I want to seem. It can be very easy to lose the thread of what you want to write. It wasn’t until two weeks before shooting that I was thinking, how am I going to start playing this? Then I was just really nervous because they had taken a big chance on me and I felt like I was going to let them down and also I’d never played on my own work before and I thought what if it won’t even come out of my mouth. I’d whisper it to myself at night out of fear and terror.

Q. Is the terror of writer’s block something you’ve ever experienced?
Zoe Kazan: No, a big part of Calvin’s problem is that he feels the burden of expectation on him. I don’t really feel like writing is my real job, so I don’t feel that same kind of burden. And also, I have something else that takes up most of my time. Acting and also being Paul’s girlfriend. So, I only get to write when I really make time for it and I only make time for it when I’m inspired, so it may be that I’m experiencing huge bouts of writer’s block but I’m not at my computer.

Q. Can you tell us about future writing projects?
Zoe Kazan: There are, but this has been a funny year for me. In the past I’ve found it very easy to juggle acting and my writing and find time for both. I was in a play when I was writing it and I was in a play when I was rewriting it, but this year I’ve been doing a lot of film work and I just can’t do both. So I’m hoping that when the movie wraps, I can get back to my computer.

Read our review of Ruby Sparks

Read our interview with Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris