Zoe Kazan is one of the actresses to watch out for this year after she starred in and penned the script for Ruby Sparks at the end of 2012.
She chats about the film, writing the script and her career so far.
- You wrote the screenplay for Ruby Sparks yourself. What was the inspiration?
I had been thinking about the Pygmalion myth - the Greek myth about the sculptor whose statue comes to life - and was wondering what I might write on that theme because it felt like a lot of male writers had explored it already but fewer female writers.
I think it’s very different from a woman’s perspective, so I’d been thinking about that and woke up one morning with the idea for Ruby Sparks in my head.
- Is there anything of you in the lead character?
There’s a lot of me throughout it. As they say, you’re in every character. With Ruby I wish I was more like her actually. She’s not very neurotic. She’s OK with herself.
She’s not that ambitious and she really wants to enjoy life. I’m much more introspective in a way that probably makes me less happy than she is.
- Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I haven’t and I just know I’m going to get crucified with the worst writer’s block ever after saying that. But maybe it’s because I’m in an unusual position because I don’t often have time to write. It’s like anyone with a day job and my day job is acting.
You have to grab the time by the balls when you have it and because I never really get time to write when I do I’ve stored up quite a lot of ideas. Sometimes what I write isn’t very good but I always feel like I have something to say.
- How was it seeing your vision realized on screen?
Wonderful. It’s the film I hoped it would be and so much more. When you first start imagining something it’s just your own imagination at work and the wonderful thing about film is that it’s this incredibly collaborative medium.
Your words as a writer have inspired everyone else’s imaginations and you get different people’s perspectives - the cinematographer, the production designer, the costume designer.
It’s fun to see how people run with your original idea and what it inspires in them. It’s a very special feeling.
- Did you insist you have the lead role when selling the script?
Well, it wasn’t always going to be me. When I first started writing it I wasn’t thinking about anyone playing Ruby, I was just taken with the characters and the idea. Then I showed Paul [Dano] some pages and he asked me if I was writing it for the two of us.
I’d never written for myself before and I don’t think I will again for a while, but there was something very special about this and us playing these parts. It felt like I had to protect that so when we went out to producers with the screenplay it was with us attached to it.
- You and Paul are partners in real life. Did you have any reservations about working together?
Maybe I should have because a lot of other people had reservations for us. It was a real challenge and it was a real stress on the relationship but it seemed worth the risk.
- Do you have a dog?
I would if I could, but it’s difficult when work takes you away from home.
- Your grandfather was legendary filmmaker Elia Kazan. What are your memories of him?
When someone has a lot of power like that they can’t help but carry it with them so even though there wasn’t a lot of talk about his professional life in our family from an early age I could sense he was a powerful person.
You’d see the way people reacted to him. It’s like any patriarch in a family. You look at them and go ‘What you say goes’. But he had retired by the time I was born so there wasn’t a whole lot of the Hollywood stuff going on.
- Does having a famous surname feel a bit daunting and did you ever consider changing your name?
I did think about changing it for a little bit at the beginning but then I thought that would draw more attention to it and make people think I was ashamed of my family, and of course I’m not. It just seemed like more trouble than it was worth.
- Your parents are both screenwriters. What’s the best piece of advice they’ve given you?
Inadvertently probably they did give me advice just from the way they talked about movies, let us read their screenplays and talked to us about dramatic structure.
It’s something they are interested in so it was available to be talked about in the house, but directly I’ve tried to avoid too much input from them just because it’s very important to me to have my own world.
- Did you always know you wanted to write as well as act?
Writing was something I liked doing as a child but it wasn’t something I seriously considered doing as a job. As a young teenager I took an acting class and thought ‘That’s it’. For the next ten years or so I was very single-minded.
I wanted to be an actor. I took classes, read books and read plays. I was like a little maniac for acting and then when I was in university I took some writing classes. I really enjoyed them but I wasn’t considering doing it professionally.
When I first started working as an actor I’d get a job every six months or something, then for the rest of the year I’d be auditioning a lot and that would be my only creative outlet. It was kind of driving me mad because I’d been raised to think of myself as working for myself, you know?
When you’re auditioning you’re beholden to other people - their opinions of you, did they like you? It was making me crazy so I started writing again to dispel that feeling and to give myself something to do that was mine. Now it’s such a big part of my life.
- Do you feel like you’re the mistress of your own destiny?
The acting profession is such a terrible one and you have a lack of control. When I was young I’d read an interview where someone said that and I’d think ‘Shut up, it’s not that hard’. And it isn’t that hard when you think about, like, coalminers or something. But it is hard psychologically.
You spend a lot of time wanting other people to like you and caring what other people think, yet you’re not supposed to care because there’s so much rejection and you have to have such a thick skin.
You’re also supposed to be incredibly emotional, vulnerable and available so it’s this weird thing where you’re always turning your emotions on and off, exposing yourself and making yourself vulnerable and yet still retaining a distance between you and other people’s perceptions. You’re asking ‘Give me a job’ all the time.
With writing you can do it on your own time. Anyone with access to a pen and paper or a computer can write, but you have to ask for permission to act. You’re waiting for someone to give you a job.
I think it drives people crazy and that’s why you see them getting plastic surgery and Botox or working out all the time. It’s a way of having control over something. For me it’s writing that saves me from going crazy.
- I guess some people might wonder why you’d be in the acting profession if it’s so tough...
But if you love it then it’s worth it. The spectre of hating acting is present for a lot of actors and there’s a feeling that it might not be worth it at a certain point.
That’s why I write; I want to give myself an option to stop if I ever feel like it’s too painful. A lot of actors talk about quitting but I don’t feel that way - I feel very happy with what I do but it does mean you have to walk this weird tightrope all the time.
- Were any other films an influence on Ruby Sparks?
I love Annie Hall so I looked to that film, not for literal inspiration but for artistic inspiration. Also that film is about a man looking at a woman and it was an inspiration for me in terms of Calvin looking at Ruby, the way Woody Allen looks at Diane Keaton in that movie as an examination of her character.
I thought about Calvin writing Ruby as being akin to that. There were other things that influenced me too like Big, Groundhog Day, The Purple Rose Of Cairo, Tootsie, Harold And Maude and The Graduate. Those were movies that I thought had a similar multiplicity of tone.
This move straddles different genres. It doesn’t fit into any one genre and it’s not easily typed. That’s one of the reasons why it’s hard to talk about - it goes off to a lot of different places and I like that. I like that kind of ambition and messiness.
- What do you see as the key theme of the film?
I was writing from the perspective that in previous relationships I was maybe put on a bit of a pedestal. That’s something cultural we think women want, to be worshipped and adored, but I found it a bit lonely - like my partner was gazing at me but not seeing me.
There was some sort of idea of me that the guy had that was somewhere off to the left of what I actually was. That feeling of uneasiness that came from that - I was writing from that perspective.
Ultimately I think the movie is saying that you can’t change the person you love; change has to come organically and it has to come from experience, not from trying to please or alter the other person.
If you had to ‘write’ the perfect partner what qualities would he have?
The whole idea of a perfect partner is a myth. It’s not two halves of one person, it’s always trying to make a fit with another person.
There’s no destiny and there’s no one person you’re fated to be with; that’s a child’s idea of love. There are people you’re attracted to or not and there are people you’re compatible with or not.
We’re always trying to make it work and there’s always something you wish were different, either about yourself or the other person. I guess you can change yourself but you can’t change another person.
Ruby Sparks is released on DVD & Blu-Ray 11th February.