BOP Interview: Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano
By Ryan Mazie
July 25, 2012
You would think a screenwriter would have to be slightly cocky to cast herself in the role of a “dream girl.” For star and writer of Ruby Sparks Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of Elia Kazan), she didn’t have much apprehension. “Well, she’s not a dream girl,” Kazan speaks of her character’s creation via the mind of a prodigious writer (played by Paul Dano), “She’s his dream girl,” acknowledging Dano sitting to the right of her, “And I’m pretty sure that’s pretty close to life.”
One of the most talented couples in the indie film world (Dano broke out as the self-silenced brother in Little Miss Sunshine followed up with There Will Be Blood; Kazan has some stage credit to her name with parts in Revolutionary Road and It’s Complicated), this classic romantic comedy with a contemporary edge might catapult the duo to the next level akin to the stars of the studio’s 2009 summer romcom breakthrough (500) Days of Summer.
However, Dano (the introvert to Kazan’s extroverted personality) says the only thing he is looking for in an acting project is a good script, a talented filmmaker, and something to get excited about, “When I’m not excited, it makes acting really hard for me... I feel very privileged to act so I just try to respond to things.” In this interview, find out what there was in Ruby Sparks to get excited about, how the script fell into Little Miss Sunshine directors’ hands, the importance of casting, and how a Macy’s mannequin in a dumpster catalyzed the film.
Zoe, what was the light bulb moment for you to create Ruby Sparks?
ZK: Yeah, I have always been inspired by the Pygmalion myth. I just like Greek mythology and obviously that myth has been super provocative and inspired George Bernard Shaw and many others. I was walking home from work and it was nighttime, I used to live by a Macy’s and there was a discarded mannequin in the trash that I thought was a person and it scared me. So I had this uncanny moment and I thought of Pygmalion and how that must have been how the myth came about. Like someone thought they saw the statue move out of the corner of their eye and I thought what I would do with that myth when I went to sleep and like [the film’s main character] Calvin, I woke up in the morning and the first five or 20 pages were just delivered to me.
You’ve written plays before, so what about this idea made you think that it was suited to be a film or is that an afterthought?
ZK: No; that is definitely like the first thing. I feel like I receive pictures, I am a really visual person, so the first inspiration for me, it’s always visual. For both of my plays, I saw it on a stage, like the first picture I got was a stage picture which is sort of two dimensional and you are using the space in a different way. Stories tell you what they’re supposed to be and the first image I had was the first image of the movie of Ruby backlit. And I think there is something really subjective about film; it pulls you into its reality and doesn’t let you go. You’re sitting in the dark looking at something bigger than life and that was important for me in terms of the leap of fantasy this movie takes – that it’d be an easier leap to take in a novel or film than it would be on stage.
And a film like this, there has to be a strong initial suspension of disbelief.
PD: That’s why Chris Messina’s character is so important, because somebody needs to be like this can’t fucking happen (laughs) or you’re crazy or let’s call the doctor, but to really try and prevent it and then get proven wrong. One question I don’t get is why don’t you explain how Ruby came about?
ZK: I think people will feel more comfortable if it was like a magic typewriter or if there was a shooting star that explained everything. But for me, that makes it sillier than what it… I don’t know. Part of what the movie is about is the creative process, which seems magical to me. It seems magical to me that I was in our studio apartment and wrote down an idea and kept writing and that seems like a crazy thing, that there’s an actual object in the world that has money and time and energy poured into it that has its own life now. That feels like magic, so how do you explain that? (laughs) That’s a point in the movie and also besides the point, that it’s magic. You believe. There you go.