Zoe Kazan, who may be best known to audiences for her role in Ruby Sparks, is taking on another quirky character for her latest project, The Pretty One. The film, which also stars New Girl's Jake Johnson, follows a young woman, played by Zoe, who deals with her twin sister's death by assuming her identity. We caught up with Zoe at the Tribeca Film Festival in NYC last week to chat about the new movie and how she worked with Jake and first-time director Jenée LaMarque on set. Watch the clip for more from Zoe about The Pretty One and check out the film when it gets released on Feb. 7.
In Ruby Sparks, out today in limited release, two things elude young novelist Calvin (Paul Dano): an idea for his second book and a meaningful relationship. When an enchanting redhead named Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) comes to him in his dreams, she fills both those needs. Calvin starts writing Ruby's story as fast as he can and even admits to his therapist that he's falling for this figment of his imagination. His literary muse would be harmless, until Ruby miraculously appears in his apartment as his living and breathing dream girl. Ruby is warm, romantic, and beguiling — everything Calvin made her. Calvin and Ruby go on as a literally implausible yet happy couple, but when Ruby starts to get restless in the relationship, Calvin is tempted to go back to his typewriter. He created her, and when he continues to write her story, he has the power to change her.
Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, the husband-and-wife team behind Little Miss Sunshine, directed Ruby Sparks. They weren't the only couple working on the project. Zoe Kazan, who wrote the film and stars as Ruby, acts alongside her real-life boyfriend, Paul Dano. Director Valerie told us, "We thought there was a lot that could be borrowed from who Paul and Zoe are. In rehearsals we took them back to how they met and to their first kiss, and we used a lot of that when we were shooting the film." But there were also layers of Paul and Zoe to strip away. "Zoe is very flirtatious in real life," Jonathan told us. "And the script actually had her a little more that way. We asked Zoe to trim that and really change her performance. As soon as she did, it was as if Ruby appeared before all of us, and even Zoe felt like: that's Ruby." We had a chance to sit down with Zoe Kazan, who at 28 years old has captured many recognizable realities of relationships in her magical story Ruby Sparks.
TrèsSugar: Although this movie has a fantastical premise, I found it really authentic.
Zoe Kazan: Well my favorite movies are sort of magical in tone. Movies like Groundhog Day. They're about something real, and that balance of humor and ethos is so hard to achieve. Very early in my writing process I thought we had to get Jonathan and Valerie to direct this because I think that they are incredible at that balance. If you look at Little Miss Sunshine, someone dies in the middle of that movie and it's still a comedy; somehow they manage to make that funny and sad. In the wrong hands, it could go really wrong, so I owe it all to them.
TS: What realities of relationships did you try to convey in your screenplay?
ZK: For me there's a lot about how we define each other in a relationship. We all start with an idea of a person when we meet them. All of our romantic ideals get projected onto them, and then we move toward knowing the real person, and that transition to me is the most interesting. How do we do that and how do you love the real person? How do you have free will in a relationship when you’re responsible to the other person?
TS: In the movie, we see one man try to create his "dream girl." Do you think women have one-dimensional fantasy versions of men, too?
ZK: I think men put women on a pedestal — real women — in a way that women don't do to men. And we talk about it like that's the apex of love, when men say, "She's my goddess" or "She's my dream girl." That's supposed to be a good thing, but I have felt in relationships very lonely in that situation where I feel like I'm so on this pedestal that you don't actually see me. You claim to love me so much, but I feel so lonely right now. Why is that? So I was writing from that perspective.
TS: What do men miss when they focus on finding their "dream girls"?
ZK: It's just the difference between knowing someone's interior or not. Recognizing another person's interiority is very difficult, and I think it's particularly difficult for young men. Calvin's brother (Chris Messina) says that "quirky, messy women whose problems only make them endearing are not real," and that's sort of how I feel. I am not a bundle of quirks and neuroses that you can think are adorable. I'm a person with real problems and I wake up with savage grief or incredible rage. I'm a real person who has the capacity for growth; I'm not some doll that is defined by a series of adjectives. I think that there's this way that we are taught as young women: you are attractive if you're like this, or you will be lovable if you're like that. I have found it very hard to figure out who I am when I feel those kinds of messages being sent in my direction. It took me years of messing up in relationships in order to finally realize that I need to make myself happy.
TS: What was it like to work with Paul Dano, your partner in real life?
ZK: Well, Paul is an incredibly private person, and I think if I had written characters that were close to us, he would not have wanted to act in it. I was conscious of not putting too much of us in there, and I know that Jonathan and Valerie were also very careful; they would say to us, "Too much Zoe and Paul." They had their eye on Calvin and Ruby. I love working with Paul. I think it's very hard to spend all day with your partner and have it not be about the relationship; it's like most people if they were going to spend 24 hours a day together, they're on a honeymoon or they're on vacation. We would be at work and have all these other responsibilities and wouldn't have the time to give to each other, so it definitely put a strain. During those months, I felt like I missed him. There was so much less intimacy than there normally is. But then, when I look at the finished product and we're so proud of it, it feels like it was totally worth it.
TS: Valerie told us that your real-life first kiss inspired the first kiss scene between Ruby and Calvin.
ZK: Sometimes when real-life couples work together, there's less chemistry, weirdly, and we were very aware of that so we tried to heighten the tension. We actually didn't kiss for a week-and-a-half before that first kiss in the movie because we wanted to build up that desire and tension for each other. It was really romantic to harken back — not that we're not in love anymore — but it's been five years and that first butterfly feeling is not one that's chiefly there anymore. So it was fun to get to relive some of that.
TS: In the film, Calvin has the power to rewrite Ruby's personality. As an actor, was it challenging to play Ruby?
Carey Mulligan was decked out in Valentino last night to attend the Junior Spring Benefit for the Lincoln Center Institute at the Gramercy Park Hotel. She posed for photos with pal Zoe Kazan on her way inside, and later joined other hosts of the event, like actresses Lily Rabe and Mamie Gummer, to listen to a performance from Karen Elson, who just threw a divorce party to celebrate her split from Jack White. Carey had the evening off from performing in her off-Broadway show, Through a Glass Darkly. The role has earned her raves, and she'll end her run in a few weeks on July 3. Carey will then turn her attention to playing Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby. The actress will team up with Leonardo DiCaprio for the project, though she was recently linked to another leading man in real life — Carey Mulligan is reportedly dating Marcus Mumford from the band Mumford & Sons.
HappyThankYouMorePlease is the directorial debut of How I Met Your Mother's Josh Radnor, who wrote and stars in the indie romance. He plays Sam, a writer living in New York City in his late 20s. En route to a meeting, he happens upon a young boy named Rasheen, who's been left alone on the subway. Not sure what to do, Sam becomes Rasheen's reluctant guardian for the next few days. As ill-equipped Sam deals with his new charge and finds a possible love interest (Kate Mara), we meet his friends: unlucky-in-love Annie (Malin Akerman) and couple Mary Catherine and Charlie (Zoe Kazan and Pablo Schreiber).
Radnor's first feature is an impressive effort; the individual stories are only moderately compelling, but the slice of life he portrays makes for a disarming and completely enjoyable experience. To find out why else I liked about HappyThankYouMorePlease, just read more
Yes, it's a story we've heard before, but this time around the characters are a little more unique. Radnor plays a struggling writer who takes in a young boy after he's abandoned in the subway; Malin Akerman plays his friend who is determined to stay upbeat despite her withering dating life and her alopecia. The explanation of the title is definitely a bit cheesy — the key to happiness is giving gratitude and asking for more — but this little film is still a charmer. To check out the first trailer, just read more
I've had a little crush on Ted MosbyJosh Radnor ever since I got hooked on How I Met Your Mother, and I've had high hopes for the side project he's been working on between seasons. Radnor makes his debut as a triple threat writer/director/actor in HappyThankYouMorePlease — but don't let the quirky title turn you away. I'm happy to report the film is among my favorites from Sundance 2010, so let's get into the good stuff.
Who's behind it? I already mentioned that Radnor wrote and directed the script, and he has plenty of talent supporting his cast, including Malin Akerman, Tony Hale, and Kate Mara.
What's it about? The movie centers around Sam Wexler (Radnor), a writer in his late 20s living in New York and struggling to find meaning in his love life and career. On a particularly fateful day, Sam befriends and takes in a young boy who's been separated from his foster family and meets a potential love interest in Mississippi (Mara). Akerman plays Sam's best friend and confidant Annie, who's got her own issues to deal with (particularly with a co-worker (Hale) who won't give up until he gets a date with her). Finally, Zoe Kazan plays Mary Catherine, a lifelong friend of Sam's who is struggling to figure out whether or not she and her boyfriend have a future together in New York.
To see why I enjoyed the film so much, just read more