Zoe Kazan discusses "Ruby Sparks"
There's no doubt that Zoe Kazan comes from entertainment royalty. Her grandfather was Elia Kazan, the legendary director of stage and screen. Her father is the successful screenwriter Nicholas Kazan. Her boyfriend is the actor Paul Dano. And she herself has had a lot of success as an actor, both on the stage and in movies. But her new film, "Ruby Sparks," is different, because not only does she star opposite Dano in the movie, but she also wrote the screenplay, which ended up being directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the co-directing duo who brought "Little Miss Sunshine" to life. In the film, Dano plays Calvin, a very successful, very unhappy young writer who hasn't been able to create anything new in years. Until, that is, his therapist (Elliott Gould) gives him an assignment, and it's something so simple that Calvin has no problem getting to work. That's where the titular Ruby Sparks comes in, a wonderful girl who Calvin writes so completely that one day he comes home, and there she is, in the form of Kazan. This leads to all kinds of happenings, some of which are dark, some of which are very funny, and all of which have to do with the way each of us tries to control those around us. There's some irony here, of course--Kazan had to cede control of a script she wrote about a writer who is entirely in control of what he writes.
When you write something like this, it's obviously very personal, so how do you give that over to somebody else to direct it? What is that like?
Zoe Kazan: Well, I think a large part of it stems from the fact that I have a lot of respect for directors and I would never want to direct something unless I felt like I was the best person for the job. I definitely didn't feel that way about this, so it wasn't a question of whether to turn it over but to whom and Jonathan and Valerie were the first people who I thought of, they were the first people that Paul thought of and when we brought our producers on, Ron and Albert, they were the first people that they thought of. It seemed very iffy that they would come on, just because they'd been offered so much stuff since "Little Miss Sunshine," and much higher profile stuff, but because we all felt so strongly we decided to send it to them and then when they came on and starting talking to me about it, I immediately knew that they saw the same movie that I saw but they were going to make it better. The thing I think that sets them apart from other directors is that they really work on script. They are very attuned to the story and the other movies that they had in the works over the last six years didn't come together because they didn't feel like the script was ready. And in this case, I felt like getting to collaborate with them was a huge learning experience and a great job. It makes the movie better in every way. And because I felt that way, by the time we got into production, it was so easy to give it way. Like it felt like breathing. It was then ours and not mine.
So, how did they make it better, then? Can you explain?
Zoe Kazan: This script came to me, I mean arrived in my brain so easily. It took me like two and a half weeks to write it, so I hadn't been doing a lot of critical thinking about what kind of movie it would make. Through our discussions and through our rewriting to their notes, I started to be able to think more purposely about the movie, what am I trying to write, what kind of movie is this going to be, why is this scene in there, does it need to be in there, what is this character's arc. I think that there were portions of the script that changed a lot and there were chunks that didn't change at all. But the overall sort of journey of it just became much clearer to me, and it allowed me to make very purposeful decisions. Later, on site, like if something wasn't working, to be able to rewrite very quickly because I knew exactly what we all intended, if that makes any sense.
In some ways this feels very similar to "Little Miss Sunshine." It's a very different movie look at Paul's character here, Calvin, and Greg Kinnear's character in that other film, both of these guys are not bad guys but over the course of these movies they have to confront these things about themselves that aren't very pretty.
Zoe Kazan: Yeah. That's a lovely comparison. You know, I think a lot of people forget that that movie has some really dark elements to it. There's drug use and the grandfather dies in the middle of it and then they're carrying the body around, but it's still so funny. And then there's a lot of heart too, like when Abigail Breslin starts to ask Grandpa like, 'am I pretty,' there's just really heartfelt stuff in there. It's not just one thing. And I loved that about it and I didn't want a director who was going to try to make it all ironed out.
They seem to be able to take things that are actually very dark and make them funny, so that you don't really realize that they're dark until after the fact, if that makes sense.
Zoe Kazan: Right. Yeah. I mean, I think that this is certainly more of an adult movie than "Little Miss Sunshine." I have a cousin who has kids who are 11 and 13 and she's saying, 'should I bring them?' And I said, 'I think you should wait,' not because of what it's actually rated for, which is you know there are a couple of F bombs in the movie, but because the idea is someone being able to control another person. To me, I felt like if we didn't expose the dark side of that we would be irresponsible, but I think emotionally it can be hard to watch and I think that they did a beautiful job of bringing home into the end of the movie and to make it flamboyant, but there's definitely moments in there I think that are emotionally difficult.
One thing you never do is honestly explain the why, which makes sense to me. But do you, in your mind, know why these things happen?
Zoe Kazan: I agree with you. To fabricate a how to make an audience feel more comfortable, like to say, 'oh it's a shooting star or a gypsy curse or something,' that's an explanation that actually doesn't explain anything. It's just a convenient excuse. And I feel like, you know, we're all grownups, we can use our imaginations. If you can't, this movie probably isn't for you. It allows us to get down to the meat of the question of what we're actually trying to talk about. My how is that his need for her is so great that she starts to appear to him in his dreams, and then the thing that he imagined is so real that she takes physical form. I don't mean to sound zany about this, but I had the idea of this movie in our little studio apartment in Brooklyn and wrote down some words and now there's a thing that we're all sitting here talking about that people will see across the country without me being there and it has physical form, so if that's not magic, I don't know. I don't think that Ruby is that different. Obviously there is a logical leap that the movie takes and I hope people are up for that ride but if they're not I just feel like this is probably not their movie. When people really find fault with that, I just feel like I said, like this is just never going to be your movie.