Zoe Kazan is a child of Hollywood, being the daughter of noted screenwriters Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord (and of course, she's the granddaughter of director Elia Kazan), but she came to the foreground as an actor with roles in such films as FRACTURE, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, ME AND ORSON WELLES, MEEK'S CUTOFF, and several episodes of "Bored to Death" on HBO. But if you really want to see an early example of her talented shined through brilliantly, check out 2009's magnificent and grossly unseen THE EXPLODING GIRL.
It was her 2012 screenplay for and starring role (along with real-life boyfriend Paul Dano) in RUBY SPARKS that pushed her into an entirely different category of artist. The film got her a great deal of much-deserved attention as a performer and writer. She appeared last year in the Neil LaBute-penned SOME GIRL(S) and we'll hopefully see her next film, THE F WORD, sometime later this year. But of her many upcoming projects, I think the one I'm most curious about is the Joss Whedon-penned and -produced IN YOUR EYES, which we'll hopefully see by year's end as well.
The film that put Kazan and me on the phone recently was THE PRETTY ONE, from first-time writer-director Jenée LaMarque, in which Kazan plays twins--one outgoing, stylish and living far from hom, the other a stay-at-home girl who works with their father and is something of a wallflower. When the more outgoing twin dies, the other takes her place, and she discovers how the other half lives. It sounds like it might be the basis for a comedy (and certainly the presence of Jake Johnson adds a great deal of humor to the proceedings), but it's actually take on loss, family, and filling in the gaps in ones life. It's a laughter-through-tears type of film, and gives Kazan a chance to play not one, but three characters (including the one that is something of a hybrid of the two). It's a sweet, thought-provoking little film that is slowly making its way around the country, hopefully in your neck of the woods soon. Please enjoy my talk with Zoe Kazan…
Zoe Kazan: Hi, Steve.
Capone: Hi Zoe. How are you?
ZK: Good. It’s nice to talk to you again. Were you nice to my girl Jenée [LaMarque, writer-director] just now?
Capone: Absolutely. I’m actually excited to see what she’s got up her sleeve next. I guess that’s the ultimate compliment you can pay to any new filmmaker.
ZK: It is. That’s awesome.
Capone: When you started considering the possibilities of playing twins, did you have to dive into the personality extremes that exist in yourself?
ZK: I think I would be lying like through my teeth if I didn't say I think probably every actor would kill for the chance to play two parts in one movie. It’s like "I’ll play all the parts." It’s such a challenge, and great roles for women are few and far between, as I think pretty much everybody knows that and you know. So getting to play two great parts in one movie seems like an embarrassment of riches. Any kind of fears that I may have had on my part of like, "What am I going to really feel about myself?" are very small in comparison to the excitement of getting to, you know, take on this challenge.
Jenée said earlier today that when you’re living your dreams, hard work doesn't really feel like hard work. That said, this was like a challenge. The acting challenge of it of being like, "Here I am playing two parts in one day" was almost nothing compared to the technical challenge of it. The challenge of having to keep both performances in my head all the time, and playing to a body double instead of playing to the actual performance, having to plan what I was going to be doing so that I knew I would be reacting to, having to match eye lines to people that weren't there. That side of it challenged a very particular part of my brain. I’ve never been very excellent in math, so it felt sort of like doing algebra or geometry or something while trying to act, while like standing on your head.
Capone: I didn’t get a chance to ask Jenée about that, but her making her first film out of the gate something that’s sotechnically difficult at times must have been nerve wracking. The twin effect is flawless here. The fact that the sister touch sometimes is remarkable.
ZK: I think so too. When I first sat down with her to talk about this, I was like, “Really, on your first film you’re going to bite this off?” And there were definitely things I think were surprising to both of us that we--I say "we" in a very magnanimous way--had not anticipated. I guess probably she had anticipated, but I just realized, you're essentially doing every scene twice, or one and a half times at least. Everything takes much longer than it would if you were doing it like a traditional movie, where you don’t cast a double. So I felt really proud of her that she did as good of a job as she did, and she seemed to be able to handle what she had bitten off.
Capone: I think one of the most fascinating things about seeing you in this film is not just that you look so different between Audrey and Laurel, but there’s a different energy to each character. And you almost have to create a third energy when one is pretending to be the other, because it’s sort of a mix.
ZK: Oh, completely. We shot all that twin stuff first, and I was so sad when it was over. I was so relieved, on one hand, because it had definitely been one of the most challenging things, and I felt like, “Oh thank god I don't have to wear that wig anymore and I can concentrate on the thing that normally takes up all my energy while I’m acting.” But I was also very very sad to watch Audrey go. I felt incredibly attached to her and felt devastated that she got such a bum wrap. She just gets cut off in the middle of her journey. So I weirdly mourned her when she was gone and loved getting to play her. Her clear, direct, sexual, empowered energy is something that I haven't gotten to play on screen a lot, and it was like so fun for me.
Capone: The real feat of the script is that it’s two character studies, but one of the characters is almost never on the screen. We’re learning about Audrey almost from the negative space around Laurel when Laurel is pretending to be her. When someone asks her, "What’s wrong with you? Why are you acting like this?" that helps complete the portrait of Audrey.
ZK: Absolutely. Yeah, I think because I was playing both of them, Audrey has to be real to me from the very beginning. I couldn't create her in negative space; I had to know her. And it was in that process of getting to know her that I feel like I had the biggest discovery. When I first read the script, I thought "Oh, this is cut and dry. This one has her life together and this one’s a mess." But when I was working on if from the inside, it didn’t feel like that at all. It felt like Audrey is as divided a person as Laurel is, and she just doesn't get to finish amalgamating.
Capone: That idea that Laurel is attending her own funeral is the ultimate narcissistic fantasy, right? We’ve all thought about doing it and what people would say about us, and you got to live it. What was that scene like?
ZK: [laughs] Well, I’m not going to claim to a lack of narcissism, but honestly I have never wanted to attend my own funeral. It has never been a fantasy for me. I think it would be devastating. First of all, think about all the people that you really love and how sad and awful it would be to watch them mourn you, and then there’s the whole other thing of people always behave badly at funerals just like they behave badly at weddings. I’m pretty certain would get too drunk and say some shit that they regret, and who wants that? As an actor, I feel like I’m already sad about just so much scrutiny; I’m just really not sure I’d want to participate in any more.
Capone: But you’re familiar with the concept. You know there are people out there that would love it.
ZK: Oh, I’m with you. Huckleberry Finn did it.
Capone: Exactly. One of the originals. I was joking with Jenée before about how the only flaw in the script is this idea that there would be anybody out there that wouldn’t like Jake Johnson, and that the real Audrey didn’t get along with him. So, you immediately think, "Audrey had a problem." What does that say about her?
ZK: [laughs] Yeah, I actually I don’t disagree with that. I don’t disagree with that storytelling. When Jake and I would talk about it, we would say that we maybe felt like there had been a sexual chemistry between those two at the beginning, and that Audrey out of a fear of intimacy shut that down. I think that his likeability and how magnetically present Jake is as an actor and as a person does in some ways change the storytelling there, but I don't think in a bad way.
Capone: Some of the most emotional moments in the film are the ones you have with John Carroll Lynch [who plays the twins' single father], who’s just a remarkable character actor.
ZK: Oh, he’s the best.
Capone: I heard he killed it in CAMP X-RAY at Sundance this year. His reactions are so raw and so painful. And it’s such a strange relationship. Talk a bit about working with him in those particular scenes.
ZK: Oh, god. Well, I could go on and on about him. I think he’s just such an extraordinary actor, and like just a lovely person. I couldn't say enough nice things. I have had a little bit of personal interaction with him, because I did a play in 2008 with his wife, Brenda Wehle, who I think is one of the unsung heros of the American theater. She’s just an extraordinary, extraordinary talent, and I had kind of fallen in love with Brenda, as people do, when I worked with her. So John and I had met during that process and I had felt in awe of his talent for a very long time. So, it felt easy to me to be deferential to him and feel the things that Laurel feels about her father. She loves him. For her, he hangs the moon, and he’s also connected to her in a way as her employer. They make these reproductions of famous paintings.
She’s always seeking his approval, so there’s a lot that was like life imitating art there. When John saw the movie the first time at Tribeca, he said something very nice to me afterwards about my work in it, and I think I blushed from head to toe. I think he’s exactly the kind of actor that I would sit around seeking approval from, if you were the kind of obsequious person who needs approval like I am. [laughs] I think that he is just pretty much it.
One of my favorite moments working with John was, there’s a moment when he’s very upset with me and he picks me up. In the script, it had been written as him striking her, and when we sat down to rehearse it, John was like, “If I hit Zoe, I’d kill her.” He’s a very large man, and he’s at least a foot taller than me, and he was like, “I would never strike Zoe, because I would know my own power. I would know that it would hurt her too badly.” So, Jenée worked with him, and he suggested this blocking of him picking me up instead. It really spoke to me of her ability to collaborate with him, and also his wonderful generosity as an actor to come up with a solution, and find a more interesting answer maybe than even what was on the page.
Capone: When I saw you a year and a half ago, we were talking about IN YOUR EYES, and I have to know, when the heck am I going to get to see this thing? I realize it’s probably wrapped in secrecy, but what can you say about it?
ZK: It’s a mystery wrapped inside of an enigma. I don't know what to tell you. I think we are going to get to see it very soon. I don’t know when. I have done ADR on it, so I have seen tiny pieces of it now, so I know it really exists. Like so many of Joss’ things, I feel like it’s one that you’re going to want to see knowing nothing.
Capone: So what about you? Have you written anything good lately? I’m always curious about what you've got going on in with your writing.
ZK: Oh, thank you. I have been writing, but I find that if I talk about it before I’m done, then I never finish it. I’ve been out here in L.A.; I wrote a play that has been going out here at South Coast Rep ["Trudy and Max"], so that is the thing that I have been working on. So the rest of my writing has been on the back burner for that just for a little bit. But that just closed a week ago, so now I get to go back to the rest of my jobs.
Capone: In retrospect, after reading some of the interviews that you did around the time of RUBY SPARKS, was taking the Zoe and Paul show on the road to promote the film an easy thing, opening yourself up to a lot of really personal questions?
ZK: These smaller movies need so much help getting seen, and few enough people saw that movie as it was. I'd hate to think what would have happened if we hadn’t gone out and publicized this. It was necessary to raise awareness, and I’m so happy that people have found it in its second life on DVD and online and stuff like that. But, I feel like probably we were opening ourselves up to those questions just by doing the movie together, and I would never like want to trade that for anything. I’m so proud of our film and our relationship with [co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris] is so strong, and I feel like that was a very special experience, and I’m so proud of that movie. I wouldn't trade that for anything. Do I wish that people had not asked some of those questions? I guess, but people have a right to ask whatever they want. It’s part of the job.
Capone: So it wasn’t traumatic.That’s good.
ZK: [laughs] No, I have a pretty thick skin. I’m okay.
Capone: Zoe, thank you so much. I look forward to whatever you got coming up, including THE F WORD, which I hear was really great out of Toronto.
ZK: I’m excited about it too. I’m super happy about that film, and I loved making it. Awesome. Thank you so much. Take care.