Guts on the Floor: Zoe Kazan on Ruby Sparks and In Your Eyes

The movie she co-wrote and starred in is on Blu-ray now, and she's talking about her upcoming Joss Whedon-scripted film, too.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

When Ruby Sparks came out theatrically, we interviewed Paul Dano and directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Now for the DVD and Blu-ray, we got to interview Ruby herself. Zoe Kazan wrote the script and plays Ruby Sparks, the girl who literally comes to life out of a book that Calvin (Dano) is writing. She’s also wrapped on indie films like In Your Eyes from Joss Whedon’s production company Bellwether Pictures, and The Pretty One, in which she plays identical twins, one apparently prettier than the other.


CraveOnline: Did you begin writing Ruby Sparks out of any frustrations with the sort of rom-coms that may be sent your way or roles that are out there for you?

Zoe Kazan: You know, it probably should have been a source of inspiration but actually it wasn’t really that much on my mind. I mostly write because I feel compelled to express myself in some way that I can’t in any other medium. For me, I had been thinking a lot about relationships, relationships I’d been in and ones I’d observed and how hard it is really to hold onto a sense of your own identity when you’re very close to someone, especially when you’re young and you don’t have a completely fully fledged sense of self yet. For women, or at least for me in relationships, how strong the inclination can be to feel defined by your partner or by what they want from you or what you perceive that they want. So I’d just been thinking about that and I got this idea, and a few pages into it showed some of it to Paul and he asked if I was writing it for the two of us, so when he said that that made a lot of sense to me. Then I tried to put that out of my mind as much as possible to move forward so that I wouldn’t feel too determined by that idea.

Is Calvin’s problem that he’s really not interested in a woman as a person, he only sees them as a reflection of him?

Well, I don't know if that’s his problem. He’s definitely at a point in his life when the idea of change is really terrifying. People who have any interaction with people, any kind of relationship sort of necessitates or could bring on a change. So I think this idea of being in a relationship is very scary to him, as we see he’s very lonely at the beginning of the movie. I think it’s really important to note that he never sets about to create a woman that he can control. It’s sort of just a byproduct of his overactive imagination, as he says on the phone to his brother. I think the question is more like when tempted, how does he behave, what does he do?

Right, he slowly takes away little pieces of her.

Yeah, but for me it was always a metaphor for what we really do to each other in relationships sometimes.

Oh, I got it.

You did? You got that loud and clear?

I did. I was sort of conflicted watching Ruby Sparks. Is that a good reaction to you?

What sort of conflict did you feel?

Like what do I want to happen? Do I want him to succeed with this? Do I want to be thinking about how it relates to myself or just take it as the magic typewriter movie? And like I just asked you about what parts of myself I maybe saw looking at Calvin.

Yeah, that’s a very cool reaction. I’m down with that.

Good. Did you write that final typing scene thinking how awesome it would be to play?

Definitely not. In fact that sort of climactic scene was one of the hardest to write. I knew and Jonathan and Valerie when they came on, we started working on it together, they knew what that scene had to be but it was very hard to decide exactly what it should entail. One of the things that I realized is that when you’re in a relationship with a specific person, there are certain buttons in the relationship that you realize that you can’t push, right? But they’re different for every relationship. Some people, it’s like oh, you can’t talk about this, or don’t mention that, right? So I needed to know exactly who Calvin and Ruby were to figure out what those buttons were that he presses that he shouldn’t press. So I just kept rewriting it and we got into shooting and we were still trying to figure out what that was going to be. It came down to the day before shooting that we actually sat down and parsed out exactly what the choreography would be and exactly what he would make her do. So weirdly it’s sort of a scene that I was dreading the whole time. Also I knew it was such an important part of the movie and in a weird way, the sort of thesis statement of the movie.

Were you proud of your performance?

I was so proud of what we came to. I was proud of Paul’s work in it and I think Jonathan and Valerie and our cinematographer shot it just beautifully. It was one of those nights of work where you go home and you literally feel like you left your guts on the floor, like there’s nothing more that you could do or give. It helps to have that feeling honestly, because I don't know about other people, but I tend to beat myself up so much that I’m almost never happy with what I’ve given. On a night like that you kind of go, “Well, regardless, I gave everything I could.”

Does In Your Eyes give you a lot of levels to play with that character? Joss Whedon scripts are usually about something real, even if they’re superheroes or sci-fi.

Yeah, I guess so. I don't know what I’m allowed to say so I don’t want to say too much. There’s definitely a central conceit in that movie that could be read metaphorically.

The one-line synopsis says two lovers are connected in ways they didn’t imagine. I think Joss Whedon fans can imagine what way that might be.

Well, I think Joss Whedon fans are probably people with better imaginations than most. I would agree with that but I don't know if they would expect necessarily the movie that Joss wrote.

He writes women so well, did it feel special to play one of his characters?

Definitely. It was a really cool experience personally because of the way that that movie was produced and put together. I don't know that a whole lot of people know about what Joss has been doing but he has been making these movies that he’s producing himself at a microbudget level, the first of which was Much Ado About Nothing which premiered at Toronto.

Yes, we saw it there and we knew about his microbudget production company.

Right, exactly, so he’s doing this really cool thing and I think it’s sort of the way of the future and that he’s also putting his money where his mouth is. He’s making the things that he believes in. I think that that is incredibly cool, so I was really excited obviously to, like you said, be in a movie that he’s written and say those words. It does feel like a once in a lifetime opportunity. Also just to be involved with a project that’s being put together in such a cool way.

Talk about the way of the future, and coming from a film family as you do, what does a microbudget production mean for you as an actor?

Well, it puts the means of production in the hands of the people, right? It makes it much, much easier to make a movie. That doesn’t mean it’s much, much easier to distribute a movie or to attract an audience. I think it’s much harder actually. The marketplace is flooded with material and the audiences are shrinking in the theaters. So it’s complicated because it means that a far smaller percentage of what’s being made is going to be seen but I also think working at a smaller budget allows people to take bigger risks. When they have less to lose monetarily, I think people tend to be more creative and to find creative solutions to problems, which is cool. As an actor I think it means you get to experiment a lot more. I get to play a lot more, but I did four independent movies this year and I have no idea if any of them are going to get distribution. So there’s that side of it too.

The Pretty One sounds interesting too. What exactly is a prettier identical twin?

Well, it’s partially about the way that we present ourselves to the world. There are these amazing videos by an artist called Candice Breitz that my director on that movie found online and sent to me. Candice Breitz made these videos where she interviewed identical twins in identical situations wearing identical clothes and then sort of juxtaposes their interviews against each other. It’s some of the more interesting video I’ve ever seen in my life and part of what’s interesting about it is that they will say about themselves or each other, “Oh, she’s the pretty one” or even that looking so alike makes people say things to them, like, “Oh, her eyes are better than yours” or “You’re a little heavier than she is” which they wouldn’t necessarily say ordinarily, but there’s this sort of need in human beings to codify and mark difference. Part of what the movie’s about is that of course there is no difference, it’s the same person or same looking person but there’s a huge internal difference.

Is that a juicy double role for you?

Yeah, it was really fun. Fun for me.

Of course, we all wonder were movies always in your life growing up in the Kazan family?

Yes. Obviously, definitely. I think that my parents saw a natural curiosity that I had and helped encourage that, but then also I just grew up with people who were cinephiles and people who would take me down to Vidiots, our local video store which is still alive, thank God. I still go down to Vidiots whenever I’m home and rent as many movies as I can. It’s an unbelievable resource that is obviously dying. But I in Brooklyn have a local video store, Video Free Brooklyn, and here in California we still have our local video store so I just hope that there’s a way for them to stay alive because I think there’s nothing like the experience of going into a video store and browsing the shelves and stumbling upon something that you wouldn’t necessarily have gone in there for but you come out with. It’s a huge part of how I learned about movies, especially by the ones that were mistakes where you went, “Oh, I meant to get the A Star is Born with Judy Garland, not the one from the ‘30s.” Then you get introduced to a whole new vocabulary.