'Ruby Sparks' ignites a new passion in Kazan
Posted July 23, 2012
Most writers could easily churn out descriptors of their ideal mate. But conjuring that person into real life?
That requires movie magic.
The concept spurred actress and playwright Zoe Kazan, 28, to write Ruby Sparks (out Wednesday in select markets), an indie film following Calvin (Paul Dano, Kazan's real-life boyfriend), a literary wunderkind struggling with writer's block since his acclaimed first novel. After he dreams of "not the ideal woman," Kazan says, but one he could completely fall in love with, Calvin begins writing feverishly of his playful, pixie-ish vision.
To his bewilderment, a week later, Ruby (Kazan) is in his living room, dressed in his T-shirt, eating his cereal.
Slowly, Calvin (and his typewriter) move from bliss to the darker art of being both boyfriend and creator. Kazan says she was interested in the flip side of feminine identity in cinema — and in relationships.
"What would the movie Annie Hall be if it was her story?" she asks over lunch at the Four Seasons, brightening alongside a soy latte the day after her film's premiere, her hair still tousled. As the lens shifts from Calvin to Ruby, "Ruby starts to try to act as a protagonist in her life, and not as the subject."
What results on-screen is a spirited, charming and at times alarming take on the Pygmalion myth of falling in love with one's own creation.
Ruby Sparks is backed by an award-winning indie dream team: Little Miss Sunshine's (married) directors, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Black Swan cinematographer Matthew Libatique, plus Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas, who appear as Calvin's eccentric hippie parents.
"When we read the script, we were kind of blown away at what a great story it was," Faris says.
A noted playwright who also has appeared on and off-Broadway in productions including A Behanding in Spokane, Angels in America and The Seagull, Kazan has seen her film cred build steadily since graduating from Yale in 2005. She began this screenplay, her first, around the time she shot happythankyoumoreplease and It's Complicated. Five pages in, she showed Ruby Sparks to Dano (There Will Be Blood), with whom she starred in 2010's Meek's Cutoff.
"He asked me if I was writing it for us, and it hadn't occurred to me," says Kazan, who lives with Dano in Brooklyn, N.Y. "But as soon as he said it, it seemed totally clear that that's what I was doing."
She finished the script a year later in stolen moments backstage while starring in A Behanding on Broadway. Out of rehearsal, "I had just these huge chunks of time, so I would go during the day and use my dressing room as a little office," says Kazan. "So it would be me in there with my computer on my belly giggling to myself."
"I think she's a really gifted writer," Faris says. "She's a really hardworking person. Both she and Paul are. I think that's probably what they like in each other and part of the connection they have."
Despite a family tree laden with talent (her parents, Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord, are screenwriters; her grandfather is Oscar-winning director Elia Kazan), Kazan calls her L.A. upbringing traditional. "We had family dinner together every night. There's not a lot about my upbringing that says Hollywood in any way except the fact that they are in this business."
Kazan's memories of her grandfather are "so life-size," she says. "He was (a) pretty old, really good grandpa, sent me dolls for Christmas, really hard of hearing, funny sense of humor, loved photographs, loved National Geographic movies."
An adept juggler of stage and screen — her play We Live Here hit off-Broadway last year, and she next stars in The F Word with Daniel Radcliffe — Kazan concedes to finding theater production "incredibly painful." In playwright mode, "when the lights come up and people start talking, I just feel like I'm going to die in the audience. Even when it's going well, I feel so exposed."
Why do it then? She laughs, debating nature vs. nurture with a reporter.
"I don't know," Kazan says, shaking her head. "But I love to do it."
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