Zoe Kazan's screenwriting film debut, "Ruby Sparks," was, at times, misinterpreted. The term "manic pixie dream girl" would often appear in discussions surrounding the film -- which is fine -- but, unfortunately, it was usually in the wrong context, considering "Sparks" was the antithesis of that phrase. On that press tour, Kazan herself would remain coy when asked about any interpretations. On this press tour -- for "The Pretty One," currently playing at the Tribeca Film Festival -- she's being a little more vocal.
All while not infecting me with bronchitis, I should add.
In "The Pretty One," Kazan plays twin sisters -- one an outgoing busybody, Audrey, and one a wallflower, Laurel. After Audrey's death, Laurel claims her identity. I met Kazan, who, yes, is recovering from bronchitis, at a busy Manhattan hotel lobby and she was nice enough to warn me about avoid possible handshakes, lest she spread her lingering illness back to The Huffington Post newsroom. Here, she talks about her new film, the critics who crucified her, and the strange experience being asked about her grandfather, Eila Kazan.
Zoe Kazan: I'm sorry, I can't shake hands or anything. I've been sick.
Mike Ryan: I appreciate the warning. I feel some people would shake hands out of spite.
Yeah, I would love to give you what I have, but I'm just going to keep it to myself. I had bronchitis for a week.
I don't want that.
Nope, you don't. I've been really careful about washing my hands all day, but I literally coughed into them 30 seconds ago.
This is all very thoughtful of you. Thank you.
You're really welcome. It's my pleasure.
I think I've gotten everything I wanted out of this interview.
It's perfect, you did not get bronchitis. Well, we'll see in about a week.
In the film, your character attends her own funeral. Other people fantasize about attending their own funeral, right? That's a thing, isn't it?
Right. I mean, it's a time-honored tradition from Huck Finn and on.
In that situation, you have to do that, right? Or maybe not. That's not really normal, but it would be interesting to know.
Yeah, it would be interesting. I think the thing that was really exciting to me about this was that I actually can't understand what it's like to have an identical twin. It's one of the frontiers that I'll never know. You're not going to grow into having an identical twin.
Cloning? She wouldn't be the same age, though.
Right. But I have a sister that I'm really close to and that helped me understand some of the emotional stuff -- what it would be like to lose her, or whatever. The kind of comedy stuff -- like her attending her own funeral -- is what makes the movie watchable because it would be too sad if it wasn't funny. And that was one of the things that I loved about the script.
It could have been very dark.
It could be very, very dark. And I think [director] Jenée [LaMarque] did a good job of keeping the tone light. While, still, it's a movie about grief.
You've written your own movie in the past. Do you ever find yourself reading a script and thinking, That's not the way I would do it.
Well, I've only written one movie. My whole love of acting and whole love of writing comes out of a love of film. I just love movies. I grew up loving movies -- I've been a cinephile from the time I was a little baby. My first memory is watching a movie. It's a big thing for me. So, being on a set and being a collaborator is a huge part of what I enjoy about the process. That means I don't like to sit in my trailer. I like to be on the set. I like to be hands-on. I like to know what the camera's doing. So, from that perspective, I'm probably more engaged than maybe all actors are -- because I want to be. But, for me, I believe you have to give your director absolute trust. ... I think most of the time your job as an actor is making their words and their story come to life. It's not up you to fix it or make it better.
Is that process different when you wrote the movie? On "Ruby Sparks," were there any times you thought, "This isn't how I envisioned it?"
You have to let that go. My feeling about collaboration is that if you're with a really good collaborator, for every one thing that you feel like you're compromising on, you get nine things better than you would ever think of doing yourself. That's good collaboration. And that's how I felt on "Ruby Sparks" -- even if wasn't the way I saw it, I trusted their overall vision. So, I'm not about to be like, "Hey, guys, let's stop filming a second."
When "Ruby Sparks" came out, I felt you were really coy about what it was trying to say. But I feel some people misinterpreted that movie. Did that bother you when it was labeled sexist when it was really the opposite of that?
You know, I guess it does bother me. Just because those issues are so important to me. But, I really love our movie and I really believe in it. I feel that we did the best job that we could do as far as putting what we wanted into the world. And if people are going to misunderstand that, that's really on them, not on me. If I felt like the movie was not what I wanted it to be, then I would feel differently.
But I totally stand behind the choices that we made. I was trying to say something -- I was trying to say something by subverting it. I wasn't openly criticizing anything. It was about putting yourself in the shoes of this protagonist, who then does something that is, I think, an imaginative extension of what some men do.
Some dismissed it as another manic pixie dream girl movie.
When that was the point of the movie. He was writing himself a manic pixie dream girl.
Yeah. You know, some stuff is going to go over people's heads and that's fine. And, also, sometimes I think people write stuff like that, or get riled up about stuff, just to have something to write about. It's a slow news day. That's all brouhaha. That has nothing to do with the actual movie. I'll tell you what I don't like. I don't like going into those circumstances and you look at the reporter and you're like, 'Oh, I know, you're going to crucify me here. Because I'm little, because I've got big eyes. You're going to look at me at you're going to make a decision about what kind of person I am.' And you have no idea what my copy of "The Second Sex" looks like. You have no idea what my mind looks like. You have no curiosity about me. So why are we sitting down together? Just write whatever you want. Like, I don't need to be here for you to crucify me.
I'm going to preface this question by saying that it's is not prefacing another question.
Do you like it when people bring up your grandfather? If I were you, I can't decide if I would like that or not.
I just never know how to answer it, to be totally frank. I think when people hear about my family, they have this idea that I grew up with a certain idea about myself as like an heir to a certain whatever. And that couldn't be further from the truth. I grew up in a not-very-nice part of Venice Beach in the '80s and '90s. In a house where my parents -- I had no idea my grandfather was famous until I was 13 years old. My relationship with him was totally grandkid to grandfather. So, it's just like a weird thing, because I feel like people want a tidbit or they want some closeness -- and I just don't feel like I have anything to offer.
It's not like I dislike the question. I love him and I understand people's curiosity, but I just don't know that I have a good answer for it. So I always walk away feeling either like, "I just sold out of family," or, "I just gave these people the most bland, boring possible answer I could possibly give." Because, I don't know, my parents are incredibly private. And I think it's really weird for them to have me be interviewed all the time. I think my dad worked really hard for his privacy and I try to respect that.
That was a good answer.
Oh, well ...
Don't walk away thinking either this time.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.