Interview: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks)


Yesterday we brought you our interview with the directors of the indie comedy Ruby Sparks. The two obviously had a lot of influence over the tone and direction of the film, but for a small movie like this where you’ve got basically six actors and two of them are the only people on screen for a good chunk of time it’s the leads who really run away with the show. Both Paul Dano (Calvin in the film) and Zoe Kazan (the titular Ruby Sparks) pull off both comical and complex performances in the film. Even more surprising is the fact that they’re actually dating and were before shooting even began.

Given the fact that they already had a relationship and that Kazan wrote the screenplay we wanted to find out how the adapted to the characters they were playing. More importantly we wanted to find out how the sometimes dark and twisted screenplay came about. We also wanted to find out if Paul Dano drinks milkshakes.

He does not.

How much of the two of you are actually in this movie?

Zoe Kazan: Paul and I both feel like there’s very little of us. I wasn’t really writing us when I was writing it and Jonathan and Valerie (directors of Ruby Sparks) helped us feel like it wasn’t us. I don’t feel like it’s really us. The closest to being really us is when I get really clingy and I’m all snugly.

Paul Dano: Yea… yup. (laughs) I mean obviously there are parts of us and that’s what we bring as actors to the film. But when I watch the film I don’t see us, which I was very nervous about, and I’m so excited I can watch the film without seeing us as a couple because it means I can enjoy the movie.

What were some of the challenges you had in playing your characters?

Paul Dano: Well, saying the worlds your girlfriend wrote. Her being there on set being a script supervisor and correcting me on any lines I messed up. No, I’m just kidding.

I think it’s a great part and great parts are challenging. There’s just a lot going with Calvin and what’s going on in his life even before the film start. There’s just a lot going with him and expectations of what people want from him. It’s just him and this typewriter in this big house so you’re given a lot to work with as an actor so that’s challenging when you have something that you feel tangible when you read. The whole thing was challenging and I would say that there were a lot of surprises along the way with scenes that I thought would be funny taking on this certain gravity that I didn’t anticipate or vice versa. It was a character a continued to learn about every day, which was also challenging because you want to feel like you’re on really firm ground, and I was, but there were a lot of surprises.

Zoe Kazan: We really wanted to make Ruby feel like a real person. Very grounded. And we didn’t have a lot of time to do that before you start messing with her so it was in those early scenes. Giving her a real life and not just being a girl in a movie. Filling out her thought process. When I was writing it Calvin was the protagonist so my brain was sort of with him. When I went back and was rewriting it I started thinking about acting her and it actually changed my writing.

Was there anybody else other than Paul that you could have done this film with?

Zoe Kazan: That’s a great question.

Paul Dano: Say no. (laughs)

Zoe Kazan: Honestly, one of the things we talked about while shooting was how much easier it was to act scenes with each other than it would have been with other people. We’ve acted together twice before and I think there’s a comfort level and a trust level that we have that makes it easier. For instance the really emotional scenes at the end of the movie. It’s easier to go to that place and get really dangerous and not look pretty and let it all loose. I don’t think it would have been the same experience.

[Spoilers follow in the next question and answer.]

I really liked that the movie went to a place where someone with the power of God would possibly end of going. Can you talk about writing that ending and the second part of that is about when he re-meets her after freeing her. That felt a little conflicted to me because he seemed to learn the whole time that he can’t change someone and then he changes her and gets another chance.

Zoe Kazan: Well, that’s a really cynical way of looking at it. (laughs)


Zoe Kazain: No, no. The thing of letting her free is an unselfish act and I think it’s a letting go of control. I don’t want to give anything away for the reader, but I think that Calvin is learning mostly about himself. How does he deal with himself as a part of the world and not be so isolated. I think that the person that he actually needs to learn to love is himself so that’s much more his journey for me than a typical romantic comedy. In that it’s always like he just has to learn to commit or something, but this is bigger. It’s about the messiness of life and letting life in and letting stuff be out of your control.

I did like that it went dark. What led you there?

Zoe Kazan: You know I got about 20 pages into the screenplay and I put it away for six months because I realized I didn’t want to write the broad comedy version of this story. I had to answer the question of what I wanted it to be about. When I did I came back to it and what I realized I was interested in writing about what actually happens in a relationship and not what happens when you fall in love. I wanted to write about how you fall in love with another person and not the idea of the other person. I think that that’s the really interesting questions outside of the magic realm. What happens when the first rush of love is gone and how you handle the power of having someone to love. Take away the magic part of this and I feel like it’s the same. When you really know someone and you really love someone you know exactly how to destroy that person and you choose not to press that button every day. I think that relationships have that darkness in them and that’s why the film had to get dark.

Are you going more into the direction of writing now?

Zoe Kazan: You know I’m not looking to go in any direction. You know I’d really like to direct and I think Paul wants to direct. We love film and we want to contribute in a larger way than just doing the movies that we get offered.

Paul, when you drink a milkshake do you just always think of There Will Be Blood?

Zoe Kazan: He doesn’t drink milkshakes!

Paul Dano: I’ve been sent milkshakes before and just couldn’t drink them. (He’s lactose intolerant)

Matthew Razak
Matthew Razak is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flixist. He has worked as a critic for more than a decade, reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and videogames. He will talk your ear off about James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.