First published on 27 Jul 2012. Updated on 14 Sep 2012.
The new film directed by Little Miss Sunshine’s Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris is an indie fantasy in which a young woman is written into existence by a frustrated writer. Star Zoe Kazan (Meek’s Cutoff) talks about writing the screenplay and the challenges of working opposite her boyfriend, actor Paul Dano.
Zoe, what inspired Ruby Sparks?
I was walking home from work one day. Paul and I used to live near a Macy’s, and there was a discarded mannequin in the trash, and I thought it was a person. It made me think of the Pygmalion myth about the sculptor who falls in love with his statue and wills it into life. It planted a seed in my brain.
Calvin (played by Dano) creates Ruby but finds that he can’t control the person that she becomes. Were you trying to explore that aspect of relationships?
Yeah. That people change. People are mysterious. And that really loving someone means loving the mystery, and not loving the concrete idea. I think it’s very difficult to do that.
As initially written by Calvin, Ruby shares characteristics with the trope of the manic pixie dreamgirl. Was she meant to be a comment on that type of character?
If you want to read it as a comment, I’m OK with that. I feel very strongly that that [type of] person is not real. I think it’s a way that people read female characters that flattens them out and makes them seem less real. There are characters like that, but it’s a way of reducing interesting, complicated women down to a manageable idea, and that’s part of what the movie’s about – the danger of doing that. I think of Ruby as being completely herself from the start. It takes a while to get to know her in the movie.
Did you write the script with you and your boyfriend in mind for the lead roles?
I definitely did. I was about five pages in, and I gave it to Paul to look at, and he said, “You’re writing this for us, right?” As soon as he said it, I was like, Oh, that’s absolutely right.
Was it challenging to work together?
It’s both a blessing and something that is difficult. It’s not difficult at work, but the movie took priority for us while we were making it. Afterwards, we really needed to get to know each other again and put that working relationship behind us. But it’s very easy and helpful to have a scene partner that knows you so well. He’s seen me be sick all over the floor and at my worst emotional moments already, so there’s sort of no limit to what I can do when he’s watching.
In the film, Calvin is going through writer’s block. Is that something you’ve struggled with?
No. You know, I feel really lucky, because I have this whole other life where I’m an actor, so I don’t have to write if I don’t want to. Anytime that I’ve felt uninspired, I don’t force myself to sit down and write.
Ruby Sparks opens Sep 20.