Now available on DVD/Blu-ray is the romantic dramedy Ruby Sparks, from directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), about a once-famous novelist named Calvin (Paul Dano), who creates a beautiful fictitious character named Ruby (Zoe Kazan) that not only brings his work to life, but actually literally comes to life. TheDVD/Blu-ray special features include Behind the Story, Real-Life Couples: Co-stars & Directors, Be Careful What You Wish For and the theatrical trailer.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, the film’s star and screenwriter Zoe Kazan talked about how writing this feature came about, when she realized that she and her real-life boyfriend Paul Dano would be playing the roles, what writing allows her that acting doesn’t, how she originally had a different ending for the story, that she always wanted to leave the reasons for Ruby’s existence unexplained, how she just finished writing the first draft of a new project, and working with Daniel Radcliffe (the Harry Potter franchise) on The F Word. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
ZOE KAZAN: I had been thinking about writing something. I had, in fact, written pieces of other things or first drafts, but I wasn’t 100% happy with those other scripts. This was the first idea that hit me that felt really solid, like I could imagine the whole movie. I wrote the thing very quickly. I did the first draft in a matter of weeks. The movie was just totally clear to me, from day one, and normally that doesn’t happen. Normally, I get an image or part of an idea and I don’t know, 100%, why I’m writing it or what I’m reaching for. With this, it revealed itself to me, pretty quickly. And then, I had the wonderful experience of working with (directors) Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who helped foster it into the world and helped me find a more elegant and cinematic way of doing certain things. I just got pretty lucky with this one. It was the most complete collaboration I’ve ever gotten to be a part of, and it was a really cool experience.
Did you realize fairly early on that you and Paul Dano were going to play these roles?
KAZAN: I was so excited to have a complete idea that I didn’t even begin to think about the acting side of things. And then, because I’m an attention whore, essentially, I gave the first few pages to Paul to read and he asked if I was writing it for the two of us. When he said it, it was that light bulb moment in your head where you’re like, “Aha! Yes, indeed!” I knew that Paul would never want to be in a movie, much less a movie with me, that felt too close to our own life, so I tried to put us out of my head, as much as possible, when I was writing. I just didn’t want to feel influenced by that.
At the point you’re at right now, do you see yourself as an actor first or as a writer first?
KAZAN: I’m definitely still an actor first. For one thing, I’ve had more years of experience doing that, so I think I feel more comfortable passing myself off as a professional actor. But, I’ve always loved to write. It’s a big part of who I am and how I feel the need to express myself. I can’t imagine not writing. As an actor, you’re wholly dependent, really, on other people’s schedule and other people’s money and other people’s resources. Being able to write allows me to have an independent source of creativity and also of self-worth, to be totally honest.
On set, was it ever challenging to get out of your own head, as far as acting in a role that you wrote? Did you ever have those moments where the writer you was having arguments with how the actor you was playing the role?
KAZAN: You know, I was very concerned about that, but I found it to be completely seamless, in some ways. But, that also has to do with the fact that I worked for nine months with Jonathan and Valerie, explaining every single line of the film to them, why it was there, why he or she didn’t say something else, and rewriting to their notes. We were in discussions for such a long time that, by the time I actually was in front of the camera acting it, I knew it inside and out. It almost didn’t feel like my script anymore. At that point, it really felt like ours. In that way, I had already alienated myself from that. As an actor, they say you should have the script so memorized that you’re bored by it, and I had definitely become bored by my writing.
Is the ending of the film the ending that you always had for it, or had you tried different endings?
KAZAN: There was a different ending in the very, very, very, very, very first draft. Everybody that I gave it to asked me about it and thought that it wasn’t quite the right ending for the movie. So, when Jonathan and Valerie came on and also agreed with that assessment, they gave me a bunch of suggestions, and I went away and found something that we all felt good about.
Had you ever contemplated giving an actual reason for how Ruby Sparks was brought to life, or had you always want to leave that ambiguous?
KAZAN: I always wanted to leave that unexplained, for the most part. For me, it has to do with how badly he needs her, and that need creates a physical manifestation of a person. I looked at movies, like Groundhog Day, that don’t provide an explanation and I felt like, for a children’s movie like Big, you really do need an explanation because they’re so literal-minded that they won’t leave that bone alone until you give them some explanation. But for a movie for adults, which is what this is, I felt like to try to explain it by saying, “Oh, the typewriter is magic,” or “There’s a gypsy curse,” it would belittle the metaphoric power of the movie.
KAZAN: Since we shot Ruby, I’ve acted in four movies, and then we also had to go on a whole promotional thing for this, so I haven’t really had that much time. That being said, I just finished the first draft of something this week and put it away so I can get a little perspective on it before I start rewriting it. To be totally frank, weirdly I feel like working with Jonathan and Valerie was like grad school for me. I feel like I’m much better equipped now than I used to be, to edit my own work without destroying it and help myself out when I run into problems. It’s really hard not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I just read this book by Stephen King, called On Writing, so I’m trying that thing where you put it away for six weeks and don’t look at it, but I have no idea whether it’s going to work or not. I sealed it in an envelope. It’s under my bed. I’m so tempted to just open my Word document and take a peak at it, but I’m like, “No, you cannot!” I need to have Paul rename the file.
How was the experience of making The F Word? Was it fun to work with Daniel Radcliffe?
KAZAN: Yeah, I love him! He’s wonderful! I think everybody who works with him loves him. He’s just a really cool person.
Are you personally drawn to realistic romantic stories?
KAZAN: I’m just attracted to smart writing. Elan Mastai, who wrote that script, is just one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life and has a real ear for dialogue. I think that that kind of situation, when dealt with by someone really intelligent, can be complicated in a way that feels true to life. That is something that I feel in pursuit of, as an actor and as a writer. I love things that seem really far-fetched or really different than your own life. I’ll never forget seeing The Beat of My Heart, for the first time. It’s about a little boy in France, coming of sexual age, and I’ve never been a little boy in France, coming of sexual age, but I just remembered what that felt like, even though I’ve never been that person. That’s one of the amazing things that art and movies, in particular, can do. They can make you feel as if that experience was your own.
Ruby Sparks is now available on DVD/Blu-ray.