Written and directed by first-time filmmaker Jenée LaMarque, The Pretty One tells the story of what happens when Laurel (Zoe Kazan) loses her identical twin sister Audrey (also played by Zoe Kazan) in a fatal car accident and must learn how to break out of her shell and discover who she is, as an individual. The film also stars Jake Johnson, Ron Livingston and John Carroll Lynch.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Zoe Kazan talked about what made her want to play these dual roles, why she wanted to work with writer/director Jenée LaMarque, how it felt like she was, at time, playing four different characters with the various gradations, which twin she was more drawn to playing, and how technically difficult it all was. She also talked about getting to work with the writing of Joss Whedon on the film In Your Eyes, and how excited she is to see the film. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
ZOE KAZAN: I read the script and I was just really struck by how unique it was. I felt like I had never read anything quite like it before. I was just really curious what it would be like to be inside of it. It has a very unique tone. I didn’t know Jenée LaMarque or her work yet ‘cause she was a first-time filmmaker. So, I went to audition for it to see what it would be like to be in the room with her. Especially because there’s this very unique tone, mixing drama and comedy, that takes a very deft hand, and I wanted to be sure that I felt like Jenée was up for the task since I didn’t know her yet. And then, in the audition room, I immediately felt like I could be in really good hands with her. She was just so smart about actors, and she gave me great notes in the room. I can’t tell you how rare it is, during an audition, to have a director say something that lets you know how they’re thinking and helps you do that for them. I can count on one hand the times that that’s happened, like with Sam Mendes. So, I felt immediately like, “Okay, I’ve gotta work with this person,” and she wanted me to do the part. And then, I got nervous because it was such a big challenge.
What do you think that lack of communication from directors at auditions comes from?
KAZAN: It’s so interesting because when I was growing up, I thought that all directors did was talk to actors. Especially coming from my family, that seemed to be something that directors did. So, I was really surprised when I started working and realized that you’re actually on your own, a lot of the time. It makes you really responsible, as an actor. You start doing your preparation in a different way, and you expect less from your director on set. It’s probably a good thing to feel that much ownership, but it’s such a nice surprise when a director can speak to an actor. Jenée does have an acting background, so some of that probably comes from that. But she’s also a storyteller, and she’s thinking in a very specific way. I think, a lot of times, directors assume that whatever they get from you the first time, whether it be at an audition or on set, is all that you can bring. When you’re in the editing room, as a director, you get the opportunity to look at your work. As a writer, you can rewrite. But as an actor, unless you’re watching playback, you really rely on the director to help you. I’m always disappointed after an audition when I don’t get a part and I hear, “Oh, she was too X, or too Y,” and it’s too much of a quality. I think, “Well, if you’d just told me that in the room, I’d have been able to give you something different. That’s my job.” So, I was just really grateful that Jenée did that.
There’s been an increasing amount of attention on the lack of female filmmakers. As someone who is a writer and producer yourself, is that something you notice, at all? As an actor, have you gotten to work with a good balance of male and female directors?
KAZAN: I’ve definitely gotten to work with female directors, and I feel lucky because of that. I just feel like more voices should be represented. We should have a diversity of voices that we have access to. Sometimes a little bit of progress is a dangerous thing. I hear people say, “Oh, it’s better for women. We have Tina Fey, and we have Lena Dunham.” But, that’s just one drop in the bucket. Part of the reason we did a more diverse group of voices being represented is because we need a greater diversity of stories.
When you read the script for The Pretty One, was the personality for each of these twins something that was clear on the page, or did that develop as you were finding your performance?
KAZAN: It was very clear. The strength of Jenée’s writing was evident in how clear those people felt, separated from each other and also connected to each other. It did develop because they lived in me, in a very specific way. But one of the reasons that Jenée cast me was that somehow, strangely, the way that I saw these people aligned with how she saw them. From my first audition, I felt like we were in the same ballpark.
In this film, you’re playing Laurel and Audrey, you’re playing Laurel pretending to be Audrey, and then you’re playing Laurel, as she discovers who she really is. Did it feel as though you were playing four different characters?
KAZAN: Yeah, it felt like playing four characters. The gradations between Laurel as herself, and then Laurel pretending to be Audrey, and then Laurel being her true self, at the end of the movie, figuring out exactly where we were on that sliding scale was almost like a timeline with a little bead, that you could move back and forth on that timeline. You have to track your character with any film because you’re shooting out of order, but it felt slightly more complicated on this one, then on some of the other films I’ve gotten to do.
Because these twins are so different from each other, did you find yourself more comfortable in the shoes of one than the other?
KAZAN: Yeah. To get to play Audrey was super fun for me because I haven’t really gotten to play that girl before, on screen or on stage. I felt like there were qualities of that kind of mean girl in me that I don’t normally get to express. She’s very powerful sexually and she’s very confident, but then she has all of this self-loathing. I don’t know. I was very interested in her. I felt like I could watch a whole movie about Audrey. We shot all of the twin stuff first, and that’s the only stuff you see of Audrey. So, after those first 10 days, we had moved on and she wasn’t around anymore, and I felt sad to watch her go. I just really liked her. I thought she was interesting and no-bullshit. I leaned more on the regressive part of myself to play Laurel. She reminded me so much of myself, in my early teens. I had braces, and I grew up in Southern California, feeling like I didn’t belong. I felt so alienated from people around me, and awkward and unlovable and ugly. Those are all the ways in which Laurel feels less than her sister. It was a more painful place to access, but it was also wonderful to bring those things to the foreground and realize that that’s worth looking at, too. So often, you’re asked to play this impossibly perfect version of yourself on screen that it’s nice to get to bring in those parts that you think aren’t as worth looking at.
How technically difficult was this to do?
KAZAN: It was so hard! I get so annoyed when actors talk about their job being difficult, but this was. It was actually a difficult skill. It wasn’t emotionally difficult. I felt like I could play these two different people. But the technical aspect of playing to our wonderful stand-in, who did a great job, but I was playing off of someone who was not giving the performance that I was actually going to be reacting to. And I hadn’t done that performance yet. So, in some ways, I had to know what I was going to be doing, so that I could react appropriately. I had to match my eyeline to people who weren’t there because they were going to lay two plates over each other, and you can’t have people walk through both plates. You can only have them walk through one plate, so you have to track the speed their walking at and their height, and know what point you look over at them. It was like doing math while standing on your head while trying to act. It was so crazy! It was so much harder than I thought it was going to be. And it made me so much better, as an actor, technically.
The F Word sounds like another unique relationship movie. What was it that drew you to that story and character? Are you personally drawn to these relationship stories?
KAZAN: You know what? I actually just think it’s what’s available to me, to be totally honest. There aren’t a lot of movies being made about women, period. Most of the time, the roles that are available are the sidekick, the friend, the girlfriend or the wife, and they just aren’t that interesting. For some reason, I made three movies, the year that I made this. I had just made Ruby Sparks, and everything that intrigued me that became available to me was somehow about relationships. I’m definitely not looking to do another movie about relationships anytime soon. But then, if that’s what’s out there, it’s hard for me to go a long time without working. I love to work, so I start to go, “Well, maybe I could do another romantic comedy.” Although I’m always looking for something different. This is a more interesting version of a romantic comedy to me. I found it interesting to do. I think people are interesting, and a lot of movies about people are also relationship films.
What was it like to get to work with the writing of Joss Whedon on In Your Eyes?
KAZAN: It was a challenge. I haven’t seen the film yet. I’m very excited to see it, when I get the opportunity. I hope it’s good. He has a very specific way of writing.
The Pretty One is now playing in theaters.