Interview: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Jonathan Dayton, and Valerie Faris Talk RUBY SPARKS, Coming Out of Hiding, and a Magic Typewriter
[Thanks to James Wallace for this interview.] Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan are a bit of an indie darling power couple, having both starred in their fair share of festival favorites and award winners. Directing duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are their own power couple, having directed only one feature, which happened to be the Oscar winning Little Miss Sunshine (not to mention scores of iconic music videos).
Now the duos have joined forces for Ruby Sparks, the first screenplay from the actress and the sophomore effort from the directors that also reteams them with Dano. I recently sat down with the quartet to talk Ruby Sparks, Kazan's inspiration for the film (spoiler alert: it's not Mannequin), why it was the script that brought Dayton and Faris out of hiding, and what would life be like if we had a magic typewriter.
Zoe, both your mother and father are well known screenwriters and your grandfather is of course the famous writer/director, Elia Kazan. With this being your first screenplay, did you ever see yourself following in their footsteps?
ZK: (sighs) No. (laughs) As a kid, looking at my parents behind their desks all day not having seen the sun in so long, that did not look like fun to me! So, I think I tried to run away from it. But I've always written and that's my favorite activity so it was just inevitable.
Considering the plot of RUBY SPARKS, it'd be hard to ignore the fact that you and Paul [Dano] are a couple not just on-screen but off as well. So, I'd love to know where this idea came out of for you? Was it more personal? Or less?
ZK: I think that inspiration is such a mystery and that's part of what the movie is about, I guess. I was walking home from work one night and there was a mannequin in the dumpster and I thought it was a person and it scared me! And in a flash, I remembered the Pygmalion myth from Greek mythology, which is a myth about a sculptor who, as he's sculpting this statue of a woman, he starts to fall in love with her. And when he finishes his sculpture, he can't stop loving her. So, he prays to the Gods that they'll make her real and they do. And that was always very interesting to me, and has been the source of inspiration for Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion and My Fair Lady. So, I was just thinking about that after seeing this mannequin, then something weirdly sparked in my brain and I woke up the next morning with seeds of this story in my head. Then I showed Paul the first five pages I had written and he asked if I was writing it for us and of course the correct answer is yes!
When you said mannequin I totally thought you were going to say "I was inspired by 1987's MANNEQUIN starring Andrew McCarthy and Kim Cattrall."
ZK: You are not the first person to say that to me! And I have yet to see that movie.
What's very meta about all this is, in the film, Ruby is Calvin's perfect creation from his imagination. I'd be interested to know if, Zoe, you view RUBY SPARKS as a film like Calvin views Ruby Sparks as a person, since this is your first experience in writing something and seeing it come to life.
ZK: Yeah, it's exactly like that. I keep saying that if you want proof of magic ... the thing that I started writing in our studio apartment on the couch is now its own entity with its own physical presence ... yeah, that's really a strange, magical feeling.
And now, like Ruby for Calvin, it's out there and, as you said, its own entity that you can't control. People will watch it and get things from it you never intended or even considered when writing it.
ZK: Well, I couldn't even really control it when I was writing it! I'd put something down on the page and ask myself "What the hell are you doing?!" Then it would sort of reveal itself to me.
Jonathan and Valerie, this is your second film after LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and coincidentally also your second time to work with Paul. I think a lot of people would think when you make a film like LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and it has the great success that it does, it's easy to get your next film made, which just isn't true. Can you talk about the experience of making a sophomore effort?
VF: Very true. It is a little easier when you have a successful film to get a film made but it's not any easier to make a good film. Because Little Miss Sunshine was so rewarding and audiences appreciated it so much, we didn't just want to come out with a movie we were not 100% in love with.
JD: Yeah, it was like, how could we come back to audiences with something we didn't love? And how could we ask them to come to a theater to watch something we didn't believe in? So, we're very happy to be back!
How did you guys get connected to RUBY SPARKS? Was Paul the one who brought you Zoe's script?
PD: We thought of Jonathan and Val very early on when Zoe was writing the script, so they were always sort of the pole star for us in terms of, if we could have anybody direct the film, we wanted them. We got producers first, though, so they called Jon and Val and introduced Zoe to them just as friends because I didn't want to be calling and bugging them like "Have you read it yet?" So that's why we got producers first, just to try and protect ourselves because work and friendship is always tricky. So then we just sent it to them.
VF: I think you rescued us ... we were in hiding, so thank you for doing that! Just an act of kindness, really! Yeah, so we got the script and it's a little scary when you get a script from friends and you're about to read it and you want to like it so badly! And we were really intrigued by the idea of doing a movie with Paul and Zoe, and it took place in Los Angeles, so there were so many things weighing on reading it. Fortunately, immediately we loved Zoe's writing and loved the idea of the story and saw it as a film we could really sink our teeth into.
So, Zoe & Paul, obviously with you writing this film at home and being around each other all the time, you had to start thinking about the implications of what this would be like if it really happened in your relationship, if you had a voodoo-like Magic Typewriter of Destiny ...
ZD: (giggles) The thought of making Paul do whatever I want...oh man! (giggles) I think everything I have to say on that subject is on the screen!
PD: I've tried that game. She did not comply. (laughs)
James Wallace has been a film writer for five years, beginning as the Managing Editor for Gordon and the Whale. He is now running IHeartCinema.net as well as contributing to The Dallas Observer and FirstShowing.net. Follow James on Twitter.
Ruby Sparks opens in Canada -- and expands in the U.S. -- in limited theatrical release on Friday, August 3.