[FILM: Interview] Ruby Sparks
You may not be familiar with the names Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano, but if you’ve watched many independent films in the last few years, most likely you’d recognise their faces. The two have become an indie acting super-couple, both on screen and in real life (they fell in love on stage years ago). Already, Kazan and Dano have had solo successes, acted opposite each other off-Broadway, and co-starred in 2010’s Meek’s Cutoff. They’re now set to charm audiences with Ruby Sparks, which also happens to be Kazan’s screenwriting debut.
Once you learn about Kazan’s family legacy, its no surprise the actress is also a writer. Her parents are both screenwriters, her grandmother was a playwright, and her grandfather was Elia Kazan, the legendary director behind A Streetcar Named Desire, On The Waterfront, and many others.
So naturally, the story of Ruby Sparks centres on a writer. Successful young novelist Calvin (Dano) is suffering from a case of writer’s block, until a dream inspires him to create an impossibly adorable indie dream-girl character, who he calls Ruby Sparks (Kazan). In a fit of creativity Calvin takes to his vintage typewriter, crafting a love story starring the fictitious Ruby. Calvin’s brother Harry (Chris Messina) thinks the character is inauthentic: her perfection-in-her-imperfections make her nothing like a real woman. But suddenly she is real, appearing in Calvin’s house as a real life, real bra-wearing realisation of his character.
While writing Ruby Sparks, Kazan experienced something similar to Calvin: the feeling that her characters were creating their own story. “It feels like these people are totally real,” she admits. “Calvin and Ruby were doing things that I felt I wasn’t making them do. They were just behaving and I would say, ‘What’s happening, where are you going?’, and they would reveal themselves to me. It sounds crazy but I swear a lot of writers feel this way.”
Something else Zoe was unconsciously doing was creating a film for her and Dano to star in. “I showed him some pages and he asked me if I was writing it for the two of us. It hadn’t occurred to me until then, but I thought, ‘Well, clearly that’s what I’m doing!’” she says. “Then I tried to put that out of my head because, at that point, the characters were speaking so clearly to me, and that was much more interesting than just trying to write good parts for us to play. The story came first – and even though I knew I was writing for us, I was trying to do anything except write for us.”
Though he got a sneak peek at the beginning, Dano preferred to stay in the dark about the characters she was writing until the script was complete. “I knew she was onto something, but I wanted to be surprised by it,” he says. “I also don’t want to be aware if somebody’s writing to a strength or a weakness of mine. Whenever we talked about the film, it was just tossing things around and dreaming about the film we would make. It was not about us acting in it. That came later.”
Dano wasn’t the only one impressed by Zoe’s writing. Messina had met the actors years ago through a mutual friend, and after reading the script for Ruby Sparks he knew he wanted the role of Harry. “She wrote a great character and when I read it, I instantly wanted to be a part of it. You don’t always get scripts like that, and [when you do] you beg to be a part of it,” he admits.
“I saw Paul and Zoe in the first play they did, where they fell in love. I thought they were incredible. We went to dinner that night and I could see that something was going on between them. Then I started following all their work. I started watching their movies and seeing them in plays. I heard that Zoe had written a script and somebody said, ‘I think you’d like this and you’d be right for it.’ And I said ‘I don’t look anything like Paul Dano.’ Then I read the script and I said, ‘Maybe I can look like Paul Dano.’
It was through Dano that the film found its directors. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (another super-couple) had worked with Dano on their previous film, the off-beat comedy Little Miss Sunshine, and had been waiting to find another movie to feel passionate about. “We loved working with Paul,” says Dayton. “And we met Zoe through him. She was such an interesting person. I was really curious about this creature who so obviously had this incredible connection with Paul.”
“As soon as we read the script and started talking about the movie we would make, it was so clear that we had a rapport and mutual respect,” says Faris. “She was a great collaborator.”
“I also like that for most audiences she could be Ruby,” adds Dayton. “She was someone we didn’t know, so we could just accept her and be excited about meeting this new character.”
Another important character in the film is Calvin’s Olympia typewriter, the device used to bring Ruby to life. It may seem out of place in today’s computer-driven world, but Dano says it was a clever way to illustrate Calvin’s loneliness. “It was there on the first two pages Zoe wrote: we did have reason for it and it certainly did a lot for me. I remember going to the house alone and hearing the sound of that typewriter in that big house and how lonely that was. Also if I was to imagine being a writer I like the idea of the typewriter, because you have to be stronger with your choices, and I like that feeling.”
But when asked whether she herself wrote Ruby Sparks on a computer, Zoe laughs. “Yeah, I’m not a romantic,” she says. “I’m a pragmatist!”
What: Ruby Sparks
When: In cinemas from September 20