Interview with Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton, Zoe Kazan, and Paul Dano – for Ruby Sparks
On Wednesday 5th September 2012, Ruby Sparks directors Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton, along with Writer/star Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano held a press conference to discuss with us making this gripping at times slightly dark romantic comedy.
Where did your quote from the movie “Falling in love is an act of magic” come from?
ZK – That part of the movie, that speech we wrote about and talked about so much. I don’t even think it’s in the script, I think I wrote it to the directors via Skype. It came from the either to me.
VH – We were on a call with each other, and we were trying to find that certain line, then there was this long silence and Zoe said “I think I have it, I’ll call you back!”
Can you tell us about the underwater swimming scene?
PD – That was Jonathon and Valarie’s idea, an enhancement of the script, an underwater dance and I was like “Whaaaaat?” Then they showed us on flat ground what they were thinking, and that was quite inspiring, in fact it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Having seen I thought, now I really don’t know if this is possible. And Zoe and I just got in the pool together, and I just allowed myself to be lead by Zoe. When I looked back at it later, I thought it was just so beautiful.
JD – I really feel for actors, there is such a leap of trust, you don’t know how it all will look when its put together.
Is it a positive thing to be married and work together (Harris & Dayton)?
JD – I was glad to have a partner on this project particularly because of gender politics.
VH – We have worked together our entire careers, we like to mix work and our personal life, it really works for us.
ZK – Watching them together, it makes you feel that this should not be done any other way.
What point did you realize that you had sent out the most public love letter ever (reference her relationship with Paul Dano)?
ZK – I’m still dealing wit the ramifications of that. I’m glad you read it that way. We had been together for four years when we did this, and it put a lot of pressure on our relationship, and I’m proud we made it through undamaged.
How did you all manage to walk such a fine line, and make us care enough about it, in respect of the genre bending methodology of the story?
ZK – For me it was easy, that’s how my brain works so I think Jonathon and Valerie really were the ones to do this, as they are the ones that showed us how to bring it to the screen. We worked on the movie together (the script) for 9 months, and that was when most of the work was done, letting them see my vision, which was pretty much the same as theirs.
How was it to work with, and how did you get Elliot Gould onboard?
JD – The Long Goodbye was one of my favourite films, so I was super excited. I only got to spend one day with him, we filmed him for just one day. He is a fascinating guy, asking him a question and you go round the world to get the answer, he has some amazing stories. I found working with him a really learning experience.
Elliot was friends with Harry Nilsson, a musician I just love, and our friendship started there, then moved onto basketball.
The part was originally written for a woman, but be we could not get a satisfying lock on the part with a woman. And we said what if it’s a man, and Elliot sprung to mind.
VH – We had to do a lot of convincing, we had a few meetings, we had to listen to a lot of stories, and he told us about the way he works, he said I can’t be patronizing I don’t know how.
As the movie moves through it’s different aspects, at the end, that scene of madness is really unsettling, how dark do you think you could have made it without upsetting the rest of the story?
VH – Most of that final scene was done in post, we went as dark as we wanted to, it was hard to write, hard to rehearse, so it really kind of came together on the final shoot day, and post.
JD – It was something we were excited about taking on, the challenge of it, Val and I acted it all out our self, and it was a scene that just continued to evolve, the music, and sound were critical in finding the right balance.
ZK – My parents are writer, I was raised with the expression word is king, you don’t mess with what’s on the page. But since making the movie, I have completely revamped that opinion. When we looked back at some of the scenes, I felt that this was not right at all. We had to re-shoot scenes as it never felt right, it’s just something in my brain.
Paul almost nobody in the entire planet uses a typewriter, can you explain the logic in that, rather than using an apple mac?
PD – Well the typewriter was always there, from inception it appeared on page 2 of the script. You can sort of imagine it is a typewriter that gets handed down to him from his dead father, and there is a sort of magic in that.
Can you explain your passion for Greek mythology?
ZK – My father is half Greek, my parents were atheists so I was raised with these tales of Greek mythology instead. The myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, were strong in my mind during this. Just prior the writing of this, I was walking home from work, and I saw a figure in a dumpster, and I thought it was a body, somebody had been killed and chucked in the dumpster, I’m kind of dark like that; it was a mannequin of course. But that was in my mind, and the following day I awoke and started writing this, and it kind of went on from there.
Can you tell us about the casting of the dog?
VH – It was written as a large dog, and we looked at lots of dogs, big dogs drool to much, and we saw this little border terrier, who was so well behaved.
JD – We had a casting session for dogs, we just fell in love with this dog.
VH – Whose hair was similar in colour to Calvin’s (Paul Dano) and we loved that.
JD – Towards the end when they are fighting, the dog just ran away, and without thinking we followed the dog running away, and we love that scene so much.
PD – The dog’s name was Scotty, and he was the most professional actor on set, he was very good.
VH – He got paid more too, as he got paid after every take.
PD – He worked well, he was a boy dog and always focused on the next treat. They say kids and animals are hard to work with, but in some way they are more honest. I don’t think that Scotty ever missed up a shot. His trainer was great, and very unobtrusive, and never shouted at him or anything.
Why did you cast Steve Coogan, and was he easy to bring onboard?
VH – He loved the script, he fell in love with it. He understood the character completely, and we loved his work so we felt it was a done deal. The his schedule got very full and he said was only going to be three days in the states, and would have to travel between locations to do our shoot, so he turned us down. We were devastated so we sent him this very groveling email, and he said that it worked, and we flattered him into submission. So he came in for three days, and became the perfect fit for that.
Did you find yourself challenging yourself when you wrote the piece in the knowledge you would play the character as you go through every emotion?
ZK – I tried to put it out of my head as much as I could, I rarely get a good part, rarer still to get a good idea. I often start writing a story and then think; well there is no movie there. So when I started writing this, and loved it, I did not give it any thought as it would effect the way I would write. Coming to film it though I got very nervous, what if these things cannot even come out of my mouth?
VH – It was a lot of fun to watch Zoe become Ruby, so the Zoe actress changed the Zoe writer.
Zoe have you abandoned anything to make this movie?
ZK – Yeah I have been able to balance my writing and acting well, but it’s hard to do both. The movie I’m currently doing has kept me very, very busy so when it finishes I’m looking forward to getting back to my computer to start writing again.
JD – On the re-writes Zoe was in New York, she was working on the stage play of Angels In America. And we were corresponding via email, and we soon realized that her replies were coming through when she was on a break between scenes. We’d be on the phone and she’d be like “I have to run!” and would go back on the stage, it was both crazy and amazing.
Does writers block affect you Zoe?
ZK – No! I think a big part of Calvin’s problem in the film is the burden of expectation. I don’t think about writing as my real job, so I do not feel that burden. Something else fills my time acting, and being Paul’s girlfriend. So I only get to write when I really have time for it, and when I really get inspired.
PD – I noticed where I came in order of priorities there.
John and Valerie do you feel the weight of expectation after Little Miss Sunshine?
VH – I think yes, it was the same sort of funny. But for us, every time you go to do a project you feel that fear and responsibility, could this be the end of your career? It was good to have that experience behind us, but we never worried about it so much with this. We were of course worried not to let the writers down, and the actors rather than our reputation.
JD – We have worked continuously since Miss Sunshine, some things we looked at were clearly not ready to be shot, and we turned a lot down saying “no it’s not ready” then we saw this, and we knew it was ready. Some movies you just look at and can see they were not ready, and it really does show. We had options to do other movies that were not where this was.
Did you experiment with how far Calvin could make Ruby go to see how it looked?
ZK – I think honestly I never experimented too much, you listen to what your characters are telling you to do, and Calvin was not a sadist, what he did to change her was manipulative, but for a fear of losing her and not for anything darker. And I wanted to keep things as to how people actually change; I wanted to keep it in the realms of justification.
Transcribed from a recording taken on the day by Spencer Hawken for Cinemaroll.
Read our review of Ruby Sparks here!