Tribeca Exclusive Interview: Zoe Kazan Talks Self-Discovery For ‘The Pretty One’

Actress Zoe Kazan has lived up to her prestigious family name. The granddaughter of the great director, Elia Kazan, Zoe has gravitated towards quiet independent films (Meek’s Cutoff, Happythankyoumoreplease) as her main form of telling interesting stories through character work. With last year’s critical hit Ruby Sparks, The Indie Spirit Award nominated screenwriter is slowly starting to reinvent what her name means to the industry.

This year she returns to Tribeca as an actress and a willing collaborator in The Pretty One. The film sees Kazan as twin sisters Laurel and Audrey, two individuals who can finish each other’s sentences but on the outside appear to be cut from a completely different cloth. Audrey exudes confidence in her sleek and mature wardrobe, and Laurel is stuck inside of herself, wearing frumpy clothes and doting on their father. It has all the trappings of a cliché Hollywood film but doesn’t even go near any pitfalls past its initial set up.

Bringing forth the same charm and adoring whimsical quality as she did in Ruby Sparks, Kazan is completely open to director Jenée LaMarque’s lens. While it seems like an impossible feat, taking on the exhaustive task of playing twins is a perfect match for Kazan, as it showcases the actress playing on all sides of what she has to offer. Playing two sides of the same coin proves to be a precise balancing act, and it’s an amazing act to watch from Kazan, who is simply mesmerizing in each identity.

The Inquisitr’sNiki Cruz spoke with Zoe Kazan about playing twins, collaboration, and self-discovery.

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THE INQUISITR: Can you tell the readers about the character preparation for The Pretty One?

ZOE KAZAN: We sat down and I asked Jenee for something, which was above and beyond. I asked her to sit down and talk through the entire script with me. We had the luxury of having the time to do that. I came out to LA multiple times before we shot the movie, and we would sit down, and I would say, “Where did this line come from?” or “How funny is this supposed to be?” So I had a good idea of what Jenee wanted and also during that process if I got to something where I felt like, “This is not going to sound right coming out of my mouth.” I would say, “Can we talk about this line?” Jenee was great about making revisions.

THE INQUISITR: That must have been cool.

KAZAN: It was really cool because I think sometimes first time writers can be really precious about every word. I know that I was! I think we tried to do justice by the script, but also it was just about letting organic things happen as well within the script.

The Pretty One image

THE INQUISITR: In playing the twins, did you look to any particular performances?

KAZAN: Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap. Honestly! She’s so good in that movie it’s crazy! She’s amazing in it and after doing what we did, I can’t believe an 11-year-old can do that. It’s so insane! I grew up on the Hayley Mills Parent Trap. That was one of my mom’s favorites. For me it was more about connecting to Jenee’s world. She has a very specific vision. She knew what she wanted to do with the camera. She knew what she wanted to do with the tone. That’s something I think is really rare for a first time director. I was trying to connect to that.

THE INQUISITR: How was it acting alongside a body double?

KAZAN: It was really hard. If Katherine, my body double did something with her hand that was accidentally in the shot I would have to match that with my performance. That was hard because it limited me and I became a little Napoleon on set like, “Can you not do that with your hands?” Cause I knew I would have to do it and that would affect my performance. You’re trained as an actor to be very generous with your scene partner but I would be watching her thinking, “Is that something I’m going to have to mimic?” With that challenge, I felt like I got better at the technical aspects of filmmaking.

THE INQUISITR: Since you’re also a screenwriter, were you attached to this material as closely?

KAZAN: Yeah. Ruby Sparks was a very special experience because that was the first time I had written a script. I was making it with my boyfriend [Paul Dano], and with Jonathan [Dayton] and Valerie [Faris] who have been in Paul’s life since he was a teenager. It really felt like a labor of love in a different way, just because I had never been involved in something from start to finish like that before. Every time I do a movie I think it has to be worth me investing completely and loving it like it’s coming out of me. I didn’t start writing because I thought I always needed to be in charge. I just started writing because I felt like I had stories to tell and I wanted to tell them. I do that through acting too, so for me when I read a script there were parts of me where I felt I could express through Jenee’s words better than I had been able to express them in anybody else’s words before.

THE INQUISITR: Did you swap ideas with Jenee?

KAZAN: I just want to be totally clear, just because I’ m a writer and she appreciates that in me, I don’t bring that part of myself. Anything that changed with the script, had to do with the script fitting me as an actor, and me being able to bring more of myself to it. Hopefully as actor and filmmaker you inspire each other because that’s the most fruitful relationship. I just don’t want to give that impression at all.

THE INQUISITR: What about the film did you connect to?

KAZAN: Jenee and I both connect to the loss in the film, at a personal level. I felt like that was a part of me that I wanted to be able to express. I haven’t been asked to do a lot of really sexy stuff on film and that’s a big part of my life. I have always been a really sensual person. I wanted to honor that part of myself without villainizing it and being able to bring that side to the screen. In Laurel being able to bring the parts of me that still feel like a gawky thirteen year old. There’s a part of me that’s never going to feel pretty, or feel like a grown up. Being able to give light to those parts and say, “They’re beautiful too and they’re worth looking at.” There was a duality to both characters that was intriguing to me, with Audrey being very forward and confident, and self-hating in some ways, and then Laurel being very buried inside of herself.

THE INQUISITR: In this film and in The Exploding Girl you play characters that underestimate themselves. Does that aspect appeal to you?

KAZAN: Yeah, it does. I have to put on makeup for a living; it’s part of what I have to do. Sometimes I think you go to a movie and you think, “Oh that person must think so well of themselves because they have their hair done and they look nice.” I grew up essentially, an enormous book nerd, and someone who never felt like I was the pretty one. I always felt like an odd duck. It’s really wonderful in your acting to be able to bring those things out. I’m not a very shy person but there’s a shy part of me, and letting that be is a relief. There’s a relief in feeling like you’re not “the girl.” You don’t have an obligation to be “pretty.” This film deals more directly with that conundrum. We all go home and put on sweatpants, and take our makeup off, and put our hair up, and look like possums. [LAUGHS] There’s a part of all of us that doesn’t feel good about ourselves.

THE PRETTY ONE IS CURRENTLY PLAYING AT THE TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL.