“Revolutionary Road” actress Zoe Kazan understands why people still bring up her being the granddaughter of filmmaker Elia Kazan, but the Brooklyn-based beauty should be taken on her own terms, having quietly banked an impressive résumé of stage and screen credits (including “Me and Orson Welles,” “Fracture” and “It’s Complicated”). Currently, she co-stars on Broadway with Christopher Walken, Anthony Mackie and Sam Rockwell in Martin McDonagh’s oddball comic thriller “A Behanding in Spokane,” which isn’t a shabby gig for someone who only graduated from college in 2005.
On the movie screen, Kazan headlines the introspective indie drama “The Exploding Girl,” written and directed by Bradley Rust Gray (co-writer of “In Between Days”). Stricken with epilepsy, college freshman Ivy (Kazan) ventures home to Manhattan, hangs out with her gawky best friend Al (Mark Rendall) and occasionally fields uncomfortable phone calls from her long-distance boyfriend. A downbeat psychological portrait of a vulnerable girl’s tricky transition into womanhood, “The Exploding Girl” is an unassuming vehicle for Kazan, whose subtle body language brings gravitas and palpable compassion to a seemingly slender day-in-the-life narrative. As I sat down with her at the Oscilloscope Labs offices, we briefly discussed the mutual Facebook friend who once introduced us, although she claims she’ll soon be done with social networking.
Why are you quitting Facebook?
I get so many friend requests every day now, all from people I don’t know. The truth is, I am in touch with the people that I love, and I don’t really need to be with the guy I went to preschool with. It’s not worth it to me, especially getting weird messages from people who feel like they can reach out to you because you’re on Facebook. I’ve been on it since I was in college because Yale was the second or third school that Facebook went to, so I’ve had my account forever. I just don’t use it. It’s a waste, getting 17,000 emails on my BlackBerry every day. [laughs]
Bradley Rust Gray wrote “The Exploding Girl” specifically for you. I’m a bit confused by that because the character of Ivy doesn’t seem anything like you.
Yeah, she’s not. I auditioned for Brad in the spring of 2006 for a movie that he still hasn’t made. He didn’t cast me, and I thought that was it. But somewhere, I stuck in his head and he definitely stuck in mine. I had seen “Salt” and “In Between Days” and loved them. Then in January 2008, he called up my agent, arranged a meeting with me, and said, “I’ve been thinking about you, and I want to make a movie. Do you want to make a movie with me?” I was like, “What’s it about? What is the character like?” He said, “I don’t know. I can’t tell you.” Okay, sure, let’s make a movie.
For the next few months, we would take these epic eight-hour walks in the cold all around Park Slope or [Tribeca] or the east side of Manhattan, up and down the South Street Seaport. I got bronchitis walking in the cold. Totally his fault. In that process, we became friends, but we didn’t ever really talk about the movie. Sometimes he would ask a question like, “Do you know anything about epilepsy?”
I went off to shoot “Me and Orson Welles” in London, and when I got back a month later, he had a script. Because we had talked so personally for months, I had assumed that there would be something of me in it, and I was actually thrilled there wasn’t because Brad’s mostly worked with non-actors and wrote things very close to the people themselves so they could act it. I took it as a great leap of faith on his part to write something so different from me for me, given that he had only worked in the opposite way before.
Since Gray usually collaborates with non-professionals, did you find anything idiosyncratic about his directorial approach with you?
Yeah, he took for granted that I would get to the places I needed to without a lot of help. He’s not a hand-holder. Sometimes he’d come over and be like, “The way you’re breathing, that’s not right, that’s not Ivy.” He was always right, that’s the thing. So a lot of the prep was just talking and nudging closer to Ivy. We rehearsed for two days with Mark [Rendall] when he came down from Canada to audition. That was as close as we got to having any rehearsal period, and that’s where Ivy started to be born: “What you’re doing, that’s not it.”
Often when I’m building a role, I talk about it being me plus other things. Like, when I was Masha [in the Broadway revival of “The Seagull”], it was me plus she lives in the late 1800s, so she dresses a certain way. It’s me plus she’s an addict, plus her heart is broken. On this, we talked about stripping things away. Like, it’s me minus my flirtation, minus my confidence, minus my independence as an adult in the world. That was a helpful way of talking about it. By the time we’d shot, Brad and I had known each other for eight months. We were already close friends, so he could run over to me, [make unintelligible sounds] and I’d be like, “Oh, I get it. No worries.” Shorthand, total shorthand. I had so much time to live with the character just in thinking about her that it felt effortless on set.