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The meta qualities of “Ruby Sparks”

Ruby Sparks

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By Jennifer Vineyard

When actress Zoe Kazan started writing “Ruby Sparks,” she came up with two main characters, Calvin, whose love life has been barren of late, and Ruby, his dream girl. Kazan’s real-life boyfriend, actor Paul Dano, turned to her later reading the first few pages, and asked, “Are you writing this for us?” “And she said, ‘Yes,’ but I think she just realized it then,” he told IFC.

This wasn’t because Kazan is also Dano’s dream girl, because the movie takes the literal approach to the phrase — Calvin dreamed up Ruby, and then she physically manifested, as if her very existence was dependent on his idea of her. And then, as Calvin learns, he can control his creation, too. If he types a line about Ruby speaking perfect French, suddenly she’s doing just that — completely unaware that she’s switched languages. Anything that displeases Calvin, he can tweak — if she’s too needy, or not needy enough.

Considering that while Calvin controls Ruby by writing her, and Kazan controls Dano by writing his character, the realization of the story has a certain meta quality, “just that the roles are reversed, right?” Dano laughed. “She wrote it, and I’m an actor, so the words she wrote in the film are the ones that I write for her, and she’s saying things that I write that she wrote for me.”

But that’s where the Pygmalion-ness of it all ends in real life, he insisted. “It doesn’t go beyond, ‘This is ironic,’ or, ‘This is interesting,'” Dano said. Although he did get to have a certain amount of input in Kazan’s script, but only as a supportive boyfriend.

“I would engage her and ask questions and be there for her, but I certainly did not try to shape any of the characters in any way,” he said. “I trust Zoe and she’s a wonderful writer, so I let her do her thing, and did anything I could to help her. I rarely thought about it in terms of, ‘I’m going to be in this.’ It was more like, if she were stuck, saying, ‘Keep going, baby!'”

Dano’s biggest contribution — outside of his own acting — was to hook Kazan up with his “Little Miss Sunshine” directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton. “About ten pages into Zoe writing it, I was like, ‘Jon and Val should direct this,'” he said. “And so for the rest of her writing, she was writing for them. They were the dream choice.”

Faris and Dayton — a couple themselves — had previously met Kazan, since Dano had stayed in touch with the directing team over the past six years. “I told them, ‘You have to meet my new girlfriend. You’d really like her,'” Dano said. “And luckily, it worked out, and the four of us had a very good collaboration.”

Faris said they spent about nine months working with Kazan, “developing and just working on the script, and getting to know it and getting to know her.” And for her part, Kazan learned to let go and give the directors control. “It was John and Val’s movie at that point,” Dano said.

After a few days of shooting, Dano also learned to put aside his self-consciousness about having his girlfriend take on dual roles. “Does it exacerbate it to have your girlfriend on set, on a scene that she’s the writer, so she’s watching? Yeah, there is that,” he said, “but you move on pretty quick. She was more like my partner-in-crime.”

Dano doesn’t expect to have quite the same level of input on any of his next projects — but then again, he’s usually not living with the writer. “It’s definitely different,” he laughed. “This one feels very personal, which is nice. Not every experience is going to be like this.”

“Ruby Sparks” is now playing in limited release.

Will you be seeing “Ruby Sparks” this weekend? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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