Photo: Henry Lamb/Photowire.
Zoe Kazan peers out the window of the Standard Hotel — her almost alarmingly curious eyes taking in the sunbathers at the pool below. She's trying to put into words which qualities she looks for in a partner. I'm here to talk about her new movie, The Pretty One. In it, she stars opposite New Girl's Jake Johnson as a young woman who takes on the identity of her more beloved twin sister after a tragic accident. But, instead, the interview has veered toward love, sex, and, sometimes, me. That's the thing about Kazan — she's much more interested in having a riveting conversation than reciting rehearsed one-liners to hawk a project.
"What do you think?" she presses. I'm taken aback by the sudden role reversal and mutter something about how I'm still trying to find the common thread that connects all of my relationships. I'm going to have to get used to being put on the spot, because it turns out Zoe prefers her interviews to be two-sided. "It's interesting. I think sometimes we smell out — in our partners — their true selves before they even know it," she says to save me from my stammering. In case it isn't already evident, this is one contemplative actress.
With roles in Revolutionary Road, It's Complicated, and Ruby Sparks, Kazan is no stranger to dramatic relationships. In The Pretty One, her character falls for Johnson (that's Nick Miller to you New Girl fans) almost immediately, but it hasn't quite worked that way in her real life. "I believe in connection at first sight," she says. "I believe that there are people in this world that you meet, and you feel like they mean something to you. I remember the first time I met my high school boyfriend years before we dated. Seeing him stand up in class on one of the first days of school I felt like, 'he belongs to me'...and, I've felt that almost every time I've fallen in love."
I'm getting the feeling that she's kind of an open book, so I dig a little deeper — I ask just how she falls in love. "I have never been friends with someone and then become more than friends, but that's probably because I'm so quick to hop into bed," she says point blank. Mental note: Be more like Zoe. "Or, I was, before I was in my relationship. I'm not the kind of girl to wait around and see if it develops into something — I prefer to plunge head first."
Photo: Courtesy of Dada Films.
That grab-life-by-the-balls quality is probably partly due to her upbringing in a filmmaking family. Both of her parents are Oscar-nominated screenwriters: Her father is playwright Nicholas Kazan, and her mother is Robin Swicord (most notably of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Zoe was born in Los Angeles, attended prestigious SoCal private schools, and eventually landed at Yale. But, despite all that, and despite the fact that her close friends include A-listers like Carey Mulligan and Michelle Williams, Hollywood still feels foreign to her. She lives in New York with her boyfriend (fellow actor Paul Dano) and tries to lead a relatively normal life — which, as one can imagine, isn't entirely possible.
"I think there's a struggle [dating within the industry] when you have to withstand a lot of long distance, which people inside and outside this industry can understand," she laments. "We just went five weeks without seeing each other, and there's always a little re-entry period where you're, like, new to each other again. There are little things, like, the mail goes over here now. The one thing that does make me jealous of my friends with more normal or 9-to-5 jobs is that they have a regular schedule. They have real weekends and on those weekends they can, say, go with their boyfriends to Queens to taste dumplings."
Kazan has been with Dano for six years but, just for fun, I ask which fictional character she'd want to date. "Oh, God. You know, there's some part of me that, when I was younger, I was definitely a Heathcliff kind of girl," she says. "I was like, 'please bash your head into a rock for me.' But, I don't know — what about you?" Here we go again.
Luckily, I'm prepared this time, because mine just so happens to be Nick Miller, her Pretty One costar's TV alter ego. It turns out she feels the same way about the real-life Jake Johnson. "He's such a dream," she gushes. "He's such a great guy. He's such a good actor and he's just so fun to work with because he's endlessly inventive."
I flirt with the idea of making a joke about great minds thinking alike, but decide not to flatter myself and instead ask about her next project, out this summer. She joins Daniel Radcliffe, Adam Driver, and That Awkward Moment's Mackenzie Davis in The F Word, a rom-com about the infamous — and often dreaded — friend zone. But, participation doesn't mean endorsement in Zoe's case.
Photo: Courtesy of Dada Films.
"I think the friend zone is a term that men coined to shame women into sleeping with them...there's no such thing as friend-zoning." But, surely she's had friendships where one person wanted more than the other? "I have a lot of male friends and maybe we want to sleep together. But, who cares? We don't sleep together." Touché.
"Also, don't you find your female friends attractive?" she presses. "I find my female friends attractive and I think one of the things that makes me friends with them is that I love them. A really good girlfriend is like a boyfriend — the only thing that's different is that I don't want to sleep with them. I don't assume to know your life, of course."
That's just the thing — I feel like she does know my life. And, I kind of feel like I want to ask her for advice on, everything. Mostly about my love life. Then, I remember this isn't actually about me, so I close by asking what she took away from The Pretty One, expecting one of those rehearsed quips about scripts and costars we're always given.
Instead, she ponders the film's central theme of loss meeting joy:
"I was struck by how nothing in life is simply tragic or simply sad, and there's always a comedic edge to things," she says. "You could be in the middle of the worst day of your life and then see a puppy and laugh, you know?" And, those are words to live by.