Meet Zoe Kazan

We dare you not to fall in love with “The Pretty One”

zoe kazan!

We never know how an interview’s going to go.

The interviewee could find our questions boring; we could find the interviewee boring. It’s a crapshoot really.

But with writer/actress Zoe Kazan, the conversation flowed. She dished on Hollywood’s boys’ club; her oft-misinterpreted writing debut, Ruby Sparks; and her double-duty role in The Pretty One, a comedy about disparate identical twins, which expands nationwide Friday.

It’s not the first time an actor has starred opposite herself. Bette Davis did it; so did Hayley Mills, Lindsay Lohan, and half the cast of Battlestar Galactica. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. “It was so hard. It was the reason I signed up to do this movie,” Kazan says. “Playing different parts was the fun thing. Having to remember exactly where you are in the story and match your eye line — there was a lot that was technically difficult that I had never done before.”

zoe kazan!

In The Pretty One, Kazan plays identical twins Laurel, a bashful wallflower, and Audrey, the titular character. When Audrey dies in a car accident, Laurel assumes her identity. On paper, writer/director Jenée LaMarque’s script reads more tearjerker than laugh-’til-you-cry comedy. But it’s really not that sad. “It’s not trying to be sentimental or manipulative, just honest about what it feels like to lose someone. She [LaMarque] steered it away from melodrama, keeping it light. Mostly because I think that’s her experience in life: that it can be terrible and sad but at the same time hilariously funny,” Kazan says.

You know the saying: Laugh to keep from crying. Another concept new to no one: labels. The film examines identity and the way people define us and, in turn, the way we define ourselves. “Whatever labels the world might put on you, you’re probably putting those on yourself in some ways,” Kazan says. “The movie’s called The Pretty One, and that’s a funny thing to call a movie about identical twins — obviously, I’m playing both of them. They look exactly the same. But one of them treats herself like she’s beautiful and sexy and independent — she commands a certain kind of attention — whereas the other one, she kind of shies away from that attention and hides herself.”

zoe kazan!

Kazan plays her own younger sister on-screen, but in real life that role belongs to Maya. The two are very close; sharing a room, including a bed, for most of their childhood will do that. “She was the person who taught me how to love; she was my first primary love relationship. I had my parents, but that’s a complicated relationship. You look up to them, and they provide for you; but Maya’s the closest thing I had to a partner in life before I started dating. I don’t mean that in a creepy way. I just mean that you’re spending all this time together, and you have to learn how to get along. That’s something Laurel had never done. For her, her sister was still her primary relationship. And then she dies, and Laurel has to redefine herself,” Kazan says.

One of our favorite scenes in the film is when Laurel Audrey (the moniker Laurel claims after Audrey’s death) attends her own funeral. It’s morbid, sure, but thought provoking: Would we want to do that? Hell, no. Would Kazan? “Absolutely not. That sounds like hell. As an actor, you have to hear what people say about you all the time anyway. I know the ones who love me; I know they’d be really sad. And the idea of seeing those people sad just devastates me. And then if people said weird shit — people say weird stuff at funerals all the time,” Kazan says.

[Cue the Big Lebowski funeral reference — “F*ck it, Dude. Let’s go bowling” — and talk about something less morbid.]

Kazan calls herself a cinephile. She even swears one of her earliest memories is a scene from It Happened One Night. “For years, I had this image in my mind. I thought I had dreamed it. Then I was 8, maybe, and my parents showed me that movie, and I almost started yelping. I was like, ‘Pause the movie! I’ve seen this before.’ And they said, ‘You did see it. When you were about a year and a half [old].’ So I know it’s a real memory — not just wishful thinking,” Kazan says.

zoe kazan!

One might say the young girl was destined for stardom. You may have seen her writing debut, Ruby Sparks. In a word, it’s brilliant. In another: misinterpreted. Tons of critics, though positive in their reviews, dismissed it as a manic pixie dream girl flick. “I definitely wasn’t trying to say something about the manic pixie dream girl. If I have to answer something about that one more time, I might kill myself.” She continues, “The movie’s about power and creativity and power dynamics in relationships. It’s about the idea of a person as opposed to the reality of a person. And in some ways it’s a coming-of-age story for the main character, Calvin. [It’s about that] something people have to go through when they realize they’re mortal and that life’s not a video game. I feel like that’s something people go through. I know I definitely did.”

Kazan has more scripts in the works (she didn’t share details) and hopes to direct one day. When we ask her about directors she’d like to work with, she mentions Sofia Coppola but really just says more females. Because, really, there aren’t many. (Exhibit A: the Oscars. Best picture and best director? No ladies in sight.) “There’s definitely a boys’-club thing still happening. And we walk around thinking, Oh, well, now it’s better because we have Lena Dunham. But as great as she is, she’s one voice of many,” Kazan says.

Other voices include LaMarque, Lake Bell, Katie Aselton, Nicole Holofcener, and Kathryn Bigelow. But rattling off lady helmers is definitely a chore. “What I would love is a proliferation of female voices. So that I could actually sit around and be like, Of these hundred female filmmakers, these five are my favorite. Instead of, Man, thank god there are those five.”

Amen, sister.

The Pretty One is in theaters now. For showtimes, go to fandango.com.

Photos: Larry Busacca / Getty Images; Courtesy of Dada Films