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Zoe Kazan: The Exploding Girl

The Exploding Girl's Zoe Kazan (TFF '09 Best Actress) chats about Bigelow's big win, filming on the streets of New York, and keeping busy. See the film now on DVD.

Note: This interview originally ran in March 2010.



Although Zoe Kazan's family has close ties to the movie industry, it wasn't until she quietly stole scenes in Revolutionary Road as the mistress of Leonardo DiCaprio's unhappy suburban husband that her name started buzzing around Hollywood's. Kazan is racking up roles in indie projects like like Me and Orson Welles, the recent Sundance film Happythankyoumoreplease, and Rebecca Miller's The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, as well as big-name movies like It's Complicated, with Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin. The writer and actor is also currently on Broadway in A Behanding in Spokane with Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, and Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker).


The Exploding Girl
, which had its North American premiere at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, is Kazan's first starring role. Written specifically for her by writer/director Bradley Rust Gray, Kazan's role as Ivy, a young college student on break and visiting her mother in New York City, showcases the young actor's ability to convey emotion simply by calling her boyfriend and getting his voicemail or petting freshly hatched pigeons. So how about last night's Oscar win and your costar Anthony Mackie?


Zoe Kazan:
Yeah, Anthony was definitely on a high last night, as he should be. I was so excited for them. I really liked Avatar, it's an extraordinary film, but I didn't want it to win Best Picture. I was so, so excited for Anthony and all those guys, and really so thrilled for Kathryn Bigelow because as a girl... You know, I know it shouldn't matter and I know it's not why she won—she won because she was the best director—but it still means a lot. It's like Obama winning; he didn't win because he's black, but you're glad he won because it helps bring more equality to the world. And it's just better if women are honored too. Anyways, it's great, it was a very funny evening to watch, too, because I worked with Meryl [Streep] this past year [in It's Complicated], and Carey Mulligan's one of my best friends, so I didn't know who to root for. It's been almost exactly a year now since The Exploding Girl
premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and your Best Actress win at the Festival. What's it like looking at the movie where you seem so vulnerable and young? Is it weird?


It's not that weird because it was such a collaborative process that I had lot of—I wouldn't say input, but—influence on what the movie was like, and I was so involved with every stage of its development that I remember it really well. Some jobs you do, you come on for a week, you do a small part, and then you go off [and] a year later you see the movie and you're like, "Oh, that's what I did with my face!" You don't really remember what you did. On this, the work is more vivid for me because there was so much time and thought put into it. The passage of time always seems surreal, but watching this movie I'm as proud of it as when we made it. I've read that Bradley Rust Gray wrote the part with you in mind, but you had a lot to do with developing the character and that she's not like you, personally.


I did have a lot to do with developing it, and I didn't. Brad came to me in late January, early February 2008, and said, "I want to make a movie with you. Do you want to make a movie with me?" And I said, "Okay, what's it about?" And he was like, "I don't know, I can't tell you anything about it except do you want to do it?" And I said, "Okay." So we started taking these really long walks, and just talking about my life and his life and our backgrounds the way you would on blind dates or getting to know a friend. And we did become friends in that process, and then I went away to shoot Me and Orson Welles in London, and when I came back, he had a script, and I read it, and I was so surprised. My mom asked me before she'd seen the movie, she was like, "How much of it is autobiographical?" And I said, "None of it."


You would assume when someone is writing a part for you that it would be like you in some way [but] Ivy's very different from me, and the movie is much quieter than [I expected]. All their [Gray and his wife and filmmaking partner, So Yong Kim] movies are very quiet... There's no massive dramatic thing that happens, so I guess I should have expected that, but I was surprised just because Brad and I have a more raucous friendship than the friendship that's depicted in the movie, and I thought that what might be on screen might be closer to that, energy-wise. But Ivy's very much her own person, and when Brad and I would be talking about her and how to portray her, a lot of the time we would have to talk about other things, because she was difficult to talk about. You're in every scene, usually in close-up, and it's really beautifully shot, and a lot of it was on the streets of New York. In some scenes, a car would go by and obstruct our view and things like that. Was that on purpose or just on the fly?


Brad talked about wanting to give the character her privacy, and I think that that's part of what he was trying to do there. You'd have to talk to Brad about it, but I think that he was trying to create a kind of sense of... you're observing her. And for me, I think he wanted me to have the sense of there not being a camera there at all, so in a lot of those shots, the camera is two or three blocks away with a zoom lens on it, so sometimes I didn't even know when we were filming something and he would run over and I wouldn't think we were filming, and he'd be like, "Say this!" ...and he'd run back out, and that kind of thing. What I think is particularly interesting about her character and the small details of living with epilepsy
she can't take a bath by herself, and stress can trigger a seizure, which is a fascinating part of the disorder—it's almost as if she's imploding, like she's mentally imploding and then it results in this explosion at the end. I think it's a really interesting theme for a young woman.


Yeah, I do too. I think, and I've said this before about this movie, I don't think there are a lot of filmmakers who are making movies about young women that are as insightful as Brad is... She happens to have epilepsy in it. For me, that's not the explosion in the movie; it's when she finally cries. I feel like Ivy takes a lot of the burden of her illness on her own... She keeps a lot of things to herself rather than burden other people with them... I think that if I experienced a breakup like that when I was home, I'd at least tell my friends about it, if not my mother, [but] she keeps it to herself, and I think that that speaks to a kind of strength of character, and it also speaks to a kind of stubbornness, a psychology that she's so determined not to bother anyone with her problems that she doesn't have any outlet for them. Was it hard to carry that emotionally for the whole movie? It seems like it would be very draining.


It isn't really, because when people are repressing something or containing something, they're trying not to think about the thing that's making them sad, so there would definitely be scenes that I'd come home from and feel really drained, but most of the time she's just‘cause she's not trying to think about her problems, I just wouldn't think about her problems. I'd think about crossing the street. I think there must have been a cumulative effect, because the last scene that we shot is the scene where she finally breaks down emotionally, and when it came to do that, I've never had any problem crying, but I really didn't have any problem that day. It was just like a well of tears, and I thought, "Oh, this must, this shoot must have been really hard on me that I have all this emotion right now," but I wasn't aware of it at the time. So you've got Meek's Cutoff coming up. What's that about?


ZK: Meek's Cutoff
is a movie that Kelly Reichardt [Wendy and Lucy, Old Joy] made in the desert of Oregon this past fall. It's me, Paul Dano, Michelle Williams, Shirley Henderson, Neal Huff, Will Patton, and a bunch of really good actors... It [takes place in] 1845, crossing the country in covered wagons, and that's been my favorite historical era for a long time, so when I found out it was about pioneers, I just said, "Yeah, I'll do it," without even really reading the script. And then I also am a huge fan of Kelly's work, so I just wanted a chance to work with her. It was a really grueling shoot but definitely worth it, and I'm really excited to see it when she finishes cutting it.
: How was it grueling?


It was very difficult physically. We were in the middle of nowhere with no cell service and on these enormous salt flats with all this alkaline dust. Everyone got ill, and it was really hot when we got there, and then it got very, very bitterly cold and we were in these thin cotton calico dresses, and it was just grueling. We were working long hours every day. The physical conditions were really difficult. I think it will all be great for the movie because they're supposed to be under extreme duress, but you know, it's real. Right now you've also got A Behanding in Spokane
going on until June, and you're doing press for this, so you're really busy.


I'm really busy right now, but I like being busy. My boyfriend's always like, "Take time off," but I have a hard time doing that. I come from a family of people who are self-employed, so I think that there's something that's been drilled into me... You work when you can work and you rest when no one wants to hire you, so I'm going to try and stay as busy as I can for as long as I can.


The Exploding Girl is now available on DVD.
Find it on Netflix.

For more information, visit the official website. Watch the trailer on Apple.


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