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Ruby Sparks' Zoe Kazan Talks Discount Shopping and Her Screenwriting Debut

In her new film Ruby Sparks, actress Zoe Kazan plays the free-spirited, flame-haired muse to Paul Dano's Calvin, a wunderkind novelist with a major case of writer's block. In the movie's opening minutes, we see Calvin staring down his typewriter before beginning a new story about his imaginary dream girl—who promptly materializes in his living room. It isn't long, of course, before Calvin falls in love with the funny, spontaneous Ruby—but considering that she began as a fictional character, is Ruby just a figment of his imagination?

The romantic comedy marks Zoe's first major screenwriting effort, and saw the 28-year-old stepping into the role of leading lady alongside her real-life beau (she and Paul Dano have been together for several years now). Yesterday, I met with the talented Miss Kazan to talk about her writing process, her character's French New Wave style sense and the real reason she's stopped vintage shopping in New York.

Lucky: Congrats on your first produced screenplay! How long did it take you to write this script?

Zoe Kazan: It actually happened really fast. I got the idea in the summer of 2009 and wrote about 20 pages then, but put it aside for a bit because I wasn't sure exactly where I wanted to take it. I actually let it sit on the back burner of my brain for awhile, but then I was in A Behanding in Spokane on Broadway [in 2010] and had a little time to work on it again, during my free days. My dressing room sort of became my office! So the bulk of that writing took about two weeks.

Do you ever struggle with writer's block, like Calvin does in the film?

You know, I think writer's block has a lot to do with self-expectation and the expectations of others—that's exactly what Calvin's contending with. He's trying to follow up from his past success, and the blank page becomes a sort of enemy to him. But for me...of course I've had moments where I feel stuck, but because I have this other job [acting] that means so much to me, I'm able to "jump off the horse" for awhile when I need to. I have another creative outlet, another job. And actually, it always feels like a privilege when I do get to write, because acting takes up so much of my time. I'll store up my energy for writing and by the time I get to the computer I'm ready to pour it all out at once. But watch—now I'm probably going to get terrible writer's block right after I've said all this!

I'm curious—did you write the parts of Calvin and Ruby with Paul and yourself in mind?

When I was about five pages into the script, I showed Paul what I had so far—and he asked if I was writing it for us! It hadn't even occurred to me, because the characters themselves had been speaking to me so strongly. But as soon as he said it, it made total sense, although that wasn't my initial impulse. It was really fun writing for Paul—he's so funny, but a lot of people don't know that about him. He's a great physical comedian and I really wanted people to see that. I mean, I tried to let Calvin be Calvin, but there were definitely moments where I was like, "Ha! I'm gonna make Paul do this!"

So in a sense, you were controlling Paul's character...who was controlling yours. Whoa. OK, let's discuss Ruby's signature red hair. Was it a total nightmare to get that color out after filming wrapped?

You can still see it! About two months ago, I cut off nine inches to try and get rid of the red, in a desperate attempt. Actually, the first time I met Jonathan and Valerie [Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the movie's directors] was right after Paul and I first got together, and at that point my hair happened to be red because of the play I was in. Anyway, they took a picture of us together, and when we started to talk about the look of the movie they said, "We want you to look like you guys did in that picture!"

In addition to that hair, Ruby's got a thing for colored tights and sundresses. Is your own personal style similar to hers?

I like patterns and more boyish clothes. I'm not a tomboy by any stretch of the imagination, but I feel sexier when I'm wearing something with more masculine elements. To me, one of the things that's most important when it comes to making a character is figuring out what they like to wear. That process is always instructive to me, because I love clothes. For Ruby, we were looking a lot at the French New Wave girls, which meant simple lines, bright colors, simple patterns. I think I'm a little less classically inspired in my own wardrobe.

The movie's got a great French soundtrack, too. What music have you been into lately?

I've been listening to a bunch of new music, actually, which is out of the norm for me. I love The Shins' new album, Port of Morrow. I love The Walkmen's new album, and the new Edwarde Sharpe album is great too. I've been listening to Jason Schwartman's band, Coconut Records, a lot—it's so summery. And the more I listen to Sharon Van Etten's music, the more I like it.

You're a Brooklyn girl—any favorite boutiques in your area?

I love Dear Fieldbinder in my neighborhood. They have great taste and affordable prices—I love that you can find pieces for between $60 and $100 there. I used to shop at a lot of thrift stores in town, but then the whole bed bug thing put me off of it. My sister got bed bugs three times—all from vintage purchases—and that just completely scared me.

Same. When I moved into my apartment three years ago, I only bought vintage furniture—and that's something I'd never do in post-bed-bug NYC.

Me too—I mean, I have so much stuff I've taken off the streets, even! Now, you see those mattresses out on the street and you're like, "There's only one reason that's there." I only vintage shop in L.A. now.

On a non-creepy-crawly note, do you tend to splurge on designer pieces?

I don't, to be totally honest. I got a Vena Cava jacket at the Barneys Warehouse Sale a season or two ago that I wear all the time that was $400—and that was the most money I've ever spent on something. My mom's a super-thrifty woman, so I think that's just rubbed off on me. I go on The Outnet a lot. My best friend just got married, and I got my bridesmaid dress on The Outnet—Vionnet! And it cost almost nothing!

Ruby Sparks opens in limited release on July 25.

Photo: Getty Images

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