Thursday, May 2, 2013

Two Pretty Ones on Their Film

The Pretty One at Tribeca Film Festival

Two Pretty Ones on Their Film

from (5/2/13)

Zoe Kazan as Laurel (L) and Audrey
No actress gives more feeling to underdog young women as Zoe Kazan, which is why we always fall in love with her characters. This was true two years ago when she won the Best Actress award at the Tribeca Film Festival starring in The Exploding Girl. And it was true at this year's festival when one of the greatest indie actors brought tremendous sensitivity (and a lot of humor) to two characters in Jenee LaMarque's debut feature, The Pretty One, a quirky comedy with a touch of sadness. The two young women are identical twins: Laurel, a wallflower who remains home to look after her widower father (John Carroll Lynch), and the dynamic Audrey, who is a successful realtor and has men chasing after her. When Audrey is killed in a car accident, Laurel assumes her identity, moving into her apartment, working at her job, and dealing with all of Audrey's acquaintances--including Basel, the quirky neighbor Audrey detested (a bearded Jake Johnson from TV's New Girl) but she is attracted to; and her boss's husband Charles (Ron Livingston), who pursues her although Audrey broke off their affair. She tries to become Audrey so she can experience being "the pretty one" finally, but also as her way to deal with a terrible loss. Naturally she will have to face the dire consequences for her deception. I took part in the following roundtable with the personable Kazan and LaMarque at the festival, before any of us journalists had seen the movie. I note my questions.
Danny Peary: Jenee, I haven't seen your short Spoonful, which is also about sisters and a death in the family. So did this evolve from that?
Jenee LaMarque: It does share the sister aspect, and it's sort of darkly comedic in a similar way. It didn't come from it but it has a similar tone.
Jenee LaMarque
Q: Can you tell us a little about the writing process for this?
JL: There was a long writing process. This was actually the first screenplay that I ever wrote. I wrote the first draft when I was pregnant with my daughter who's now five, so it's been quite a journey. During the process, I went to AFI and studied screenwriting. I wrote most of the draft of the script when I was in film school, and then continued revising and writing afterwards. One of the wonderful boons for the movie was Zoe, who is not only a great actress and very funny but also an incredibly talented screenwriter. She contributed a lot as a writer and storyteller.
Q: Zoe, can you talk about your part in the collaboration?
Zoe Kazan: Sure. I asked Jenee for something that was above and beyond. I asked her to sit down and talk through the entire script with me. We had the luxury of having the time to do that. I came out to L.A. multiple times before we shot the movie and we would sit down and I would say, "Where did this line come from? " Or: "How funny is this supposed to be?" Or: "Is this moment supposed to be sad?" And we really talked through every moment of the script before we ever shot it, so I had a good idea of what Jenee wanted. And also, during that process, if I got to something that I felt was not going to sound right coming out of my mouth, I would ask to talk about it. Jenee was great about making revisions and also sticking by her guns when she thought we could make something work or if I didnt understand what her intention was. We did a good job of balancing that.
JL: I think Zoe and Jake Johnson also had great chemistry and could improvise off one another. There are some scenes where the way that they're communicating is very playful.
ZK: She really encouraged us to do that.
Zoe Kazan and Jake Johnson
JL: Yes, I really wanted them to follow the structure of the script, but along the way to improvise and make it their own. The moments that I find the most fun are those that I didn't plan to happen. The improvised moments are funny and real.
ZK: Having that freedom was really cool, because often first-time writers are really cautious about every word in their scripts. I know that I was with my first script for Ruby Sparks. We always tried to do justice to her script, so it was never about trying to make the script better. It was just about letting organic things happen.
Q: Zoe, because you were the screenwriter on Ruby Sparks, were you particularly attached to that movie?
ZK: Yeah, that was a very special experience because that was the first time I had written a script and I'd never been involved in something from start to finish like that before, and I was making it with my boyfriend [Paul Dano] and [the directors] Jonathan [Dayton] and Valerie [Faris], who have known him since he was a teenager. It really felt like a labor of love in a different way. But every time I do a movie, I think it has to be worth investing completely in and loving it like it's coming out of me. I didn't start writing because I felt I always needed to be in charge but because I felt I had stories to tell. I do that through acting, too. When I read Jenee's script, there were parts of myself that I felt I could address through her words better than I had been able to through anybody else's words before. That was a really cool thing. I think Jenee and I both connect on a personal level to the loss experienced in the film. I felt like that was a part of me that I wanted to be able to express. I also connected to the idea that these twins are sort of two sides of one coin. There's kind of a duality to both characters that was intriguing to me. Audrey is very forward and very confident but also feels some self-hatred. Laurel is buried inside of herself but also has creativity and joy underneath that. I hadn't been asked to do a lot of really sexy stuff on film before, and that's a big part of my life--I've always been a really sexual person. I went through a period of time when I was "sleeping around," and I honor that part of myself, rather than calling it immoral. And I was able to show the part of me that still feels like a gawky 13-year-old.' There's a part of me that's never going to feel pretty, and a part that's never going to feel like a grown-up, and I was able to give life to those parts of me and say they're beautiful too and worth looking at.
 Q: Playing the twin sisters, did you look to any other actresses who have done the same?
ZK: Well, Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap. She's so good in that movie it's crazy! I'm not saying that the movie is for adults, because it is not, but she's amazing in it! And after doing what we did in our film, I can't believe an 11-year-old could do what she did. Itas so insane. Also, I grew up on the Hayley Mills' The Parent Trap because that was one of my mom's favorites from being kid. I loved that. For me it was more about connecting to Jenees' world. Jene had a very specific vision. She knew what she wanted to do with the camera; she knew what she wanted in terms of tone. That's something that is really rare with a first-time director. So I was just thrilled that she wanted these things, and I was really trying to connect to that. I watch a lot of movies for inspiration, and I watched a a couple Jane Campion films and movies like that. Jenee turned me on to some videos this woman named Candice [Brieitz} made of identical twins who are posed in the same clothes. Jenee also gave me a reading on twins, explaining what it's like to lose an identical twin--that was probably more helpful than the movies.
Q: Since you play both twins, did you find it hard to perform opposite yourself? How did you get the timing right?
ZK: It was really hard, we had to work on that together.
JL: It's difficult. It took three times as long to shoot the scenes where she was playing both characters. She acted off of a body double, and it was trying to create a connection between the two of them. There's a lot of math and calculating. It's challenging because you create a performance for one twin and then you have to do a second performance.
ZK: And if my body double did something with her hands that was accidentally in the shot, I'd have to match that in my performance. That was hard because it limited me, and I probably became a little Napoleon on set. Do not do that with your hands! Because youre trained as an actor to be really generous with your scene partner and vibe off of what theyre doing, but I would be watching her with half my brain going, and thinking Is that going to be in there? It was a challenge--I got so much better at the technical aspects of building scenes after doing that.

DP: In The Exploding Girl and this film, you play young women who underestimate themselves. [Jenee nods] Did that appeal to you on a personal level and did you identify with them?
ZK: Yeah. I have to put on makeup for a living. It's part of what I have to do. I grew up essentially an enormous book nerd and I never felt I was the pretty one. I always felt like an odd duck. I think there are parts of yourself that you put away to become a grown-up. You protect yourself. But it's really wonderful in your acting to be able to bring those things out. I'm not a very shy person but there's a shy part of me and being able to let that part be is a relief. For instance, on The Exploding Girl, I didn't wear makeup throughout that whole movie, I did my own hair, and her clothes were mine. There's a release in feeling you're not the girl and don't have an obligation to be pretty. I really felt that on this film. We all go home and throw on sweatpants and take off our makeup and put up our hair up and we look like opossums. There's a part of all of us that doesn't feel good about ourselves and this movie deals with that. Audrey went out and convinced the world that she was beautiful and sexy and an adult. But there's a conundrum because all those insecurities also exist in her too, so how do we reconcile that?
JL: [I also see the two characters as two sides of the same coin. There's the part of us that feels insecure and scared and doesn't want to take chances--and doesn't deserve anything. And there's a part of us that's brave and goes out there and takes risks and maybe puts on makeup [to look prettier]. There's value in both sides. I'm not saying that if you're brave all your problems are going to be solved. That's not what this movie is saying. I think women deal with that sort of duality and ask, Where do I fit on the spectrum of being a woman?; and Am I going to choose to wear makeup or am I going to not choose to wear makeup? I hope that people honor both the sides. twins' father
Q: Zoe, what's next for you?
ZK: I shot four films last year, including this one, so I am seeking a tiny bit of a regrouping break. I didn't have any time to write last year because of that, so I'm just writing a bunch right now, I just finished doing a play here in New York. And then I have The F Word that I shot last year with Daniel Radcliffe coming out later. And, oh yeah, I wrote a new play. I'm going to workshop it at South Coast Rep in Los Angeles next week.
Q: Whats it about?
ZK: An affair.
Q: And what about you, Jenee?
JL: I have a baby due in August, so that is coming up next for me. I'm also working on a couple of screenplays, just the beginnings of them right now. I really focused on this movie for the last five years. It's such an honor to be here at this festival, finally putting it out in the world.
ZK: I'm going to brag about Jenee for a second. Jenee is just two years out of film school and this is her first festival. After it came out of Sundance, her script got put on the Black List and was a big deal. I think, Jenee, you've had a lot of pressure on you, and now it's really cool that you're going to go away and be creative again.
JL: Thank you, I'm really excited about that.
John Carroll Lynch plays the twins' father


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