Zoe Kazan on the Difference Between Nude Scenes and Ones in Panties

Photo: Monique Carboni

Zoe Kazan — granddaughter of Oscar-winning director Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront, Gentlemen's Agreement) and daughter of screenwriters Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord (Reversal of Fortune and Memoirs of a Geisha, respectively) — grew up in Venice Beach, California, but after graduating from Yale, the young actress decided against heading back west immediately. “I knew that I didn't want to go to drama school,” says the 24-year-old actress and Carroll Gardens resident. “So I thought, well, if I want to get my chops, there's no other place to do it than the theater really.” She made her New York debut opposite Cynthia Nixon in last year's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and won praise for her performance in the recent run of 100 Saints You Should Know. Now she's back on the Off Broadway stage, alongside Paul Dano, Peter Dinklage, and Josh Hamilton in Jonathan Marc Sherman's new play, Things We Want, directed by Ethan Hawke. (It opens tonight from the New Group.) Kazan spoke to Vulture about her sexy scenes, her famous family, and her role in the upcoming Revolutionary Road.

Your character in Things We Want is the sexy neighbor who stirs up trouble between the brothers. What was it about Stella that interested you?
The thing that I really fell in love with was that she's a classically trained pianist who's lost the ability to play. She has arthritis in her right hand. She's someone who's been in AA for two years, and when she loses the ability to play, she doesn't go back to the bottle. She does a lot of things that might be seen as morally objectionable, and I just found it fascinating.

And how is it being the only girl among those cast members?
It's also the only girl in a group of very straight men. All of my friends were sort of making jokes beforehand that I was going to get all the attention I ever wanted, but it's actually sort of neutralizing in a strange way. I am walking around in my panties onstage, so it does have an effect, I think, but they're a great group of guys.

Stella is a really sexy character, and you've done nude scenes before, in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
And also in Revolutionary Road.

Is that something you ever had any hesitation about?
I think in order to sell the play, I have to sell Stella as a sexy neighbor. Stella's wearing a Catholic-schoolgirl skirt all the way through this play, which she put on very self-consciously. Both in Revolutionary Road and in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, I was the only person naked in that room. I think it's very different to have Josh there in his underwear and me there in my underwear wanting to, uh, fuck each other than to be the naked object onstage.

I noticed you listed Jonathan Marc Sherman as one of your heroes on your MySpace page. Why is that?
Oh, my goodness, the information age! Well, Jon has overcome an incredible amount of personal tragedy and also self-destruction. I think there's a romance around the idea of creativity being linked with suicide or depression or self-depression. Jon is my hero because he found a way to believe that he deserved everything that he could have.

Your parents are screenwriters, and your grandfather was an Oscar-winning director. Would you be interested in doing screenwriting of your own?
Yeah, I've been working on my play for four years and my screenplay for three. I hope to soon start to work on getting them produced.

I guess it's a bad time to ask that question with the strike going on.
My dad is on the board of the Writers Guild, and all last weekend, I was receiving calls from him being like, “I've gotta finish the script before the strike.” I remember the '88 strike — I think in my family it's very exciting to be striking. A revolutionary spirit never hurt anyone.

What was it like doing Revolutionary Road, with Sam Mendes and Leonardo DiCaprio and the rest of that cast?
Sam is such an intelligent director. He works in an incredibly psychological way and sort of got in my head from day one. I've loved that book for a really long time. It seems to be one of those books that every slightly neurotic angry young man wants to give a girl, so I had a few copies. —Lori Fradkin