Zoe Kazan is one of those annoying people who comes from an insanely connected family — she’s the granddaughter of the late director Elia Kazan and the daughter of screenwriters Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord — yet has talent enough that she’s made a name for herself in her own right. Following roles in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Seagull on Broadway, as well as after downing martinis and sleeping with Leonardo DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road, Kazan now stars in The Exploding Girl, a small-scale character study of Ivy, a young Brooklynite home from college for the summer. Vulture chatted with Kazan about movies, East Village mice, and her family’s influence.
Your character, Ivy, lives in Brooklyn and goes to an Ivy League school. You also live in Brooklyn and went to Yale. How similar are you to her?
The director [Bradley Rust Gray] wrote the part for me. We would take these long walks and I would tell him things about my life, and he created the part based on that. But she’s definitely not me. For one thing, she’s very different in how she processes the hard things in her life. I think she’s somebody who’s really selfless. She doesn’t really want to burden people with her problems. And she deals with everything without talking to people, without therapy. I have no problem expressing myself or dealing with my emotions.
What drew you to live in Brooklyn?
I’ve lived in Brooklyn for almost two years. But I’ve lived on the Upper East. I lived in Park Slope for a while. I lived in the East Village for a year, but we had really terrible mice. I really wanted some greenery, and I got really tired of living where everyone was going out all the time. I moved to Brooklyn just before I started a nine-month run on Broadway, which was probably the worst possible time for me to move to there. I should have moved to the theater district.
So you’re not much of a party girl?
I don’t have that much time of my own. Most of the time I’m working. But in the time I do have, I’d much rather go out to dinner with friends, or make dinner, or go for a nice long walk. Not to say that I never go out, but it’s not really my thing.
You’re from a family of screenwriters, and I heard you have your own writing plans in the works. Is that true?
It is. I’ve been working on a play for two years for me to act in, and I’ll find someone else to direct it. The idea behind it is that people can be really unknown to themselves. People can have a whole self that they try to suppress because of trauma, or who they want to be, or because of who they are. It’s a kind of mystery story about identities.
It must have seemed like a big shift to work on Exploding Girl right after Revolutionary Road.
If you’re making a movie you believe in, it all sort of feels the same. My job as an actor doesn’t change very much. I’m doing this Nancy Meyers movie right now, and there are people checking my makeup and hair every five seconds, and trailers, and all these great outfits. On Exploding Girl, we had no trailers, we were changing in bathrooms at Starbucks. They bought me one T-shirt, but other than that I wore all my own clothes. So if cushiness is important, then yeah, they’re really different. But as an actor, Exploding Girl is just a more bare-bones version of what I love doing.
To what extent did your family influence your decision to go into acting? Did you want to act as a child?
There was no way in hell my parents would have let me start working before I finished college. I knew acting was what I wanted to do. I spent years taking acting classes and writing classes. I took my time, in a way, but in another way, growing up in my family, it felt like it was really normal to not start working as a child. Though I guess it was considered more normal to go into arts, and my parents supported me. But they were totally freaked out when I told them I wanted to act. They weren’t against it, but it’s a hard life, and it’s completely unpredictable.