'Little Miss Sunshine' directors return for 'Ruby Sparks'
Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan
Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, directors of the Academy Award winning film Little Miss Sunshine, are back six years later with a new movie, Ruby Sparks. The film tells the story of Calvin (Paul Dano), a genius novelist who has great success early in his career. Years later, the pressure of producing a second book that lives up to his first leaves him paralyzed with fear and unable to write.
Directors Faris and Dayton, who address the idea of accomplishment and striving for perfection in both Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks, say they are interested in exploring the theme of achievement because it's relevant to so many people.
"In our society we have this need to be winners and be successful," Faris says. "I think you're always struggling with what success is on your own terms."
The positive public reaction to Little Miss Sunshine and the pressure to live up to their first film allowed both directors to relate to Calvin.
"It wasn't lost on us that we had made a hit movie and were looking to do our second work," Dayton says. "We identified, certainly, with Calvin in that respect."
In the film, Calvin is given a writing assignment by his therapist (Elliott Gould). He creates Ruby, a fictional character whose free-spirited nature and beauty captivate him. His writer's block quickly vanishes, and he finds himself glued to his typewriter in order to spend time with Ruby.
Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan
After a long night of frantically typing, Calvin wakes up to find Ruby (Zoe Kazan) as a flesh-and-blood person in his home. His initial reaction is that he has gone mad, but he slowly accepts that he has created a real person with his words. At the insistence of his brother Harry (Chris Messina), Calvin heads back to his typewriter to see if he has the power to change Ruby by simply typing something about her. What follows is a struggle for control, as Calvin realizes the consequences of changing Ruby and the monumental effect it has on their relationship.
When Kazan, who wrote the screenplay, shared early stages of the script with Dano, her real-life boyfriend, he immediately suggested sending it to Faris and Dayton, whom he worked with on Little Miss Sunshine.
"About 10 pages into Zoe writing the script I said, 'We should send this to Valerie and Jonathan.' Even though I had no idea where it was going, it was immediately evident that they would be the perfect people to collaborate with and to handle the tone of what she was writing," Dano says. "They're wonderful people, and I had a great time working with them the first time [on Little Miss Sunshine]. I thought they did a great job with that film, so it's always a pleasure to get to work with someone you trust a thousand percent."
Both directors say they were immediately drawn to the script.
"At the heart of it, it's just a really good, human story," Faris says. "I think that impulse to control things is something that artists feel, but I think everyone in our culture feels the need to control things. I think we were interested in that basic need: to have control over something, and
then when you get that responsibility is it really something you would want?"
Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton
Faris and Dayton worked with Kazan on the script for nine months prior to filming, so that on set she could focus on being Ruby, not the writer. Inspired by the Pygmalion myth in which a famous sculptor falls in love with his creation and brings it to life, Kazan says she woke up one morning with the idea for what would become Ruby Sparks. She didn't know where the idea would take her, but started writing nonetheless.
"I didn't write an outline for this film because I wanted it to surprise me," Kazan says. "I felt like I was being guided by some unseen hand, so I felt really safe in free-fall when writing this film. "
It was important for Kazan to create characters that were real and that audiences could relate to.
"I'm interested in writing that feels truthful," Kazan says. "An example for me that feels really truthful is When Harry Met Sally. Billy Crystal's character feels like a guy I know. I feel like I've gone out with that guy. I would rather see real people fall in love and act out a romance than stylized creations."
As a real-life couple, the chemistry between Kazan and Dano is apparent, and Dano says that working with Kazan, Faris, and Dayton was the most fun he's had making a movie. He hopes that audiences enjoy the film as much as he enjoyed making it.
"I want people to just go along for the emotional ride of the film, and I hope that they can bring something personal to it," Dano says. "It would be great if it makes somebody think about the ideas in the film, but really I just want people to have an emotional experience. I think there's a lot to relate to. One of my favorite things as an audience member is to be surprised by something, and I think that the film has sort of an unexpected journey. I think that's going to be fun for people to experience."
Ruby Sparks opens in theaters July 25.
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