EXCLUSIVE: Zoe Kazan Moves Beyond Demure

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It’s hard to believe Zoe Kazan, who gained notoriety for the 2012 fantastical love story Ruby Sparks and earned an Emmy nomination for HBO’s Olive Kitteridge, is already experiencing something of a creative drought in her career. 

As Kazan explains, it’s the sad reality that actresses over 30 face in Hollywood. “I had so many more auditions at 23 than I do at 33,” she tells ET by phone. “We, in our culture, tell stories about young girls and tell stories about mothers. There’s a desert in the middle.” 

Even more limiting for the actress, who still passes for 16 in the Off-Broadway play Love, Love, Love, is the fact that she’s admittedly played the same ingénue part onscreen in the string of romantic comedies that followed Ruby Sparks. It’s thanks to “me looking demure and having big eyes and being kind of small and looking young,” she says.   

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It’s one of the primary reasons she fought to play an ill-equipped mother in director Bryan Bertino's new horror film, The Monster, on demand and in theaters on Nov. 11 and available now exclusively on DirecTV. “Getting this opportunity to play someone very far away from myself was exciting to me,” Kazan says. “I’ve gotten to play a more diverse group of people on stage than I have on film.” 

On stage, she’s played an agoraphobic Mormon housewife in Angels in America, a betrayer-turned-Roman Catholic nun in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and 21 years in the life of a put-upon daughter in playwright Mike Bartlett’s scathing comedy Love, Love, Love. The Roundabout Theatre Company's limited engagement ends on Dec. 18. 

“It’s not that I like doing stage more than film,” Kazan told ET last summer, from the Ottawa, Canada set of Monster. “It’s that I like doing parts that are further away from myself, if given the choice. For a while, [the roles sent to me] were fitting into one kind of part. I tried to make them as different as I could, but you also have to play true to the material.”

Photo: Joan Marcus

While life in theater, especially Off-Broadway, is unsustainable, she does appreciate the challenges it’s afforded her. “Playing Harper Pitt in Angels in America, you know, that’s one of those roles that stretches you beyond your capacity,” Kazan says. And in Love, Love, Love, she’s enjoying the precise rhythm of Bartlett’s script. “I feel like an athlete or a concerto musician,” she says, adding: “There’s no room to mess up.” 

To combat the creative constraints onscreen, Kazan told her agent to stop sending her romantic comedy scripts. “I didn’t want to see them,” she says, acknowledging that, in some ways, she’s limiting her opportunities to work. But she’s also been taking more control of her work, following in the footsteps of her parents, screenwriters Robin Swicord (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and Nicholas Kazan (Matilda). 

“I write as much as I can and I try to write for women in an interesting way as much as possible,” Kazan says. Of the screenplays she’s recently been working on, Wildlife just began its first week of production, with boyfriend Paul Dano directing. 

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Adapted from the Richard Ford novel by her and Dano, Wildlife’s female lead is “a really wonderful role for a woman” that’s gone to friend and The Walker co-star Carey Mulligan. “That's one way that I think I'm trying to add to the conversation,” she says of trying to combat the Hollywood mentality facing her and friends. 

“When you have the desire to play a lot more character parts and you look young and cute -- the way that people think I look cute -- it does feel limiting in some way,” Kazan says. “I do feel a curiosity about what will be there for me in 10 years.”