That was so important to me, and it was really important to Jonathan and Valerie. We talked about that a lot, especially in the acting of it. We just wanted her to feel really real, a fully formed person. Because, to me, that’s how she feels to Calvin; that’s the reason that he falls in love with her, not because he’s inventing the perfect person.
He dreamed of a girl, and he wakes up, sees her, and she feels as real to him as he does to himself. I don’t think he would fall in love with her if she didn’t feel that real to him.
I really wanted the audience to feel the same way, so when he starts to tamper with her, it means something.
The film also balances the comedy and the heavy emotions quite well, particularly in its climactic scene. While you were writing the script, was there a conscious idea of how to meld those two styles together?
The movie does go to a really dark place, and that’s part of the reason why Jonathan and Valerie were our absolute first choice to direct this. Part of that reason was that I felt they showed that they were really capable, in Little Miss Sunshine, of balancing different elements, and maintaining a very delicate tone. I really believed in their ability to balance the comedy and the drama of this, and I trusted them to keep me in line as an actor, especially in the second half of the movie.
You mentioned earlier that you spent about nine months with Jonathan and Valerie to rewrite the script. In what ways did the script change once they got involved?
Well, they just have a really great sense of the audience’s experience. They’ve very attuned to storytelling, and they want to take care of their audience. I was much more thinking just about the characters and the story; I was interested in the audience, of course, but they know much more about what’s cinematic than I do. They helped me make the highs higher and the lows lower, and to be brave and go to scarier emotional places.
By the time we finished our work together, the nine months of rewriting, I really felt like this was our movie now, and that made it easier to act in it.
In the press notes, Jonathan talks about how he and Valerie used your personal history with Paul to help establish the chemistry on screen and make the relationship between Calvin and Ruby that much stronger. Was that a scary thing to do, to allow them to use a lot of your personal life for the movie?
The good thing is that there’s not a lot that’s autobiographical in the movie, especially how there’s not a lot from me and Paul’s life. I didn’t feel like we were in danger of treading on any toes or anything, and as actors you do normally use yourself to supply the emotional life of the characters. So I felt pretty comfortable about that.
They just did some improv with us, and journaling and rehearsals where we’d talk about when we first met. And the truth is, Paul and I had been together for almost four years when we shot this, so that first spark and butterflies and all that stuff that happens within the first six months to a year in a relationship, we really love each other but that first compulsion isn’t the substance of our relationship anymore, and they really needed us to tap into that. They would have talk about how we met, and the first time we kissed, and just talking about all of that stuff brought those feelings back up.
Paul Dano: Ruby’s Inadvertent Creator
As the young, self-defeating novelist Calvin Weir-Fields, Paul Dano leads Ruby Sparks with a commanding, against-type performance that's full of humor, anxiety, and raw emotion. Considering that the 28-year-old actor has made a 12-year-career out of playing dark characters in heavy dramas, the role of Calvin is quite revelatory, showing off the Connecticut native's range.
Not that any of his previous work has been one-dimensional, though; after first earning widespread critical love for his Independent Spirit Award-nominated turn in the 2001 indie flick L.I.E., Dano has proven to be one of the most talented and fearless actors of his generation, impressively going toe-to-toe against a monstrous Daniel Day-Lewis in writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson's sprawling 2007 masterpiece There Will Be Blood and besting a rejuvenated Robert De Niro in the drama Being Flynn, released earlier this year.
In Ruby Sparks, Dano has the luxury of playing a character written by the person who arguably knows him best: his girlfriend, and co-star, Zoe Kazan. With Kazan's attention to her beau's on-camera strengths, both those priorly utilized and largely underused up until now, working to his benefit, Dano's unexpected emergence as a comedic leading man helps to give Ruby Sparks the much-needed touch of an actor's actor operating within a comfort zone that critics probably weren't anticipating.
What’s really cool about Ruby Sparks is how different it is from your typical romantic comedy. Based on the trailer, one might expect it to be something more familiar, but it’s actually anything but.
And that is really, really nice to hear. Yeah, that is definitely what we were trying to do, to make a film that a lot of people can enjoy, but it also has some surprising qualities and something original about it. My favorite romantic comedies are also like that, something like Groundhog Day or Annie Hall—that’s my idea of a really great romantic comedy.
Are you typically interested in the romantic comedy genre?
It’s probably less about the genre for me, but I think as a film fan I’d like to get to do every film genre at some point. I want to try and do it in a way that has some excitement to it, whether it’s with the script or the filmmaker. I would like to explore everything, but it’s really more about the script at hand, and why we’re doing it.
When Zoe first discussed her idea for the script, did you connect with it immediately?
I can’t remember if she told me she had an idea, or if she just showed me the first few pages, but I definitely saw the first two to five pages, and I sort of said, “Oh, you’re writing this for us?” She said, “Yeah,” but I don’t think she was at that point; I think she just had an idea and had just written it down. Had I not said it, though, hopefully she would have thought of that as well—hopefully I did not throw myself on her. [Laughs.]
So after that, she knew as she was writing it that we’d do it together. Also, her idea was so clear on the page very early on, about ten pages in, that I said, “We should send this to Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris when you’re done.” She sort of wrote it with them in her mind as the dream directors, and we got very lucky having that come true.