Fantasy Woman: Behind "Ruby Sparks," The Summer's Smartest, Most Original Love Story

Fantasy Woman: Behind "Ruby Sparks," The Summer's Smartest, Most Original Love Story
To help make that on-screen relationship as strong as possible, you two actually sat down with Paul and Zoe multiple times to tap into their real-life relationship’s origins and strengths. Why was that such an important step for you all to take before making the film?
Dayton: Well, it was a luxury to have two actors who knew each other and had a history, who were, in fact, in love with each other. They’ve been together for four years now.

Faris: And actually, in a way, that was a little bit of a concern of ours, the worry that they might be too comfortable with each other. Will you feel the newness of the relationship? Can we capture that?

That’s we focused on during rehearsals. They told us the story of how they met and how things transpired, and the story was so great. The movie moves pretty quickly through their relationship, so it was really more so for the first time they meet and fall in love on screen. After the first few scenes of them together, it pretty quickly advances, and the relationship quickly progresses.

Dayton: It was interesting working with them and discovering what qualities belong to Calvin and Ruby and what should remain with Paul and Zoe. Zoe is a very flirtatious person, and at first she was playing Ruby that way, and it just didn’t feel right. We asked her to turn that down, and immediately it was like Ruby appeared in the room.

Faris: What she was saying was really interesting to us. She really wrote this from Calvin’s point-of-view; she really sought the most about Calvin’s character, so when she actually went to play the part of Ruby, she said that some of the writing just felt completely wrong to her. [Laughs.] There were times when we’d be working on a scene and she’s say, “Guys, guys! I have to change this. This isn’t working!”

For the most part, she became Ruby and stopped being the writer, but there were a few moments where the writer came back. It was really great. We were just so blown away by her ability to switch roles.

There’s a big scene near the end of the film where Calvin keeps writing new things for Ruby to do, and she does them while also conveying this strong sense of pain and helplessness. It’s an excellent moment, with Zoe making you laugh at times but also never abandoning the scene’s dramatic weight. That scene’s balance of comedy and powerful emotion encapsulates the entire movie. Was it tricky to find that kind of balance?
Dayton: That was the scary and exciting part of doing this, that it was a tightrope walk. That scene you’re talking about was the scene that, in a way, excited us the most, because we felt like we’d never seen something like that in a film.

 
A lot of movies play it cool. I’m kind of tired of that; I like to be taken somewhere surprising, and I think audiences do, too. That’s what people crave. - Valerie Faris
 

Faris: But it also felt like it was so unique and particular to this story and this film. A film like this is tricky, in terms of managing the tone, and we’ve watched the film with audiences a number of times, and Jonathan and I are always looking at each other at the place where it’s the last laugh before it starts to spiral down into this more challenging material. It’s always interesting to us to ask each other, “Are they ready to go there?” [Laughs.] “Because this audience seems to be enjoying themselves.”

There’s this sense of, “Oh, god, they don’t know what’s coming,” and we kind of love that. Our rule, or the way we usually approach it, is to just try to make every moment real, whether it’s funny or it’s painful or sad and emotional. We never really chase after the comedy, and we try not to play up the melodrama either. Life does take those turns, so we feel like the more lifelike it can be, the easier it is to keep the tone as real as possible.

Why do you think that the raw emotion of this film is something that most audiences aren’t used to? Shouldn’t that be the norm?
Faris: I agree, and you probably have a better answer for that than we do. [Laughs.] When we were shooting this, the studio saw the footage and they were very worried. So I can imagine that sometimes this kind of stuff doesn’t happen when people are making movies because people get scared and think that the audience won’t be able to handle it. We did have to kind of push back and say, “No, you can’t do the movie without this scene. It has to go there.”

And they recognized it, finally. People are just so afraid, and a lot of movies play it cool. I’m kind of tired of that; I like to be taken somewhere surprising, and I think audiences do, too. That’s what people crave.

Dayton: I agree with everything you both are saying. That’s one of the things that we loved about Little Miss Sunshine: There was a range of emotion within the film. These films are very different, but if there’s any similarity it’s in that mix of laughter and real, raw emotion.

Faris: We liked that this movie wasn’t in one particular genre; it crossed genres, and I liked that about it. I think audiences are fine with that, ultimately. Really, what we always strive for is to give the audience an experience. You may achieve it with some people and not with others, but that’s the goal.

Ruby Sparks reminded me a lot of the experience I had with Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris last year. I went into that film with a similar aloofness to what was really going on, and the way it told a very genuine story in an unexpectedly fantastic and original way really was really impressive. That’s the kind of film that many people try to seek out, and it’s great whenever you actually find one.
Dayton: Well, that’s high praise. I love that movie, too, and it’s that same thing: That’s what you go to movies for, and it’s rare when you get all of those qualities.

Tags: ruby-sparks, paul-dano, zoe-kazan, jonathan-dayton, valerie-faris, summerfeed
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