Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton qualify as one of the most unusual directing teams now working. After establishing a name for themselves in music videos with such groups as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and R.E.M., the husband-and-wife team successfully broke into feature films with their 2006 commercial and critical hit Little Miss Sunshine. After a long incubation period, they are back with their second feature, Ruby Sparks.
The duo recently visited the area in promotion for their movie, and they were joined by the film’s stars, Paul Dano, who also appeared in Sunshine, and Zoe Kazan, who plays the title character.
The fantastical yet original romantic comedy is about a blocked novelist (Dano) who creates his dream woman by simply writing her into existence.
Kazan wrote Ruby Sparks into existence as the film’s screenwriter, taking her idea and giving it life and then structure.
“I originally was thinking of relationships and how when you meet someone, your first impression is usually the one that lasts the longest,” she said.
The script quickly found its way to Dayton and Faris, who said they were drawn to it.
“For us, you read a script and imagine making the movie, and when you think it’s something you’ve never seen before, it’s exciting,” Faris said.
“They got it in the summer of 2010,” Kazan said. “By October, they came back to me with their first set of notes, and I could tell we were on the same page. They wanted to play it completely real, and Paul and I both felt comfortable with them doing it.”
It should be noted at this point that Kazan and Dano, in addition to being a couple in Ruby Sparks, have been together as a couple offscreen for several years.
The filmmakers worked closely with Kazan on bringing the script to screen.
“We do a lot of preparation,” Faris said. “So we worked with Zoe a lot before we ever even got to the set. Zoe has always been interested in the Pygmalion myth, mostly about how men can’t give birth. So this is a classic setup showing how a man can create. It’s just a little different take on the myth.”
Did Kazan feel overprotective of her script when the directors wanted to make changes?
“Val and Jon would ask me to change a scene, to make an addition or two, but most of the time they were putting a finger on something and it helped me to see the problem,” Kazan said.
The movie has some interesting casting choices. For one, Antonio Banderas plays a wildly uninhibited artist.
“That was up to Val and Jon, and they surprised me with some of their choices,” Kazan said. “I had not thought of Antonio Banderas in that part, but I loved having this uber-masculine presence.”
“You’re halfway there when you get the right cast,” Faris said. “You have to cast the right person, and I don’t believe at all in casting against type.”
As the session closed, a final question was directed at the quiet Dano. It referred to his recent role in Being Flynn, in which he played opposite Robert DeNiro. Who was more intimidating to work opposite, DeNiro or his girlfriend?
After laughing, Dano paused before giving his diplomatic answer: “I don’t know. Bob gives a really nice hug.”
Ruby Sparks opens Friday at the Magnolia in Dallas and other regional theaters.