Entertainment & Arts

Ruby Sparks fly for Little Miss Sunshine directors

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Media captionJonathan Dayton: "We were all doing something we really loved and we love one another"

Six years after Little Miss Sunshine won hearts and Hollywood accolades, directing couple Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are back with Ruby Sparks; a romantic tale featuring writer Zoe Kazan as a made-up girl who comes to life.

"We needed to find something we would love as much," explains Faris, of the years that passed in between movies.

"That was the first part of that process. 'Do we love this? And can we spend two years of our life loving it?'".

Her husband, and directing partner-in-crime, Dayton continues:

"Making a film is such a giant undertaking. It follows you for the rest of your life. We wanted to protect that experience."

Their debut feature Little Miss Sunshine, about a mismatched family on a road trip to their daughter's beauty pageant, won numerous awards including two Oscars.

It was a tough act to follow, but the couple say the "very different" Ruby Sparks fit the bill, and was the first time "all the elements were right."

Those elements include the debut screenplay from actress Zoe Kazan, who also plays the title role of Ruby, the 'perfect' girlfriend dreamed up by frustrated young novelist Calvin.

'Intense togetherness'

Dayton and Faris were not the only couple on set, as Kazan had written the part of Calvin with her own boyfriend, up-and-coming actor Paul Dano, in mind.

"I read about the first five pages that Zoe had written and said, 'Should we do this together?'," reveals Dano, who has also just featured alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt in mind-bending sci-fi Looper.

"We would daydream about it together. 'How are we going to get it made? Who are we going to send it to?'"

They sent it to Dayton and Faris, who Dano had worked with on Little Miss Sunshine. And so began months spent as a couple, playing a couple.

"It's less strange than it sounds," reveals Kazan. "Paul and I had worked together twice before and so we kind of knew what that would feel like, but it's a lot of togetherness every day."

Dano, who is about to work on Shame director Steve McQueen's new film, says it was both a "personal" and "intense" experience, but also one of his "absolute best".

Image caption Kazan says Ruby Sparks is about something "deeper and a little darker" than your average rom-com

Despite the romance, Ruby Sparks is not your average rom-com. However Kazan says she definitely didn't set out to make any kind of 'anti rom-com' either.

"I'm a big fan of the rom-com," she explains enthusiastically. "But I think we were all after a slightly different game than that.

"I think of a movie like The Graduate, or Harold and Maude - you could call those romantic comedies but they're really about something much deeper and maybe a little darker.

"For me this movie is so much about loneliness and what we would do to keep love in our lives. There's a fantastical premise and I think there's a lot of humour that comes from that, but I was more interested in the darker parts of a man who has control over a woman."

Some critics have found those "darker parts", nearer the end of the film, a bit too dark and Kazan says directors Dayton and Faris call the movie "a rollercoaster".

But she adds: "Someone else referred to it as Frankenstein meets Annie Hall and I think that's not a bad combination!"

Despite getting to see her own creation come to life on the big screen, it is the whole team's "collaboration" that Kazan says she's "really proud" of.

The actress turned screenwriter, who is the grand-daughter of Oscar-winning director Elia Kazan, says she found working with directors Dayton and Faris "amazing".

Image caption Directors Dayton and Faris said all the togetherness on set ended up being a "good thing"

"I knew they wouldn't make the simple version of this movie," explains Kazan.

"The complexities of it were so important to me, and I know it makes it less easy listening or easy watching but I don't mind that."

Faris says it was the "interesting questions" the film asks about relationships that attracted them to it.

"Sometimes if you work too hard to control it, you can try to make somebody what you want them to be but in doing that you sort of kill the relationship," explains Faris.

'Dream ensemble'

Much like Little Miss Sunshine, some of the film's most charming scenes rely on the strength of its talented ensemble cast.

Kazan says she wept actual tears of joy on discovering they had secured one of her favourite actresses, Annette Bening, to play Calvin's mother, alongside Antonio Banderas.

"It was hard for me to believe that this movie was getting made and every time a good piece of news came in I tried not to count my chickens before they hatched," Kazan explains.

"But when I got the call, I cried because I felt like, 'it's really real now!' Then when Antonio came on [board] I felt like, 'Someone pinch me'. They really relished each other too which was a nice surprise."

Chris Messina, Elliott Gould (most recognisable as Monica and Ross Geller's dad in Friends) and Steve Coogan also feature in supporting roles. British actor and comedian Coogan has even left a lasting impression.

"I am an Alan Partridge fan!" reveals Kazan. "I have watched mainly online because it's not really quite such a thing in the States.

"But I'm a huge fan of his and find his mix of braininess and pathos very compelling. He brought all that to this part for sure."

Ruby Sparks is in UK cinemas on 12 October.

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