PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Zoe Kazan

By Robert Simonson
24 Feb 2010

Zoe Kazan
Zoe Kazan
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

For a 26-year-old actress, A Behanding in Spokane star Zoe Kazan has originated an impressive number of roles in new plays.

She first came to attention in the Off-Broadway play 100 Saints You Should Know by Kate Fodor and Things We Want by Jonathan Marc Sherman. Broadway roles in established plays like Come Back, Little Sheba and The Seagull followed. Now, she arguably has the most important stage role of her career, creating a character in a Martin McDonagh world premiere. Concurrent with her stage career, she's managed to build up her film resume, appearing in "Revolutionary Road" and "It's Complicated," while writing a play or two on the side. The Brooklyn resident and granddaughter of director Elia Kazan talked to Playbill.com about her current career challenge.

Playbill.com: Were you familiar with Martin McDonagh's work before you took this role?
Zoe Kazan: Yeah, I was. I have read some of his plays. I have seen Lieutenant of Inishmore, when it was on Broadway, and The Pillowman was probably the best theatregoing experience I ever had. I also did the The Cripple of Inishmaan when I was in college, kind of embarrassingly. I think I was pretty bad in that production. You know, a bunch of college students doing Irish accents.

Playbill.com: Well, you didn't have to worry about Irish accents in this one. This is his first play set in America. Did McDonagh look to the actors at all for a little guidance, to make sure the dialogue sounded right?
ZK: No, not at all. Martin really loves America and he's spent a bunch of time here. I don't think he has any trouble picking up certain things.

Playbill.com: Knowing his other plays, what would you say his intention is with this story?
ZK: I really don't know. I think that's a question for Martin. That's not really the kind of thing that we were talking about in rehearsal. I think with a new play, you kind of have to take it at face value. We were working more on things like "What's the tone of this piece?" and "How can we bring it to life the best that we can?" and not so much "What is Martin trying to say?"



Playbill.com: As usual with a McDonagh play, things don't go smoothly for the characters. Are you at all squeamish? Did any of the things depicted in this play upset you?
ZK: Yes, I'm a little squeamish. When I saw Pillowman and those children's fingers come out on the stage, I definitely screamed. When we were in rehearsal, and we were working out how my character Marilyn would react, we definitely drew on my own physical reaction to things. I guess I have a pretty intense reaction to gross things.

Playbill.com: You write plays as well. What sort of writer are you? What subjects do you gravitate towards?
ZK: Very different than this play. I'm more on the kind of kitchen-sink-drama end of things. My first play that was at the Humana Festival last year was a family drama about fathers and sons. My next play, which Manhattan Theatre Club commissioned, is a drama about two sisters. I hope that my plays are funny, but they're not rip-roaring comedies.

Playbill.com: In the future, do you want to balance acting and writing, or is there something you'd like to do more?
ZK: I'm primarily an actress. That's how I make my living. The writing for me is a kind of fun thing I do on the side that's become more prominent in the last couple years. I definitely don't intend on stopping acting.

Playbill.com: You've been doing some movie roles lately. Might we lose you to L.A.?
ZK: No, no, no, no. I've been doing both all along, but most of the movies I had done hadn't come out until this year. It looks like I've been very busy all of a sudden, but that's not the case. I don't intend on leaving New York. I love New York. I grew up in L.A., so I know what it is.

Playbill.com: How do you typically find your character in a play? Do you have a process you use, or does it change from play to play?
ZK: It's different with each play. With a new play, it's different than with an older play. When I was was doing The Seagull, there are things written about Masha. There's a way I can go out and find things out about how other people play the part. I read Chekhov short stories and his letters to Olga Knipper. I was reading Stella Adler's book on Chekhov and Strindberg, which was really useful to me. With a new play, you're trying to figure out who the person is as you go along, which is really exciting, and it's also really terrifying, because all you have is the words on the page. So for this, it's much more about working with the director, to collaborate to find out things about the character like: how smart are they?; how does their brain work?; what is their rhythm of thought or speech? Stuff like that, technical stuff, becomes a lot more important. It's less about interpretation. If you play Hedda Gabler differently than the person before you, no one is going to lose track of who Hedda Gabler is. If I play Marilyn with a subversive edge to what Martin has written on the page, then nobody sees the character. So you have a different kind of job as an actor with a new play.