“Ruby Sparks,” new romantic comedy from Fox Searchlight Pictures, opens Wednesday July 25th
July 23, 2012 by Dana Feldman
by Dana Feldman
Fox Searchlight Pictures’ RUBY SPARKS asks the poignant question ‘What if the love of your life was a work of fiction?’ The second feature film from married co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, known for their Academy Award-winning 2006 feature film directorial debut LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, brings the duo back to the big screen with this sophisticated look into the powers of one’s mind. The story follows one-time successful novelist, Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), a writer with the ability to control his created lovers every action and emotion with the keys on his beloved typewriter, as he struggles with writer’s block as well as the block between his inner life and the outside world.
This is Yale University graduate Zoe Kazan’s first produced script. She stars in the title role of the film alongside her real-life boyfriend, Dano, and both serve as executive producers. Per Kazan, “I was interested in the theme of control in relationships and the way we bring in ideas of who the person we love should be.” Explaining that she’s most interested in stories that show what’s both sad and funny about life, she goes on to further explain, “How do you love the person you’re with completely without saying I don’t want this or that part? And how do you make room in a relationship for two separate people?” Repeatedly told that it would be impossible get this film made with she and Dano as the leads, she was thankfully able to get the script to producers Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, who then brought it to Dayton and Faris.
As Ruby curiously steps off the page and into the real world, this shrewd romantic fable weaves in and out of reality, exploring the surreally provocative question of what would happen if a writer’s imagination were so powerful that the written word would become reality? The concept for the story began with an idea that struck Kazan as she came home late one night from the set of a film. Shocked to see a mannequin lying in a heap of trash, the sight set off in her a creative chain reaction. A Greek mythology buff, she was reminded of the ancient myth of Galatea, in which Pygmalion falls in love with the statue he has crafted with his own hands. That uncanny moment, when the inanimate seemed to come alive, started her thinking about how fantasy, autonomy and identity collide and collude in contemporary relationships. “I started wondering what might happen if a writer had a character come to life who could give him exactly what he thought he wanted romantically. But things get very complicated because when you really love someone you have to love all of the person, not just the parts you’ve idealized.”
Sharing her work with Dano as she wrote, both agreed not to sell it. Kazan explains her mindset while writing as the two began to envision themselves in the roles. “I think I was always subconsciously writing Calvin for Paul. I kept thinking of Paul, though I tried to get him out of my head. I saw his sweetness and soulfulness in Calvin. The weirdest thing is that I was writing a character that was writing my character!” Not so much interested in the science fiction aspect of how a writer’s fantasy character might come to life, Kazan’s admitted focus was what would come next. “How would a fictional creation fare in the midst of the messiness of real life, especially when the man writing her isn’t sure of exactly what he wants?” Adding, “Ruby becomes more complicated for me as the movie goes on. I was most interested in what happens when people try to manipulate one another. You destroy the very thing you love.”
In regards to writing this script, “There’s this perception when an actor writes a script that they’re writing a juicy role for themselves. This wasn’t the case here. I was so excited about what was happening inside my brain. The only conscious thing was how much fun this would be to do with Paul,” she says.
Per Dano, “Zoe has this extraordinary capacity to tell a story and an ability to bring you into this world. We wanted to walk the line we wanted to walk with it. The best thing we did was to get the script to Jon and Val.” Of his character Calvin, “We tend to fall in love with the idea of something. Calvin lives mainly in his head until Ruby comes along and she’s very specific to Calvin, she’s the person he needs in his life at the time.” Of Calvin’s dilemma once Ruby appears as flesh and blood, “He’s threatened and it’s when he lets go of his ideals that he finds what he’s been searching for. We fall in love with the idea of something and romanticize the things that we don’t know.” Adding that the biggest fantasy of life is getting a second chance at something, Dano says, “In the end, I hope that Calvin is open to the person sitting across from him, warts and all, and not trying to control things.”
Of what drew Chris Messina, who stars as Calvin’s brother Harry, to the role, “The writing first and foremost attracted me. I read the script and was blown away.” He auditioned twice but was told that he didn’t look anything like Dano. “I even lightened my hair and eyebrows and that didn’t work,” he adds laughing. In regards to the powerful subject matter of love, Messina explains his experiences. “I’ve learned to love those things in a person that are maybe not the most favorable. I find that the best relationships are when you bring out the best in one another.”
Dayton’s love for the script included the many layers that kept unfolding. “It goes to darker places than the traditional romantic comedy. It’s a fairy tale with reality. We’d never seen a script like this, with this combination of elements. Despite the film’s high-concept premise, we think audiences will identify with Calvin’s predicament.”
Faris, who explains that they always respond to the voice of the writer, adds, “There’s this mix of pain, suffering and humor. With the funny bits we went to interesting, challenging places we’d never been to before as filmmakers.” Their love of contemporary Los Angeles ensured its usage as the film’s backdrop. “We have such a history with Los Angeles and the more you know of it, the better it gets.” Of the script, “Zoe has a real gift for making things look easy on the surface with a lot going on underneath. This is a relatable comedy. You buy into it as you watch Calvin reckoning with the reality of his situation. He’s wrestling with the impossibility of what’s happening. The script takes fantasy and grounds it. Even though the story is built around a fictional premise, it illuminates so many truths about relationships. We hope that people will leave the theater with something to talk about.”
Included in this fantastic cast are Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, Steve Coogan, Elliott Gould and Deborah Ann Woll. RUBY SPARKS opens Wednesday, July 25th. This film is Rated R with a run-time of 104 minutes.