Catching Up With Zoe Kazan of What If

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The best characters are the ones you believe, and we believe Zoe Kazan as Chantry in Michael Dowse’s new romantic comedy, What If. We believe she would start a conversation about magnetic fridge poetry with a fellow named Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe), and we believe she would look up the recipe for Fool’s Gold, and then bake it. We also believe she is earnest about her current relationship with another fellow (Rafe Spall), in spite of the fact that he doesn’t seem quite as compatible with her particular sense of quirk. And, yet, Kazan and Radcliffe bring the slightest of spins to this indie romance—enough so that one hesitates to use the word “quirk” and its derivates. Chantry is different from what we’ve come to expect from these types of stories, and she brings out an important side to Radcliffe, who we shan’t be calling “Harry” for much longer.

Two years ago, Kazan made her screenwriting debut with Paste favorite Ruby Sparks, another different sort of romantic comedy (to say the least). She continues to involve herself in projects that seek to both embrace and deviate from the rom-com genre in new and interesting ways, because these are the kinds of projects in which she believes. Paste caught up with Kazan to talk What If, women in film, and her upcoming miniseries on HBO.

Paste Magazine: You have said that, as a writer, you appreciated the script because of the way the women and men were written. Can you talk about that a little more?
Zoe Kazan: A lot of romantic comedies are written pretty strongly from the male or female perspective. 500 Days of Summer is a good example of a movie from the male perspective, and something like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is from a woman’s perspective. With What If, I don’t think that either of them (Chantry or Wallace) are the protagonist of this movie. It hovers somewhere between them, and that was exciting to me. And the dialogue was really fresh and funny. It made me laugh out loud while reading it, which is a pretty good sign. I thought someone smart and fun was behind this, and indeed, [writer] Elan Mastai is now one of my favorite people in the world. He’s a feminist and a really good guy. I dug his vibe.

Paste: Right now, there’s a lot of talk about women in television and film, and the way things are changing and shifting. Do you have your own particular vision for what you’d like to see in the future?
Kazan: I’m just so appreciative that it feels like things are changing, and it feels like more voices are being heard. I would love to see more women of color represented. We have a lot of funny girls out there who are white girls, like Amy Schumer and Jenny Slate. And shows like Broad City are breaking through—and I’m all about that. I just would like to see more voices heard that don’t come from an upper-middle class, white culture.

Paste: I am in complete agreement with you on that. And we’ve been trying to do our part over at Paste to help media move in that direction.
Kazan: Yes, let’s change the world!

Paste: The inclusion of animation really sold me on this movie. I also love some of those small moments—like when you and Daniel Radcliffe’s character start chasing the mail that’s flying around. Were there any scenes that were especially fun to shoot with him?
Kazan: I really loved both diner scenes—there’s one earlier in the movie where they’re both sort of bonding for the first time, and then there’s one later in the movie where their feelings sort of come out. Those scenes are very realistic—the writer really lets us see how they fall for each other, and why. There are so many times in movies where you’re just like, “Why are these two people drawn together—other than the fact that they’re the leads of the movie?” (laughs) Just reading the script, I felt like I could really see what would make them a good couple, or more importantly, why they’d be friends.

Paste: Can you talk a little more about working with Daniel on set?
Kazan: I think he’s the nicest human being alive. He’s completely professional and easy to be around. I know it sounds like a PR line, but he was just such a nice guy, and it was so easy to be interested in him. He’s a lovely person. I think people will be surprised—I know I was in some ways—by how sharp his humor is. With him as the romantic lead, going to work every day was just a total joy.

Paste: I also thought the scenes with you and the other women in the cast were really well done. What was it like on set with them?
Kazan: It was great. Megan Parks plays my sister, and she and I really bonded making this movie. We’re still friends. She has a sister my age, and I have a little sister her age, and we just got each other immediately. One of my favorite moments in the movie is that part on the beach—she’s the tiniest little thing, and she’s got on this tiny bikini, and she pokes her stomach out to make herself look pregnant?

Paste: (laughs) Yes.
Kazan: That was just something she would do to me on set and [the director] Michael saw her and was like, “That’s going in the movie.”

Paste: That’s perfect. What other projects do you have coming up?
Kazan: I’m in an upcoming HBO miniseries called Olive Kitteridge. Frances McDormand spearheaded and stars in it, and Lisa Cholodenko is directing. It’s really wonderful. And it’s about middle age, which is another place where women’s voices are under-represented. It’s about what it’s like to grow older as a woman, and it centers on this couple—played by Frances and Richard Jenkins—at four different stages of their middle age. I play someone who works in the pharmacy that he runs. And that was one of the greatest working experiences of my life.

Paste: I’d heard about the project, so I’m really excited to see this. Thanks so much.
Kazan: Thank you!

Shannon M. Houston is Assistant TV Editor at Paste, and a New York-based freelance writer with probably more babies than you. You can follow her on Twitter.