Interview with Jenée LaMarque and Zoe Kazan, by Rita Cannon
The Pretty One is about two identical twins, both of whom are played by Zoe. Was there ever a time when you considered casting actual twins, or did you always know that you wanted to have one actress play both roles?
Jenée LaMarque: I was open to that, but your pickings are slim. We had one identical twin audition, whose twin is also an actor, but besides that . . . That would have made it, technically, a lot easier. But at the same time, part of the fun of the film is that challenge, and for that actress who plays all those roles to really get to own it. To dig into it.
Because you play both twins, there are a lot of scenes where you’re acting opposite a body double. What was that like? Have you ever done that before?
Zoe Kazan: No, that was my first time doing that. And I’ve never done any green screen work, so that was my first time having to do any of that really technical stuff, which was surprisingly difficult. I’ve never really been any good at math, and it sort of felt like having to do math and stand on your head and act at the same time. There are a lot of parts to keep track of. The actual emotional, non-technical part felt not as challenging as the nitty-gritty – like where do I put my eyes, what did she do with her hand, do I have to match that in the next take. We had a wonderful person standing in as the body double, and we shot over her shoulder at me, so you see the back of her head in the film, but most of the time she was just standing in for my eyeline and to have someone to play with. She was very generous and gave a performance every time, but I also knew that my performance would be different than what she was giving me, and I’d sort of have to imagine what I was doing on the other side before I had done it. Playing the first person, not always knowing what I was going to do on the other end, was sort of the hardest part of my day.
Where did you find the body double? Did you audition her like a regular actress?
JL: Yeah, we had girls come in. They had to be the same size, the same measurements, the same general coloring [as Zoe], and then they came in and auditioned. But they knew they weren’t gonna get the role, they knew it was a body double situation. It was a whole separately weird process. She read the same scenes that Zoe read.
I love the costume design in the movie. It has kind of a midcentury vintagey feel, but in a way that’s really subtle. Was that your idea to have them dress that way, or was that more the costume designer’s push?
JL: It was a collaboration. Emily Batson is our costume designer, and we had been talking about doing this movie together for a few years, so we had a long time to talk about what it would look like. We really let the story determine our choices. The vintagey quality has to do with the fact that the story is kind of a fairy tale. I had read this article about how fairy tales don’t really take place in a specific time period, they take place in “once upon a time.” We were going after a timeless quality, where you didn’t quite know what year it was. We figured out a sort of clothing narrative for each character. Like Laurel, when she’s dressing up as her sister, there’s a narrative in terms of how she dresses at the beginning of that, and then slowly discovers the way that she wants to dress. It’s all very purposeful with Emily. She’s a really great collaborator with great taste.
The tone is really interesting, especially considering how dark the subject matter is. Was there an iteration of the script that was a little more dramatic, or were there individual takes that leaned a more in that direction?
JL: I kind of knew what I wanted the tone to be. I mean, we could have cut a much darker movie with what we had. I think because the subject matter is so dark, in order to explore it, you need to have some lightness. I mean, that’s life. It isn’t all dark and heavy. Even when you are facing a great loss, there’s levity in life. To me it feels true to life, and it feels like a way to make a movie about this subject. Otherwise it would be too intense.
Zoe, is there a twin that you relate to more than the other? Was one of them easier to play? You obviously spend more time playing Laurel than Audrey, although even then, you’re kind of doing both.
ZK: They’re both like me in different ways. You know, we contain multitudes. I was saying to Jenée earlier today that over the course of my life there’s been enormous continuity; I feel like I’ve always been the same person. But day to day or year to year, I think there’s huge variety. Like sometimes I feel like I can’t be responsible for a continuous story of my life. I look at both of them, and I feel like Audrey is probably closer to who I was in my early to mid-twenties, and Laurel’s probably closer to who I was in my teens. On the page, I felt more closely aligned to Laurel, because she’s the more vulnerable twin, and I think I’m a vulnerable person. On the inside, at least.
This is your debut as a feature director, but you’ve made a couple of shorts before. Was it a big transition from one to the other, or is it just sort of a larger version of the same process?
JL: With a short, it’s so much more contained. You write it, you prep it, you shoot it, you edit it. It’s all very quick. With a film you’re intending to put in theaters and play the festival circuit, it’s over years. In general, I feel like it’s the same job, but it requires a more sustained energy over a longer period of time. It definitely helped prepare me for making a feature. But I think no matter how many films you’ve directed or acted in, it’s always a new challenge. Because otherwise why would you be doing it, if you aren’t excited and challenged by what the work is?
Zoe, you’ve done a lot of theater in addition to film and television. Is there one that you prefer over the other?
ZK: My favorite sound in the world is the sound of an audience gathering in the theater. I think acting onstage is the closest to the romantic idea of acting that you have as a child – you know, that perfect moment that’s so ephemeral, that you can have a night where everything goes right, and then the next night nothing happens. It’s a pretty special feeling. But I find it very difficult to be in a long run of a play and have stay new night after night. For better or worse, I guess I’m kind of bored easily. I love being on a movie set because it’s always a new challenge, you’re always problem solving. It’s incredibly present tense. A play is present tense during rehearsal and during previews, but once you’ve really established what the play is, it becomes kind of like this strange Tibetan sand mandala that you’re making every night. Even though it’s present tense, you feel like you’ve already done all of your creating. Whereas on a movie set you’re creating every single day.
You’re also a playwright. Is there anything you’ve learned from being on the other side of things that’s made you a better actress?
ZK: It really changed my view of auditioning. I used to take it really personally when I didn’t get a job, and what you learn immediately sitting on the other side of the table that someone can be really great and just not be quite right. That it’s not personal at all, it has more to do with the character than with you. Learning that has been really invaluable.
Is there anything else you’d like to people to know about The Pretty One?
ZK: Go see it!