Five Burning Questions with When We Were Young and Unafraid Star Zoe Kazan

Last updated July 2nd, 2014 by Josh Ferri
Five Burning Questions with When We Were Young and Unafraid…

It’s the summer of Zoe Kazan, and you’d be a fool not to indulge. The busy actress and playwright is starring opposite Tony winner Cherry Jones as an abused wife seeking refuge in Manhattan Theatre Club’s powerful new play When We Were Young and Unafraid, and she can be seen on screen beginning August 1 as the object of Daniel Radcliffe’s affection in the new romantic comedy What If. BroadwayBox caught up with the lovely Ms. Kazan to talk about the play, the film and the ladies who inspire her.

1. When We Were Young and Unafraid packs such a punch, and your character especially goes through so much; how do you leave that behind at the end of the night? Do you have a post-show routine?
I probably should have a better one. It’s tough. After most shows I’ve done, I want to go home and watch House Hunters International and eat cheese. I just want to veg and watch the worst TV I could find, but on this, I find myself oscillating between coming home and wanting watch a really excellent film that I’ve seen before and already love (something like Badlands, Deer Hunter or The Royal Tenenbaums) and wanting to watch reruns of Friends on Nick at Nite. There’s some sort of comfort in that Friends was my first sitcom really, and knowing, ‘Oh this is one where Phoebe goes to visit her sister.’ I don't think I have landed on the right, productive thing yet though.

2. What women inspire you personally and professionally?
Personally, I feel really inspired by my mom [Oscar nominated screenwriter Robin Swicord]. She’s very much a self-made woman. She came from a military family in the middle of the Florida panhandle with no contacts in the business, and through her strength of will, talent and hard work, she’s become not only an amazing writer and director but a real mentor to younger writers. She’s just incredibly giving, but she’s really tough; she’s not a softie. So having that role model of someone who is really uncompromising but at the same time unbelievably generous and hard working…I really look up to her. Professionally, Frances McDormand is really it for me. I got to work with her this year on HBO’s Olive Kitteridge, and she’s just everything I want to be in a person and in an actor—the way that she balanced her professional and private life, the way she conducts herself on set, the way she chooses material and how she oscillates between theatre and movies. Everything about her to me is exactly how I would aim to be in the world.

3. I can’t think of another trailer that has made me as excited for a film as What If. What’s your favorite romance on film?
Well, I’m a Casablanca girl. That was the first real one. Humphrey Bogart was it for me. It was the first time I wanted to crawl through the screen and be inside of that thing. I loved The Apartment; that movie is just perfect. I feel about a romantic comedy the way I feel about all movies: At the end of the day, you should forget about the genre if you’re watching a really amazing film. My favorite romantic comedies are just movies I think are really good.

4. If we were to start a book club, what’s the first book you would bring to the table for the group? What should we be reading?
I would go more lowbrow and go with The Shining. I read it for the first time a couple of years ago. Until I read Stephen King, I thought he was airport reading—like good plot but not that good writing—but then I read Carrie and was blown away. It was one of the most interestingly written books I’ve ever read. And since then I’ve gone on a massive Stephen King kick, and that's a book that I really love and would be interested in hearing other people’s thoughts on. Or I’d go highbrow and pick a Alice Munro book; she’s sort of my favorite right now.

5. With generations of your family steeped in show business, what’s been the best advice you’ve received from them?
I don't know that I could remember a piece of advice, but being encouraged to write as well as act was something that changed my life. My parents are big advocates of ‘desserts first’ mentally—celebrating milestones early and often along the way. I remember when Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris signed on to direct Ruby Sparks [which Kazan wrote and starred in], they said, ‘We should open some champagne now, because there’s no guarantee this movie will be made but something good just happened.’ If you don't take notice of the good things that happen along the way you’ll never celebrate. They'll always be something else you’re waiting for.