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Zoe Kazan's Career Is Exploding

The award-winning actress talks about starring in Broadway's A Behanding in Spokane and the film The Exploding Girl.

Zoe Kazan
(© Tristan Fuge)
It's 10am on the Monday morning after the Oscars and although Zoe Kazan stayed up for the whole three and a half hours to watch the broadcast -- during which The Hurt Locker, which stars her Broadway castmate Anthony Mackie, won award after award -- she is bright-eyed and poised as we talk about her burgeoning career. Right now, she and Mackie are appearing on Broadway in Martin McDonagh's acclaimed A Behanding in Spokane and Kazan can be seen in the film The Exploding Girl, for which she won the Best Actress Award at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival and which opens in theaters on Friday, March 12.

If that weren't enough, Kazan has already written a play Absalom, which debuted last year at the Humana Festival, appeared opposite Meryl Streep in the hit movie, It's Complicated, filmed Meek's Cutoff, co-starring her boyfriend, actor Paul Dano, and gal pal Michelle Williams, and is already working on another play at Manhattan Theatre Club (which she'd rather not talk about). And she's only 26!

In The Exploding Girl, Kazan plays Ivy, a young, epileptic woman on summer vacation from college and who works hard at being "normal." For much of the 80-minute film, Kazan -- who graduated from Yale in 2006 -- has no dialogue, but her intense acting skill holds the audience in thrall while revealing Ivy's inner struggles.

"I'm excited to have the lead in a film, especially one as meaningful to me as this one," Kazan enthuses. "Our director and writer Bradley Rust Gray basically wrote the role for me. I'd auditioned for an earlier film of his -- which I didn't get; but when the idea for this one came up, he called me and asked if I was interested. I said yes and then we started taking long walks and discussing the concept for a couple weeks in all kinds of weather, including a rain storm that made me so sick I actually missed a night of playing Masha in The Seagull on Broadway."

Kazan takes her work very seriously, so she put some extra effort into preparing for The Exploding Girl. "I created this whole back story for Ivy, which includes some abandonment issues because there is no father in the home although it's never discussed in the film," she says. "I understand about wanting to be normal; I've been in therapy for eight years. My father [screenwriter Nicholas Kazan] said to me: 'Every artist should know him or herself as completely as possible so they can better do their work.' It's been very helpful to me especially since part of me has always felt very old -- but I play very young a lot," she explains.

Christopher Walken, Anthony Mackie, and Zoe Kazan
in A Behanding in Spokane
(© Joan Marcus)
In Behanding, Kazan plays Marilyn, a young, small-town marijuana dealer who gets more than she bargained for when she and her African-American boyfriend (Mackie) get involved with a racist, violent loner, Carmichael (Christopher Walken), who has been looking for his missing hand for 47 years. While the work has many dark moments, Kazan says it's been a very happy experience.

"I know it's a cliché about every play or every film becoming a little family, but it's so true," she says. "Martin is my very favorite playwright, and his play The Pillowman literally changed the way I think about theater. Chris is amazing, but kind of shy before you get to know him. And don't even get me started on Sam Rockwell [the show's fourth star] and Anthony," she says, her expressive face speaking volumes of admiration for her trio of co-stars.

Kazan's ability to play characters of all ages, backgrounds (and hair colors), as well as her fluidity in going from stage to screen and back again, appears effortless. When she's told this, though, Kazan is quick to smile and say: "We all know how much effort goes into seeming to be effortless."