Zoe Kazan tests the notion “Can men and women just be friends?” in her new film What If, starring opposite Daniel Radcliffe. Kazan plays Chantry, who has a boyfriend, but strikes up a close friendship with Radcliffe’s Wallace.
The granddaughter of the legendary director Elia Kazan grew up in Los Angeles but moved to the East Coast to attend Yale University and became a resident of New York City soon after. She splits her time between acting and writing for both the stage and screen.
Find out how Kazan has become one of the best young actresses in Hollywood today and see her film What If on Aug. 1.
1. Kazan Belongs to Yale University’s Manuscript Society Alumni
The Manuscript Society tapped Kazan to join their ranks near the end of her junior year at Yale University. The secret society chooses worthy undergraduates who display strength in academics, extracurricular activities, character and commitment to truth, and classifies itself as an Arts and Letters society. Other famous alumni include Anderson Cooper and Jodie Foster.
Kazan graduated with Bachelor’s degree in theatre from the Ivy League school where she studied with Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies and developed her first play Absalom.
2. She Met Boyfriend Paul Dano in 2007
In 2007, Kazan starred in Jonathan Marc Sherman’s play Things We Want, directed by Ethan Hawke. There she met her boyfriend Paul Dano, who starred alongside her Peter Dinklage and Josh Hamilton. She had no intentions of dating an actor but that all changed when she met Dano during production, she told Time magazine.
I wrote in my journal that night, but I was too afraid to even use his name. I wrote in the margin: ‘Danger PD. Must be careful so that life doesn’t imitate art.’ Because in the play we fell in love.
The two co-starred on the big screen in Kazan’s first written feature film Ruby Sparks. After reading the first five pages of the script, Dano knew his girlfriend was writing the movie for them to star in together, Kazan told The Daily Beast in 2012:
I’m such an over-sharer so I always show Paul my writing as I go along. I showed him it five pages in, and he asked if I was writing it for us, and then I thought, ‘That’s clearly what I’m doing. But then I tried to put it out of my head because I didn’t want to get in the character’s way.
3. Kazan Made Her Broadway Debut in ‘Come Back, Little Sheba’
Kazan made her feature film debut in Swordswallowers and the Thin Man in 2003. The film was directed by classmate Max Borenstein on the Yale campus and in the surrounding New Haven, Connecticut area.
She struggled to attain more screen acting gigs after the movie, constantly sitting in auditions for “rape victim no. 3,” she told The Daily Beast. She made her professional stage debut in the 2006 off-Broadway revival of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie starring Cynthia Nixon. Two years later she made her Broadway debut opposite S. Epatha Merkerson in Come Back, Little Sheba.
4. Her Grandfather Elia Kazan Was Known as the Actor’s Director
Kazan’s parents Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord are both Oscar-nominated screenwriters, but the family member she is most attributed to is her grandfather Elia Kazan. Elia directed 21 actors to Oscar nominations, winning two himself for directing Gentleman’s Agreement and On the Waterfront, which led him to be called “the actor’s director.”
He founded The Actors Studio in 1947 that heavily promoted the Method acting style, created by the actor and director Russian Constantin Stanislavski. His 1952 testimony in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities made Elia a controversial figure in the Hollywood community. It’s a subject his granddaughter is asked about frequently, she told the Huffington Post:
It’s not like I dislike the question. I love him and I understand people’s curiosity, but I just don’t know that I have a good answer for it. So I always walk away feeling either like, ‘I just sold out of family,’ or, ‘I just gave these people the most bland, boring possible answer I could possibly give.’
Zoe admitted she was 13 when she learned her grandfather was famous. Elia died when she was 20 years old and she has “just normal, grandpa memories” of him, she told The Daily Beast.
5. Kazan Wrote the Movie ‘Ruby Sparks’ and the Play ‘We Live Here’
In addition to acting, Kazan loves to write. Her first play Absalom premiered at the 2009 Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Kentucky. In 2011, the Manhattan Theater Club hosted the premiere of her off-Broadway play We Live Here.
Kazan spoke with Playbill.com about the lack of female writers and directors on Broadway:
I always think about, ‘Who does misogyny hurt?’ and I think it hurts everyone. I think that a lack of representation of a diversity of voices — not just female voices but different cultures and racially — I feel like that hurts us as a society. It hurts us culturally. Because art engenders empathy. Because we don’t need to support the monolith.
Kazan then starred in her first screenplay Ruby Sparks about a struggling novelist (played by Dano) who writes about his dream girl and wills her into existence. The movie co-starred big names Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening and Steve Coogan.