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Q&A: 'Ruby Sparks' star Paul Dano

(Matt Pais/RedEye )
July 23, 2012|Matt Pais | RedEye movie critic

Yes, Paul Dano’s real-life girlfriend Zoe Kazan deliberately wrote certain things for him in “Ruby Sparks,” in which the real-life couple plays a couple. The movie is not about them, though.

“When I read scenes, it was like, ‘OK, I have to figure out what’s going on here.’ It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I remember when we were in the grocery store and that [bleeping] happened,’” says Dano.

In the film, opening Wednesday, Dano plays Calvin, an author struggling to deliver his long-awaited sophomore novel who finds inspiration through his new character, Ruby Sparks—until she comes to life (played by Kazan) and Calvin must reconcile his fantasy girl with reality.

At the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, Dano, 28 (“Little Miss Sunshine”) talked about the real-life inspirations for Calvin, what most guys would do with the power to change their partner and how often people salute his role in “There Will Be Blood” by offering him free milkshakes.

Calvin has the power to change Ruby, which is a slippery slope. What do you think most guys would do with that power?
Oh, lordy. What they say they would do is different from what they’d actually do, and hopefully you’ll think twice about it after you see the film if you have that power. I don’t know; I think Harry (Chris Messina) does a good job of being the voice for the audience, or especially a male audience.

So what would guys say they would do, and what would they actually want to do?
I think the first thought a lot of people would have is, “More [oral sex] or bigger [breasts],” like Harry says. I think most people would hopefully just not do it. Calvin is such an unfortunate--once he makes that first change, you have to go to where he goes. I think he was just scared that he was going to lose her and also wanted her to be happy. I think his reason to change her was partially a vulnerable reason, not just wanting her to be different. I don’t know; I don’t want to speak for other people. I can’t imagine that now just because I’ve been through the experience of making the film. So I’m like, if I could change a person … I don’t think I would to begin with. I like being surprised by people anyway.

If we were guessing about percentages, would men or women be more likely to take advantage of this opportunity?
Well, I don’t know, man. I feel like I know a lot of women who are like, [if you asked them], “If you could change your husband,” [they would say], “Get him to [bleepin’] put the toilet seat down.” Sometimes it’s really simple things. I guess I would go with men. Something that I feel about the film is control over relationships is not a one-way street.

And these are dangerous questions.
I’m scared to answer. I’m scared to answer you right now.

You asked Zoe if this was being written for you, and she confirmed that it was. How did that change your perception of the movie, since she said she couldn’t resist writing some things to make you do them? How much did you think about Calvin being an extension of you?
I didn’t. I read the first few pages and my gut response was, “Is she writing this for us?” So it never was not for us. Zoe is good writer. And I was never concerned about her putting our life up on screen. A. I think she knows that would piss me off and B. I think she would want to challenge us. And I think she was guided by a couple characters that came to her, or a story that came to her, so the impetus for it was not for us. So I don’t think she let that dictate too much of her writing process. Yeah, obviously there’s parts of me in there. I think there’s parts of Zoe in Calvin; I think there’s parts of ex-boyfriends of hers in Calvin. I did not get heady about that kind of stuff. You look at what’s given to you on the page and the circumstances and I just started there.

What parts of you are in there?
Well, I like books a lot. I can be introverted at times. Not as much as Calvin. Not as isolated and not lonely, but he’s a pretty serious guy in some ways, so maybe that.

Do you consider yourself a serious person most of the time?
I don’t know; I can be pretty stupid and silly too. It’s hard for me to say what parts of me are in there because I don’t know. Sometimes it’s hard to see yourself. There’s things I can relate to, so maybe those are parts that are similar. Certainly having writer’s block sounds terrifying to me, and I know what it’s like not to feel inspired, and that’s totally paralyzing and awful.

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