Jonathan Dayton and Paul Dano Interview
Jonathan Dayton and Paul Dano Interview
Jonathan Dayton, one of the directors of comedy drama Ruby Sparks, and actor and star Paul Dano, met with View’s Matthew Turner to share some insights into the creative process, bringing a beautifully-honed script to the screen and to explain how a great film is made not just by filming a script like any old Rom-com, but by combining love, care, enjoyment, music, talent and passion to create something really special.
How did the project come about, first of all?

Jonathan Dayton

Well, it started before we saw it...

Paul Dano

Zoe saw a mannequin in a trash can and thought it was a person, which made her think about the Pygmalion myth. Essentially, that night she had a dream, woke up and wrote down the start of it. She showed stuff to me and we thought we could maybe do it together. She kept writing and very early on, maybe fifteen pages into it, we thought of Jonathan and Valerie. So always, we had them in mind as who we'd send it to when it was finished. Then it was finished and we sent it to them and luckily they said yes and we started the process.

Jonathan Dayton

It's funny because it came with Paul and Zoe attached and we were really nervous to read the script because of the idea of working with Paul again [after Little Miss Sunshine], and we loved Zoe, so we really wanted to love it. And we did. It was everything we were looking for. We'd worked on various films since Little Miss Sunshine but this was about something, it was funny, it explored love and control and it felt like the perfect film to do with these guys.
Were Paul and Zoe always attached as the lead characters?

Jonathan Dayton

Paul and Zoe were attached but we were really excited about Paul doing this role. It felt different from other things that he had done, but we felt he was really well suited for it. This is the first time Paul and I have done an interview together so I could usually say this about him without him being here, but Paul is one of those rare actors who can actually do comedy and drama. He can turn very quickly from one colour to another. We were excited that he could be this lead. And Zoe, even though she's known in the States, it was exciting because for a lot of people this would be the first time they see her, that she could be this character, and be this revelation.
You talk about the Pygmalion myth, which raises some questions about the gender politics of the film. There's a perception that this is a film written by a woman with a woman's name in the title, but the lead character is still a guy. What's your take on that?

Jonathan Dayton

I would say that, first of all, both Paul and Zoe are playing lead characters and I don't think that Zoe sought, in initially writing this, to do a treatise on gender politics. It was certainly inherent, but there are certain writers whose job it is to engage in those debates, and I welcome them, but I certainly don’t want to reduce the film to being a treatise. First and foremost, it's entertainment and then an exploration, something that I don't hope to be the final word but it does, and I have to say I was excited that it would, challenge certain ideas of the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl."

It's been interesting that in Europe that's been less of a topic of discussion, and that's a bit of a relief. I don't want the debate to dominate. This isn't homework, it's something that people can enjoy and hopefully identify with. But, yes, that's part of what this film is - an exploration of gender politics. The exact message, I'd rather not characterise. There are a couple of good articles that have been written about it, but they have trouble with the ending of the movie. They feel like it somehow turns on the fact that Calvin should be punished more. It made me laugh, almost, because maybe for women, that's their perspective, but for men, who make up a good part of this audience, we want to see Calvin given another chance. Who knows what will happen after the end of the movie, from the end forward? It's not just her story. It's a story for both men and women. He's going to have to earn anything that happens. Whether or not he's changed, we can all decide, but he has a shot and anything that happens is going to be up to the two of them.
I read somewhere that there was another ending written that wasn't used. Is that true?

Jonathan Dayton

Not...the film evolved. And one of the things that was so critical about working with Zoe was that not only was she a good writer, she's a great rewriter. Like all films, it's ultimately the expression of all of us coming together to take a work in its own right and then make a film. So it evolved, but what was important to us was that we loved her voice and she was so incredible at preserving that voice and keeping it alive for the rewrite. A lot of times, writers feel, 'Well, I've written it, that's what I have to say about the subject', but with Zoe, as we talked about the film we were all going to make, she was excited and constantly coming up with great new ideas. So it did change, but it's very much the film we all wanted to make. There was no, like, 'If only...'

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Content updated: 22/04/2019 15:22

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