In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
An actress from a storied Hollywood family who has made her cinematic mark in films like The Savages, Ruby Sparks, and Revolutionary Road, Zoe Kazan is a bit of a spitfire. An outspoken advocate for civil liberties, reproductive rights, and general decency, Kazan lives a reasonable part of her life out in the open, sharing her thoughts, interests, and beliefs with the world via her Twitter account. She also seems more than content to let her work speak for her, something that she’ll be able to do this weekend, when The Monster hits theaters and streaming services. The Bryan Bertino film finds Kazan playing a divorced mother traversing back roads on a stormy night with her daughter, all in an attempt to see the girl’s father. Auto mishaps ensue, and both Kazan’s character and her daughter come to realize that, though the roads seem deserted, they’re (ominously) not as alone as they might have once thought.
Zoe Kazan: Hmm.
The A.V. Club: We can always skip that and come back.
ZK: Yeah. Let’s come back to that.
ZK: Unicorn. No, pegasus. Pegasus. I want to fly. Remember in A Wrinkle In Time when Mrs. Whatsit turns into a big, feathery animal that smells like perfume? That would be on the list, too.
ZK: Because that’s a super vivid sense memory that I’ve never had, but one I feel like I’ve had from reading that book so many times that I have never actually had.
ZK: I’ll give you a very short list, because I probably can’t name one. A League Of Their Own, Batman Forever, Broadcast News, All That Jazz, All About Eve, and Tootsie. Oh, and Groundhog Day. That’s probably somewhere in there.
AVC: That’s a pretty eclectic list. Batman Forever is a surprising choice. Did you just watch that a lot when you were a kid?
ZK: Yeah, we had a VHS tape of it. I think it was sent to my parents for Academy consideration, surprisingly enough. I don’t know why, but we’d watch it at least twice a year.
AVC: We had a VHS tape of Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, and it was one of the few things we actually owned on VHS. We watched it constantly, just because it was around.
ZK: Yeah, I really like that movie, but I don’t know if I like it in a real way or in a Stockholm-syndrome way.
The Apartment. Put that on the list, too. Some of these are my favorite movies, but many of them are just things that have become comfort food to me. I put them on when I’m sad or trying to fall asleep. I’ve seen them so many times I could probably recite them.
ZK: I feel like a lot of people have this, but I thought “Secret Agent Man” was “Secret Asian Man.” That was one. Also, that restaurants like California Pizza Kitchen were very, very fancy, and that’s why my parents never took us there, because they were too expensive.
There are a lot of words that I knew first as a reader, and I never put the pieces together in my brain. The word segue I thought was pronounced “seeg,” I think until I went to college, which is horribly embarrassing.
ZK: I don’t know, because I stopped Googling myself a long time ago. I’m sure there’s plenty of misinformation out there, but I am blissfully unaware of it.
ZK: I was a vegetarian for a really long time, from 7 to 23, so I feel like some things aren’t that weird but they seem weird to me, like blood sausage or snails. Those are things I’ve eaten now that, years ago, it would have been totally improbable that I would have eaten.
I’m pretty sure I ate ants in Mexico.
AVC: How were they?
ZK: Crispy. Nutty and crispy.
ZK: Alanis Morissette. My mom took me as a surprise. I was kind of snotty and snobby at that age, and I thought I was above pop music. I had never really listened to Alanis Morissette, but my mom I guess had read something about how she was an empowered singer-songwriter that could teach your daughters. So when we went, I had never heard any of her songs, except that one song that was on the radio, “Hand In My Pocket.” And then we went, and it was a transcendent experience, and I did a complete 180. I will never forget watching her on that stage. Jumping all over the place, she was so athletic, so completely possessed of her body, her hair everywhere, with so much rage and power and love, and it was so powerful to me. And then I got Jagged Little Pill—I think I bought it that night at the concert—and I just never turned it off. That is an album I’ve listened to more than any other album. I definitely have that album memorized.
AVC: Did you thank your mom?
ZK: Yeah! Are you kidding me? I didn’t need to. I was standing in the living room crying and singing “Perfect” at the top of my lungs. That was thanks enough.
ZK: I guess I have a two-part answer. The most interesting opportunity that I’ve gotten through Paul [Dano, her boyfriend] and I being in this job is the opportunity to travel so much. Between the two of us, we’ve gotten to go so many places. It’s also just spending long periods of time in places that aren’t on paper very exotic or all that interesting, but to have gotten to spend a considerable amount of time in a place, living somewhere for a month or two months, and pretending a little that I lived somewhere else. Where would I grocery shop if I lived here? What would my life be like? There’s an imaginary window that you get to open, and I find that super interesting. And it’s one of the perks to our job.
On a personal level, just for me in my own work, I would say the most interesting thing has been getting to work with the people that I’ve worked with. Tony Kushner, any number of the actors, and especially the actresses that I’ve worked with, like Frances McDormand or Ann Dowd. I’ve gotten incredibly lucky with the people I’ve gotten to work with. It’s made my mind better, and it’s made me a better person.
ZK: Oh my god, so many. I guess the one I’d consider most embarrassing to me was how incredibly snobby I was as a teenager. I would not wear any clothes that had a brand name on them, and I only read books that were canonical. I wouldn’t wear makeup, and I didn’t like to let boys open the door for me because I felt like it was sexist. My heart was in the right place, but I was such a tiny dictator about it. It’s embarrassing to me now because I was so rigid. It’s such a rigid way of looking at the world. There’s something very young about that mind-set.
I also am proud and embarrassed by how incredibly self-confident I was in my late teens and early 20s. I know that there were other things going on, too, but I had an overwhelming belief in myself. Like I said, I’m embarrassed by it and proud of it. There’s a part of me that’s like, “I wish I still had some of that feeling that I had then.” Did I deserve good things coming to me? Did I deserve to be listened to? I’m much more self-doubting now than I was at that age, but there’s another part of me that’s like, “Well, if I continued like that I’d be like a psychopath now.” So it’s a good thing I learned some humility and perspective as I got older.
AVC: Were you confident across the board, in all things, or were you just confident in your brain and your role in the world?
ZK: I had a real feeling of being fated to be an actor and do my work, and I remember so much speaking up in a room full of people who authentically knew as much or more than me, and feeling like I was absolutely equal, and what I had to say was important. There’s part of me that’s grateful for the delusion, because it takes a very hard shell to get started as an actor, and I don’t have a very hard shell. But what I did have was an incredible amount of belief in myself. When I would get close on a part but wouldn’t get it, I would be like, “They made a mistake,” which is not how I think about things now. I both admire it and I’m grateful for the modicum of health, knowledge, and humility that I have acquired over the last 10 or 15 years.
ZK: No. I’ve never stolen anything. Well, that’s not entirely true. I once accidentally took a gift card from a store in a mall. I was carrying it around to show my mom because I thought it was funny, and I forgot to show it to her and left the store carrying it. I had a complete nervous breakdown, like, 20 minutes later and went back to the store in tears. So that’s where I stand in terms of my ability to steal something.
I did take a copy of The Paris Review from my college library when I was 19, because I really coveted it and went to look at it all the time. I just took it one day.
AVC: Do you still have it?
ZK: Yeah, I do.
ZK: In terms of the view of the world, I don’t know. I’ve worked with a lot of really famous people. It stops being weird really quickly. For me, at least.
I have a weird relationship with it, because I grew up with my grandfather [Elia Kazan] being famous in a way that’s not like Beyoncé, but famous in a relative way. It made me feel weird about the way that we treat people that are famous, and it made me feel weird about fame in general. So I don’t feel like I have a super straightforward relationship with the idea of fame. It makes me sort of level things out in my own brain almost immediately when I meet someone.
Bonus 12th question from Elvira: What type of underwear do you wear?
ZK: I often wear a Hanky Panky thong because I find them very comfortable. I also quite enjoy a high-waisted cotton panty. I sort of oscillate between those two things, which are kind of extreme, but I enjoy both of them for different reasons. Right now, I’m wearing high-waisted cotton panties that I got in Denmark. They’re green.
AVC: What do you want to ask the next person, not knowing who you’re asking?
ZK: What did you eat today? And if it’s early in the morning, what did you eat yesterday?
AVC: What did you eat today?
ZK: So far, I’ve eaten two blueberry muffins, because I made blueberry muffins yesterday. And I had a cup of coffee.
And then my first question was what I wish an interviewer would ask me?
AVC: It was, yes.
ZK: I guess I always like being asked questions about influence or inspiration, like, “What are you reading? Who are your heroes? Is there any one person you want to shout out to now?” I really love paying it forward with love and attention, because that’s what I like to read.
AVC: Do you want to do that now?
ZK: Sure. I’m reading this Sybille Bedford book called A Favorite Of The Gods. She was an incredibly cool woman. I have a bunch of her books that one of my professors gave me when I graduated from college that I never read, and I’ve been trying to read through them this year. And I guess if I were to shout out to one person right now, I’d want to shout out to Amy Ryan, who I’m doing this play with right now, who just blows me away every day with her talent on stage.
AVC: She seems like a very smart person.
ZK: She’s the greatest. Such a great mom and such a great person to work with. I just love her.
The Monster is now available in theaters and on demand