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'With acting you're waiting for permission all the time to be able to do the thing you love'

Zoe Kazan joins a star-studded cast for the Coen brothers' latest Western film, The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs. She tells Laura Harding about finally realising her dream of working with the acclaimed film-makers and how she has dealt with rejection throughout her career


In demand: Zoe Kazan as Alice Longabaugh and Bill Heck as Billy Knapp in The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs

In demand: Zoe Kazan as Alice Longabaugh and Bill Heck as Billy Knapp in The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs


Zoe Kazan

Zoe Kazan



In demand: Zoe Kazan as Alice Longabaugh and Bill Heck as Billy Knapp in The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs

Zoe Kazan is inspecting the headboard of the bed in the hotel room. "I think that has blood spattered on it!" she exclaims with alarm. "It's something anyway. Coffee?"

It turns out this isn't the first time the star of movies including The Big Sick and Ruby Sparks has found an unpleasant surprise in a bedroom.

"I was shooting an independent movie once where they put us up in a motel and there was blood dried on the floor by the bed, on the little ruffle of the bed and on the bedside table.

"I was like, 'You're going to have to move me', someone had definitely died there, for sure. But there were no other rooms available so I had to sleep in this room for a week!

"I put towels everywhere. Everywhere I had to touch, I put a towel down. I was terrified. I did not sleep well. There was an entire Vietnamese family living in the motel room next door too, 12 people. It was crazy."

This memory might be eight years old but it's clearly fresh. So much so that it's a relief her new film had a slightly more generous budget. The 35-year-old stars in The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, the latest movie from directing brothers Joel and Ethan Coen. The movie is an anthology western, which also stars James Franco, Liam Neeson and Tom Waits, and Kazan plays a woman crossing the Old West to get to Oregon.

"I have never started a job not terrified but with the Coens I was s***ting myself the entire time. It's just that when you really love someone's work so much and you get the opportunity to work with them, it doesn't happen that often. I felt like I was contending, at least at first, with my own nerves.

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"But it was just me, I was the source of all nerves on set. The Coens were very relaxed on set and they are not micro-managers in the least, which is nice.

"They have been working with the same crew for decades so there is a lot of trust on set. I think I was much more confident when I was 22 and starting out acting than I am now.

"It's like you're not afraid to ski when you're a kid because you're not afraid to fall. Part of it is you don't have very far to fall but part of it is because you think you're immortal.

"When you're starting out as an actor you need that kind of confidence, otherwise you just give up. After a year of not getting work and having casting directors say, 'You got so close', if you don't take away the 'you got so close' part then you're never going to keep going.

"The first year of auditioning, I did get jobs but most of the time it was not going to go your way so you have to take away, 'But they were really impressed' or, 'You got really close' or, 'They are going to call you in for the next thing'.

"Living or dying off of praise for a year was tough."

Kazan (left) said she still throws her scripts in the bin as she leaves an audition and for Buster Scruggs she even wore a special outfit. "I wore a prairie dress, one that I already own. I didn't even rent one. This is something I wear in real life. No bonnet, I do own one though."

For fans of Kazan's work, this might not come as a surprise. She has the vibe of someone who might own a prairie dress and a bonnet.

She is best known for her role in Ruby Sparks, which she also penned, starring opposite her real-life partner Paul Dano in the story about a struggling novelist who finds romance by writing a female character he thinks will love him, and then willing her into existence.

Kazan has recently penned her second film, this time with Dano, an adaptation of Richard Ford's novel Wildlife, with Dano making his directorial debut.

She said: "I don't have the fear with writing that I do with acting. It's a totally different kind of thing because with acting you're waiting for permission all the time to be able to do the thing you love and with writing, if someone doesn't like my writing I can still write."

Wildlife follows a six-year gap since 2012's Ruby Sparks, but for Kazan the time has flown by. In that time, she has starred in What If with Daniel Radcliffe, Olive Kitteridge with Frances McDormand, Our Brand Is Crisis with Sandra Bullock and of course last year's hit The Big Sick, which was nominated for a string of awards.

"I also wrote two plays during that period of time, so I think I was just writing in a different medium, but movies take a long time to make. With Wildlife, we wrote for three or four years and then it took a couple of years to get it made.

"I remember when we were on our Ruby Sparks press tour, people would say to John and Val (the directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris), 'It's been five years since Little Miss Sunshine, why such a big break?' and I thought, 'Yeah, why such a big break?' but now I'm like it's not long at all, it goes really fast when you're a grown-up.

"The thing that makes me feel older than anything is when people write to me online and say, 'When I was in middle school I loved Ruby Sparks' and I know it feels like no time to me.

"It was 2012, six years ago, but to me it's nothing. I feel I have different hair and that is it. I sleep a little less, that is all."

Wildlife is out now. The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs is in select cinemas now and is now streaming on Netflix

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