Tribeca 2014: Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl David on In Your Eyes

Since Joss Whedon announced his microbudget production company Bellwether Pictures, we’ve been waiting to see what original stories they will tell. Their first production was Whedon’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. Their second, In Your Eyes, just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and is now available for $5 from Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl-David play Rebecca and Dylan, two people in different parts of the country who share a telepathic link. They speak to each other, no matter who is listening, and get closer to one another despite being far apart. I got to speak with Kazan and Stahl-David by phone while they were in New York for the Tribeca premiere.


CraveOnline: Would you have off-camera dialogue for each other like you would doing a telephone scene in a traditional movie?

Michael Stahl-David: Yeah, exactly like a phone scene, yeah. We would have Zoe like underneath a sink.

Zoe Kazan: In a closet. And that closet was so disgusting. It was in the closet of that trailer. It was wet down there in that dark ass closet. That was probably the best place I had to hide.

Michael Stahl-David: Yeah, mine was under the sink. That was good.


Why would you have to be under a sink or in a closet and not just behind the camera?

Zoe Kazan: Because there were some shots, there was a scene in the bathroom where there are a lot of mirrors on the walls. In the close-ups, you could just stand off camera but in the wide shot, you had to be. Also, [director] Brin [Hill] didn’t want us being pulled with our eye to the sound of the other person’s voice. So if they were standing behind the camera, I think you’re so used to using someone for eyeline off camera, I know that the first couple days we learned that if we put Michael near a camera I would look at him inadvertently. So then we started hiding.

Michael Stahl-David: The opposite of your typical acting exercise. Don’t look at the person.


Did you ever want to tell your characters, “Stop talking in public?”

Michael Stahl-David: Yeah, I mean, I feel like there’s a certain amount of suspension of disbelief there for sure. Get a headset! You could do that.

Zoe Kazan: The truth is that Joss wrote this movie in 1992 or something. It was a long ass time ago before there were cell phones. So when we asked all the questions, “Why doesn’t she just wear headphones?” The answer was because this is actually supposed to be 1992 so just don’t ask those questions.


I didn’t realize it goes back that far. This is before “Buffy.”

Zoe Kazan: He’d done drafts since then. He sort of rewrote it over many years but I know that the original conception was when he first moved to L.A. out of Wesleyan.


I bet neither of you had done a love scene alone before, had you?

Michael Stahl-David: Well, I wouldn’t call it a love scene, meaning that I’ve masturbated before on film. In the movie Love and Air Sex, the opening scene with me is getting it, but it was less loving.

Zoe Kazan: I just saw this play where a kid had to masturbate on stage under a blanket and he was so generous with himself with the length of his [stoke]. It was like, uh, kid…

No, I had never done a love scene anything like that. It was interesting because when you’re doing a conventional love scene or kissing someone when you’re acting, you’re not really kissing that person. You’re not really trying to get them off obviously. You’re sort of just enacting desire on their body for the camera.

There’s just always I think a layer of remove because you’re not actually about to have sex with that person, whereas being in that bed alone and feeling my own skin, there was something really intimate about it because I could actually touch my own skin with intention because it’s private in some ways. You’re not going to suddenly be in a porn scene by touching your own arms and legs. There’s something sort of surreal about how intimate that felt. I just couldn’t watch that scene.


That’s the thing, you are creating intimacy, except you’re each alone.

Zoe Kazan: Yeah, I mean, I was in the room with Michael and Michael was in the room with me, even during that scene. So we weren’t really alone, and there were like 20 people in there with a camera.

Michael Stahl-David: I was really impressed with you in that scene because I remember, it’s a very strange thing to do, and I just thought wow, you were so sensual. I just thought that was so great that you were able to go into that private space because I think it’s so great for the movie. It’s not an easy thing to do and maybe it could be easier if you had someone else to put it on, but maybe like you said, maybe not. Maybe it’s safer in a way.

Zoe Kazan: Yeah, I think there’s something in my subconscious at least for me about feeling like you’re so pretending when you have sex on film. It’s such a pretend. I don’t know, I guess unless you’re in the movie Nymphomaniac.


There is something about Joss Whedon’s dialogue. Did it feel very natural to say?

Zoe Kazan: I don’t know, I think every writer has their own stamp. Joss’s stamp is definitely evident. I don’t think he’s a writer who disappears. I think he’s a writer who you can read one of his scripts and feel like, “That’s a Joss script.” It’s clear that he wrote it. It reminds me more of like Chekov or Shakespeare in that you read it and you’re like, “That’s Shakespeare.” That’s how I feel reading Joss’s script, like oh, Joss wrote that. So in some ways you have to get into his rhythms and his sense of humor.

Michael Stahl-David: I think it’s also a credit to Brin and the takes that he chose because he would take lines that were more broken up or where the sentence became fragmented and the scene wasn’t written that way. There’s a wit and a rhythm to his writing that’s a little bit heightened in a way that’s really enjoyable I think.


Was there any room for improv around that?

Michael Stahl-David: Not really, no. There’d be like a couple tiny little things with my anxiety, my character’s anxiety I think, but very little.

Zoe Kazan: Yeah, we stuck to the script, also because Joss was producing this and he wasn’t around because he was editing Avengers. So I think we felt an onus to do it right for him.


What did you each relate to about Rebecca and Dylan?

Michael Stahl-David: I think I related to the sense of feeling like an outsider and feeling like there’s gotta be more. This isn’t enough. And also, there was a time when I was very young and a teenager where I made a lot of decisions that got me in a bad situation and let people down and I was getting in trouble. That shame that comes with that can be such a heavy thing to carry, to be struggling with and then to have somebody who accepts him despite that. That was something I found very relatable and powerful.

Zoe Kazan: The thing I found most interesting about Rebecca is that she’s in some ways performing adulthood at the beginning of the movie and becomes a younger person over the course of the movie, like more playful, more adventurous, stronger. But, she’s also sort of like a child at the beginning of the movie and living in her husband’s house being taken care of by him. She becomes more of an adult through the course of the movie, like a genuine adult. That kind of maturing and immaturing simultaneously, that process is really interesting to me and I felt like I went through a similar thing in my early 20s, coming out of a relationship and feeling freed. That was the thing I identified with the most.


Zoe, are you writing anything new?

Zoe Kazan: I have been. I just wrote a play that went up in Los Angeles at South Coast Rep, so that’s what I was working on earlier this year. Now I’m writing a couple screenplays and trying to balance that with the rest of my life at the same time. 

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever and The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.


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