Q&A | Actress Kazan ’05 talks theater

During the fall of her junior year, Zoe Kazan ’05 took Donald Margulies’ playwriting class. The class went to see Margulies’ play on Broadway, “Sight Unseen,” at the Biltmore Theater. She remembered her awe at the sight of the grand Broadway house. And in early 2008, she was there again. This time, she was onstage making her Broadway debut in “Come Back, Little Sheba.”

Nowadays Kazan daily utters, “I am in mourning for my life.” Don’t worry. She’s not depressed. It is one of the opening lines of Anton Chekhov’s play “The Seagull,” which Kazan performs eight times a week at the Walter Kerr Theater on Broadway. She plays Masha — who Kazan calls one of the “great depressives of the theater” — opposite Kristin Scott Thomas and Peter Sarsgaard. Beyond the theater world, Kazan has appeared in Hollywood films such as “The Savages,” “In the Valley of Elah” and the film adaptation of “Revolutionary Road,” which comes out this Christmas season and stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Kazan took some time during the intermission of her Saturday matinee performance to talk to the News.

Q: How did you first get interested in

acting?

A: I had always put on plays with my sister when we were little. My parents were very against us going into the business. [Her parents are both screenwriters, and her grandfather was the renowned director Elia Kazan.] I auditioned for the school play, got the lead, came home and said I want to be an actress. I think my parents lost their minds for about two minutes. It’s a hard business and I think any parent would want to protect their child from the rejection that comes with it.

Q: Do you remember your first experience performing on Broadway?

A: I was surprised because I was used to small theaters. It was just huge. It was a totally different feeling from performing in 200-seat houses.

Q: Now you are starring in “The Seagull.” Do you like doing the classics?

A: I have done brand new plays and much older plays. When you are working with a new play, the writer is still working with it and I guess it’s a little more difficult. You get a lot of changes and don’t exactly know the journey. With a play like “The Seagull” you know what to expect. There is a different challenge of making it new and keeping it fresh, making sure you are not just paying homage to the text.

Q: What drew you to Chekhov?

A: I did “Uncle Vanya” at Yale. That was the first time I have ever acted in Chekhov. I always loved “The Seagull” at an aesthetic level. Chekhov is just a dream for actors. There are so many unexpected things. When I did “Uncle Vanya” it was the first time I really acted in a play, not just acting you do in high school. Because of this I just have this love for Chekhov.

Q: What do you like better, film or stage?

A: It’s such a hard question. When you are doing a play you have this amazing thing when you get to do it over and over and over again. It’s both a blessing and a curse. I don’t think you really learn to act any other way. You can feel when they are laughing and when they are not laughing. There is a great deal of pleasure in making an audience laugh or moving them in a way that you never get on camera. No matter how many takes you have there are only three hours and then you might as well rip the pages out of your script. You almost need to become translucent for the camera and that means giving up yourself. There is a lot more preparation beforehand. The high that comes when the scene goes on film, I don’t know if that is replicated anywhere else.

Q: “The Seagull” has gotten rave reviews and you were profiled in The New York Times. What is it like getting media attention?

A: I guess it’s sort of weird. I haven’t read any of the reviews. I’ve been in shows that haven’t gotten good reviews in the past. It’s just sort of funny to read something about myself. It’s like another fiction, like another role I have to play.

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