Zoe Kazan Plays the Pretty One

And her twin in a new film

zoe kazan the pretty one

Thanks to the Internet, you can, without too much trouble, locate a video clip of Lindsay Lohan circa 1997, being interviewed on TV about the release of The Parent Trap, in which she plays mischievous twin sisters. “It’s a hard job … acting,” Lohan, only 11, is telling her offscreen interviewer between lip-glossed smacks of gum. “But it’s really fun!”

The actress and screenwriter Zoe Kazan, who reminds no one of Lindsay Lohan, said to me over the phone this week, “Normally, when actors start talking about how hard their job is”—she paused to allow me to imagine her eye-roll—“I’m like, ‘Okay, please don’t talk about that.’” She would, however, likely give young LiLo a pass. Kazan, 30, now knows firsthand the unusual challenge of playing twins onscreen. In her new film The Pretty One (in theaters February 7th), directed by newcomer Jenée LaMarque, Kazan takes on the starring roles of Laurel and Audrey, twin sisters who could not be more different.

“It was so hard,” she said. “The way we did the doubling wasn’t much different from the way they did it on The Parent Trap. Basically, we had to do everything twice, so for each take I had to match my eye-line to the previous one. I was just trying to hit my mark exactly right. I felt more like a gymnast.” Or, she added, like a concert pianist. Or as though she were constantly solving a never-ending geometry problem. What came more naturally to Kazan, as it always seems to, was the finely-tuned way she moved between the twins’ differing emotional wavelengths. “As an actress, that’s what you sign up for. That’s the juicy part of project like this.”

In The Pretty One, Kazan appears onscreen first as Laurel, a young woman whose development was arrested by the unexpected death of her mother. She still lives at home in the country with her father; she wears her dead mother’s housedresses and a hairstyle that might be described as Laura Ingalls Wilder-after-a-tornado. Her sister Audrey, with her glossy bob and fashionable frocks, lives in the big city. When she returns to celebrate their joint birthday, Laurel and Audrey get into a car accident. Audrey dies, but in the aftermath everyone mistakes Laurel for her sister, thinking it was Laurel who passed away. Having long envied her dynamic, more sought-after twin—Audrey was always “the pretty one”—Laurel lets them keep thinking just that. She tries on Audrey’s clothes, and then eventually her entire life, getting involved with Audrey’s likable neighbor (Jake Johnson, of New Girl) and an older man with whom Audrey had been carrying on an affair (Ron Livingston). “As extreme as Laurel’s choices are,” Kazan said, “people do try to reinvent themselves all the time. And they do all kinds of crazy shit when they’re in mourning.”

With its macabre tone and storybook art direction, the film feels like a melancholic, modern fairytale. “It reminds me a little of Edward Scissorhands,” said Kazan. Her performance, I pointed out, also brings to mind There Will Be Blood, in which Paul Dano, Kazan’s longtime boyfriend, plays twin brothers. “Oh my god!” she cried. “I’ve literally never had that thought before now. Paul and I have certainly never discussed it.” She laughed. “I’m going to tell him when he gets home.”