In theaters today, the critical darling Ruby Sparks stars Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, There Will Be Blood) and his real-life girlfriend, the actress Zoe Kazan (above), who also wrote the screenplay. Dano plays Calvin Weir-Fields, a young novelist struggling to top his genius debut. Craving female companionship, he begins to write about his dream girl (Ruby Sparks)—who then mysteriously comes to life.
At first it's a lighthearted fantasy rom-com—the perfect girl, created out of thin air!—but the story soon drifts into darker territory, as Calvin discovers that he can control Ruby's personality, actions, and feelings by writing more.
Details spoke with Dano about Ruby Sparks, saying the word poon on screen, and time travel.
DETAILS: Ruby Sparks is about a writer whose character comes to life. Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
PAUL DANO: I used to play in our basement with blocks, and I think I had close to 11 imaginary friends that I played with. I fantasized a lot, and I think at a young age I was fantasizing about women. Whether they were real or fictitious, I don't know.
DETAILS: How into Jessica Rabbit were you?
PAUL DANO: [Laughs] Ariel from The Little Mermaid was my jam.
DETAILS: Writers can be kind of boring people. But your character, Calvin, doesn't seem to have that problem.
PAUL DANO: I think Calvin is lonely, which is hard, and which can be really boring. If you live and breathe writing, and you sit down to write every day and you can't write—to me, that idea is totally terrifying and paralyzing, and it's dramatic even though technically not a lot is happening. You're just looking at a blank page.
DETAILS: In one memorable scene, Calvin is partying in a club and Ruby takes off her underwear in front of him.
PAUL DANO: Yeah, that doesn't happen to many writers.
DETAILS: Maybe more writers wish that would happen.
PAUL DANO: I think we all wish that happened a little more.
DETAILS: Is the movie taking a jab at that literary-wunderkind type?
PAUL DANO: I've never looked at it as a jab. It's an essential part of the character. To be called a genius at 17 or 18 years old can sometimes cause arrested development. [That's] why Calvin is afraid of life and why he's lonely. It's a natural reaction. Sometimes we fall in love with the idea of a person and have trouble seeing the real thing. I think that's part of getting past the so-called honeymoon phase—learning about your partner and learning to love all their parts, warts and all. That's part of Calvin's journey at the end of the film.
DETAILS: The movie is humorous, but it also delves into some really dark territory. For example, the scene where Calvin is controlling Ruby like a puppet master.
PAUL DANO: I feel like once Calvin makes that first mistake of changing her, there's no other place to go. We'd really be excusing the ideas we're talking about and not exploring them. It's hard for both characters, and [especially] for Calvin, who is destroying the thing he loved most. I equate it to getting sober: You have to have the worst binge of your life and then you can change and hopefully reboot. I think he had to hit rock bottom before he could change. To set Ruby free, he has to make her not love him. It's hard to watch, but that's probably one of my favorite things about the film. It has some unexpected qualities.
DETAILS: Recalling the Paul Dano filmography, is it safe to assume this was the first and only time you've said the word poon on screen?
PAUL DANO: [Laughs] That's probably true. I should drop a poon-bomb more often. I was surprised when Zoe wrote that in.
DETAILS: It has to be one of the funniest slang terms for vagina.
PAUL DANO: Yes, I agree. Along with the actual word vagina, poon is probably the funniest option.
DETAILS: Would you ever write a feature film?
PAUL DANO: I'll probably try. I don't know if it'll see the light of day, but I definitely want to make films. I don't know if I'll write it or find something else to develop that I can direct.
DETAILS: You have another big project, Looper, due out this fall. It's about time travel, yes?
PAUL DANO: Yes. I play a friend of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character. We are "loopers," which are hit men or assassins. That's really all I can say, because the less you know, the better. I have a small part in the film, but I did it because I think Rian Johnson is a super-talented writer-director. I think he's going to make some good films, and this is a good film.
DETAILS: Do you believe in time travel?
PAUL DANO: No, I don't. But I don't put it out of the question that someday [it could be] possible. Although that would be totally ridiculous and crazy. I wonder if we'll find other life or time travel first.
PAUL DANO: Agreed.
—Mike Ayers (@themikeayers) is a New York City-based arts and entertainment writer. He hopes Paul Dano becomes a director one day.