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  • Budding Artist: Zoe Kazan

    Tue, 14 Apr 2009 16:21:01

    Budding Artist: Zoe Kazan - Her name carries Hollywood heft, but up-and-comer Zoe Kazan is determined to carve out a legacy all her own

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    On tombstones and film credits, a name means everything. For actor Zoe Kazan, her name, like an ages-old graveyard plot, comes with a legacy. The granddaughter of esteemed director Elia Kazan (legendary for directing On the Waterfront and infamous for naming his Communist cohorts to the House Un-American Activities Committee during the 1952 Red Scare) and daughter of screenwriter Nicholas Kazan and writer/director Robin Swicord, she has quite a name to live up to. But Kazan, it seems, lacks the fear of stepping into the shoes of giants.

    The Los Angeles native hangs on the precipice of what movie writers call a break-out success. Kazan embarked on her professional acting career in 2006, just one year after graduating from Yale. She starred in an off-Broadway performance of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie alongside Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon, and later Things We Want, directed by Ethan Hawke.

    Shortly there after, she got naked with Leonardo DiCaprio.

    Like climbing Mt. Everest, this is a task attempted by many but accomplished by a few. In the acclaimed Revolutionary Road, helmed by Sam Mendes, the doe-eyed, porcelain skinned Kazan offered it up as a naive secretary swept up into a tryst with DiCaprio’s 50s-styled, ennui-filled businessman. For actresses, bearing it all, along with playing a prostitute, can kill or make a career. On one hand, stripping down can be a sign of fearlessness. Or sometimes, it can be a sign of naiveté. (Refer to the ineffectual reinvention of Lindsay Lohan in I Know Who Killed Me.) Kazan’s career displays nothing resembling naiveté; instead she is an exemplar of savviness. She has taken part in films by respected names: In the Valley of Elah, Fracture, The Savages. Like her own esteemed lineage, Kazan infused herself into projects with class.

    Through her roles, Kazan effuses the confidence of an actor twice her age. She is in this for the long haul.

    After all, things are changing in the film world. Many movie stars are no longer ushered into positions of prominence, especially provided the peripatetic attention spans of audiences of this YouTube age. To create a lasting career, many actors now have to distinguish themselves through sheer talent. They are cultured and bred, honing their acting chops in the manner of stage actors of old. Kazan is no different. Through her roles, Kazan effuses the confidence of an actor twice her age. She is in this for the long haul.

    Yet, the importance of Kazan only lies partially in what she does on the screen and stage. She represents a new class of actors, who came of age at the turn of the millennium and weaned on the experiments of indie-ness gestating in the 1990s. They exist as anti-movie stars, whose notoriety insists on skill instead of star power. Multi-tasking is a must. Like Ryan Gosling (whose band Deadman’s Bones eschews pop-soundscapes for stripped down porch-stompers), and Zooey Deschanel (both professional connected to M. Ward and romantically connected to Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard), Kazan has shown her multi-talentedism through play writing. Her play, Absalom, has gained attention as a promising addition to her resume. Like Deschanel, Kazan also adds “indie power couple” to her list of accomplishments. Coupled with Paul Dano, the talented former child actor whose indie savant identity is crystallized both on and off screen, Kazan completes her image of an artist residing on the outer edge of fame. It proves her “indieness” is not only a statement, but also a way life.

    It remains uncertain whether Kazan will remain as an indie gem or break into the mainstream. Both Broadway and blockbusters (she’s slated for the intensely awaited superhero packed Justice League) lay in her future. But one thing remains certain, Kazan is a name to watch.

    —Drew Tewksbury

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    Tags: Zoe Kazan, Leonardo DiCaprio, Paul Dano, Zooey Deschanel, Lindsay Lohan, Ryan Gosling

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