25 in 2009: Zoe Kazan

Born: 09/09/83 In: Venice Beach, CA Is: Actress

All of the hard work that Zoe Kazan has put into her craft since the day she came home from ninth grade and announced to her parents, "I am an actress," is finally being recognized. Of her performance in The Seagull, on Broadway the New York Times wrote: "She just gets better with every performance." Kazan has been cast as the daughters of Meryl Streep and Robin Wright Penn, played an aspiring writer in a new Richard Linklater film and a pioneer in Kelly Reichardt's latest (a validation for Kazan, who wore an apron and a skirt to her L.A. grade school). The director Bradley Rust Gray wrote an entire movie around her, so impressed was he by an audition she did for him years ago. The play Kazan wrote, Absalom, made it to the stage at the Humana Festival of New American Plays. She moved in with her boyfriend, actor Paul Dano, in Brooklyn. (It turns out she fell in love with him on the stoop of Crif Dogs in the East Village, next door to where we're drinking bacon-infused Old Fashioneds at PDT.) And she finished writing a couple of screenplays in her spare time. "I used to knit," she says.

Kazan is a rare breed: a child of Hollywood who shunned her connections to master The Craft at Yale and later on the stage. Her parents are both screenwriters and producers (her mother, Robin Swicord, wrote The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; her father, writer Nicholas Kazan, is producing Barbet Schroeder's next film); her grandfather, Elia Kazan, directed A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront. Growing up around actors, she said, "I don't think I knew that acting was a real job for a long time. I thought screenwriting was the real job. I didn't think of acting as something you could do, it was something you were -- Bridget Fonda would be over, and she was an actor and that was what she was." Although Kazan was allowed to star in school productions like Pippin, her parents refused to let her act professionally until after she graduated from college. "Growing up in L.A., the whole child-actor thing seemed a little déclassé," she says, apologetically. Instead, her parents put a lot of plays in front of her to read. As a result, she says with a laugh, "I have an unusual breadth of knowledge -- not depth -- about plays." It's unlikely that Blake Lively, her co-star in Rebecca Miller's upcoming film The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, gets as breathless talking about Chekhov.

A bright, pretty and brazenly talented actress, Kazan has worked steadily since she graduated from Yale in 2005. She is learning to navigate the stage and screen while refusing to worry about status. (She recalls a recent barbecue she and Dano threw in her backyard and how happy she was realizing that no one else there was an actor.) "People sell their privacy to get power," she says. "That's a Faustian bargain right there, and one that I don't want to make. You've got to maintain some scrap of yourself in order to be able to work." A feminist in a sparkly, paint-spattered romper, she refuses to be commodified, yet is fearless when it comes to appearing nearly nude onscreen with Leonardo DiCaprio, for whom she did a naked cha-cha in Revolutionary Road. Her main drive is to be a good actor, however long that takes. Looking ahead, she wants to write and direct and not be "at the mercy of the studios my whole life, or think about keeping my body beautiful or my face looking young," she says. "You look at someone like Charlotte Rampling and think, I want to be like that! I want to do crazy shit when I'm older." She takes a bite of her kimchi-topped Chang Dog and thinks for a minute. "I want to be able to do that without being a mercenary."
Christine Muhlke

Wears: A dress by Marchesa and shoes by D&G

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