There are two things that screenwriter and director Jenée LaMarque confirms with her first full-length feature film The Pretty One—A)That complex females characters can be brought to life and celebrated on screen in a refreshing, honest, interesting and humorous way; And B) that Jake Johnson has crazy chemistry with actresses named Zoe/Zooey.
It took LaMarque, whose short film Spoonful was a 2012 Sundance selection, several years to compose her first ever screenplay. “I wrote the first draft when I was pregnant with my daughter who’s now five, so it’s been quite a journey,” says LaMarque. “And, in the process of that I went to film school and studied screenwriting.”
In those years the Stanford University and American Film Institute graduate sculpted The Pretty One, making its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this year. It is about Laurel, an awkward, homely young woman living at home, who upon losing her identical twin Audrey, faces an identity crisis that combines the grief of losing her other half and her desire to assume her sister’s confident, sophisticated, cool personality.
“I see the two characters as two sides of the same coin,” says LaMarque of Laurel and Audrey. “Like the part of us that feels insecure and scared– that you don’t want to take a chance, that maybe you don’t deserve something. And, then there’s the part of you that’s brave and goes out there and takes chances and risks, and maybe decides to put on some make-up. There’s value to both sides. I think that women deal with that sort of duality of like ‘where do I fit on this spectrum of being a woman?’”
Actress, screenwriter and playwright Zoe Kazan was drawn to the screenplay and the idea of playing twins for similar reasons. “There’s that kind of duality to both characters that was intriguing to me,” explains Kazan. “I haven’t been asked to do a lot of really sexy stuff on film and that’s a big part of my life. I’ve always been a very sensual person. And, I was able to bring the parts of me that still feel like a gawky thirteen-year-old whose feet move before the rest of her body.”
“We all go home and put on sweatpants and take our make-up off and put our hair up and look like possums. There’s a part of all of us that doesn’t feel good about ourselves. The movie also deals with how Audrey is a girl who went out and convinced the world that she was a beautiful girl and that she was an adult and sexy—that conundrum exists in all of us.”
The experience of playing twins was just as challenging for Kazan as it was rewarding, especially playing opposite herself.“That stuff is really hard, because you’re trained as an actor to be really generous with your screen partner and vibe off whatever they’re doing,” says Kazan. “I feel like I got so much better at the technical aspects of filmmaking after doing that.”
“It took three times as long to shoot the scenes where she was playing both characters and she was acting off a body double,” adds LaMarque.
LaMarque also really appreciated Kazan’s collaborative spirit. “She brings a lot into the collaboration as a storyteller and as a writer, and I really respect that and value that part of the collaborative process. She brought a lot to it.”
The director also notes that Jake Johnson, who plays Audrey’s neighbor Basel, also brought a lot to the film. “Jake Johnson and Zoe also had great chemistry and improvised off of one another,” says LaMarque of their dynamic. “Those were some of the best moments and the most fun; because I didn’t plan it […] it was so funny and real.”
After focusing on The Pretty One for the last five years, Jenée LaMarque is excited to put it out into the world, while expecting her second child in August and working on new screenplays. Zoe Kazan is also focusing on writing, after having shot four movies last year (including The F Word with Daniel Radcliffe), and is currently work-shopping her new play.
When asked what the play is about, Kazan simply says “An affair.”