Zoe Kazan in “Meek’s Cutoff,” Opening at Film Forum, New York, on April 8
When I think of actress Zoe Kazan the word that comes to mind is “immersion.” Kazan is in the soon to be released movie “Meek’s Cutoff,” the new movie from director Kelly Reichardt (”Old Joy,” “Wendy and Lucy”). The film takes place in 1845 along the Oregon Trail and concerns a group of pioneers trying to find their way with the help of a mysterious guide, who may or may not be reliable.
Kazan has the unique ability to disappear into her roles so completely that it is not always easy to know that it is her up on the screen. Regarding her secret for achieving this Kazan said, “There’s no intention except playing the part. There’s no greater plan or something. I come from a big theatre background. I think that there’s a big emphasis on transformation rather than representation.” By way of example Kazan expressed admiration for actors Bruce Dern and the late John Cazale, “where you feel like they completely disappear and become someone new.” Kazan said she also admires Barbara Stanwyck and Katharine Hepburn but pointed out that, “They are more the same in every part. I didn’t get into acting to be like those people so much.”
Part of Kazan’s transformation into a pioneer from 1845 involved attending “Pioneer Camp.” “Basically I am completely useless in a post apocalyptic world…things like shooting a gun don’t come that naturally to me,” Kazan explained. “I was the worst student at ‘Pioneer Camp,’ but I did successfully learn to build a fire without matches.”
Despite her limited success at “Pioneer Camp” Kazan said she romanticizes the time of the pioneers. “The last real push was the push west and the idea that there was all this land that was untamed and unknown and that there were all of these people that the white people hadn’t encountered yet, and cultures that hadn’t yet become extinct and all the plant life and the herds of Bison. It just seems like a different America and I wish so much that I could have seen it. And also the bravery of these people to just go west, and the kind of restless spirit. Reading the journals of people from that time and the idea that people just wanted to be closer to the unknown…Just the idea that there was a line where civilization ended and people then crossed that line. It just seems incredible to me.”
In terms of the gender codes for 1845 Kazan explained, “There’s a real distinct division of the sexes in the movie and that’s historically accurate. People were divided basically by gender in terms of what their work was. The women cooked and gathered firewood and took care of setting up camp, and the men would hunt and lead the oxen. Because their work was so divided, the sexes were really divided. We kind of, I think, unconsciously, in a way, mimicked that on set. Me and Shirley (Henderson) and Michelle (Williams) would sit around and knit all day, and talk, and the boys would play chess.”
Having worked on big budget, as well as lower budget films, like “Meek’s Cutoff,” Kazan said that budget is not an issue for her. Her interest is in character and story. “One thing I really do like about independent filmmaking is there isn’t enough money for everyone to have their own trailer and there isn’t a lot of down time,” Kazan explained. (As a result) “there’s a sense of being thrown together all the time that I actually think engenders better work. I think it’s good for people not to have three hours to go sit alone in their trailers and take themselves out of the movie.” She said that on “Meek’s Cutoff,” “We had one trailer for all nine of us. We were all thrown together and it helped bond us and I think it shows up on screen.”
“Meek’s Cutoff” opens at Film Forum on April 8.