JEEPERS creepers. It’s a bright autumn day in London and every time the sunlight streams in from nearby Hyde Park, Zoe Kazan’s defiantly large blue eyes promise disco ball effects. The peepers recall a young Elizabeth Taylor but Kazan’s family tree makes the late Liz look drably anonymous by comparison.
It took time for Kazan to realise just what’s in a name. She was already at middle-school when a teacher’s question alerted her to the importance of her lineage: “I couldn’t understand how they knew my grandpa’s name,” she says. “I knew that he carried a lot of personal power. If he said anything, my aunts always came running. But I guess a lot of grandpas and families have that. It wasn’t surprising to me that he was powerful. But it was surprising that he was famous.”
The granddaughter of On the Waterfront director Elia Kazan, a descendant of founding fathers Jeremiah Day and Roger Sherman and the daughter of screenwriters Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord insists that her Hollywood upbringing hasn’t spoiled her. She grew up around people working in the industry, she says, but not around showbusiness.
“Honestly, I think people would be shocked if they knew how we were raised,” says the 29-year-old. “We were completely sheltered. My parents didn’t make a lot of money when I was born. Later, when they had some success I guess we were comfortably middle class. But we were still raised according to very simple values. We weren’t allowed to watch TV unless it was the Olympics or something. We weren’t allowed to play videogames. And because my parents could be home for dinner every night, we always had dinner as a family.”
She smiles: “But people see the name and assume or imagine all sorts of things.”
But there must have been some movie action at home, surely?
“Well they did write from home until we got too noisy,” says Kazan. “I know they tried to keep all the frustrations and disappointments of the business hidden, but we knew anyway. I was ultra empathic as a child. Probably to my detriment. I remember being little and seeing my parents after bad reviews and I would know without anybody saying and I would feel so bad for them. Or conversely, I remember my dad getting nominated for an Academy Award when I was seven. And I remember feeling so happy for him and worrying endlessly about his suit.
Does she remember seeing her first Elia Kazan picture?
“Viva Zapata. It’s not his best movie. And its a little dated. It feels of its time. For me, the strangest thing about watching that movie is seeing his name come up. I had such a sense of pride just seeing the name there. Wow, that’s my grandpa.”