With her statuesque beauty, Israeli-born actress Ayelet Zurer has made a strong impression in genre fare like “Vantage Point” and “Angels & Demons,” and especially heavy, hard-hitting dramas like “Fugitive Pieces,” “Adam Resurrected” and Steven Spielberg’s “Munich,” in which she plays Eric Bana’s sympathetic wife and serves as his emotional mooring. Writer-director Lawrence Kasdan’s “Darling Companion,” then, represents a nice, unexpected change-up for Zurer, who plays Carmen, an exotic seasonal housesitter who ends up helping her employers (Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline) search for their missing dog, and in the process develops an unexpected connection with a member of their extended family, Bryan (Mark Duplass). ShockYa recently had a chance to sit down with Zurer one-on-one, and talk about the movie, Kasdan, psychic inclinations, and her role as Lara Lor-Van in Zack Snyder’s hotly anticipated “Man of Steel.” The conversation is excerpted below:
ShockYa: It was interesting, and such a pleasant surprise, to see you cast as this free spirit.
Ayelet Zurer: When I read for the film I read in Lawrence’s house, with he and (co-writer and wife) Meg and a dog on the ground, just sitting in their living room with Mark (Duplass), so it was all very natural. And they called me like 20 minutes later, so I guess something in that reading worked for them. I knew deep inside of me that it was a good thing that this came along, because I have been doing these very dramatic roles recently, and I was kind of sad because I’ve done a lot of funny stuff in theater in the past and, well, movies not in English.
ShockYa: What do you think is the nature of Carmen and Bryan’s attraction?
AZ: Oh, their differences, I think — the cliche that opposites attract (is sometimes true). I think Bryan is a person that needs control over his life, and I think what Carmen sees in him is something that he doesn’t see — that his path is covered with tiny bits of [self-deception]. There’s a problem there with his girlfriend or wife, and something is not quite right. Because Carmen has that capacity to see into other people’s emotions, maybe she’s more compassionate than others, and can see deeper into their energy fields, [so she] kind of picks that up and doesn’t let him off the hook. That’s what starts their relationship, but eventually I think they find each other to be exactly what the other person needs at that moment.
ShockYa: Well, they have that incredibly frank discussion about sex, before they’ve even kissed.
AZ: (laughs) Yes, exactly. That’s a really funny moment. And also I think the disappearance of the dog [is important, serving] as a catalyst for all of the other relationships, and how everyone is looking for something. It represents the one thing that is missing from everyone. Something was missing from Carmen’s life. She also lost her dog, her companion, and she was alone. And now there’s a place for someone else to come in. And so if you look at it you’ll see that everybody (in the movie) is missing something, and needs someone else to come in and fight for them.
ShockYa: What about the movie’s psychic elements — was there a lot of discussion with Lawrence about how to play that?
AZ: My first instinct, which I think came from the page, was that it came very natural to Carmen, and she doesn’t make a big deal out of it. It’s not like she’s lighting candles and suddenly voodoo-ing. She would say to a person, “I see things,” and just let that [sit] there. If the person wants to hear more she’ll share, but if not then she won’t. And that’s what makes it funny and intriguing.
ShockYa: True, a lot of films dictate how to feel about something like that — it’s either going to be over-the-top and funny, or deadly serious. And here I think the audience, and even other characters, are kind of leaning forward a bit when Carmen is on the screen.
AZ: Because she’s throwing a hook out there, and then not doing anything about it. (laughs) I think it’s intriguing. And I think Larry really wanted me to keep that element, and not have me “work it,” so I tried not to do more than I did the first time I let them see what I thought about [the character]. I had a very strong sense of not wanting to exaggerate, and to keep it very simple.
ShockYa: How do you feel about that in real life, (the idea) that there are people who are able to see things?
AZ: You know, I had a really interesting conversation recently with my seven-year-old son, who decided he wanted to be a scientist, and an investigator of space. So we went online, where you go these days, and looked up astronomer, and checked it out. And I explained to him that many, many, many, many years ago, people used to think the Earth was straight and flat, and that when you got to the end of the Earth you fell off. So we were laughing about that, and he was pretending he was falling off the face of the Earth, and I was thinking about “Darling Companion” because I knew I would be asked some about that, and didn’t know if I knew how to put it into words. Basically, I believe that people have many powers that they’re not using. We use such a small percentage of our brains, that’s scientific. And we know that there has to be something going on in the other majority percentage. So many years from now, we could be viewed similarly, as a (simpler) people who didn’t know how to use those skills. And I think part of that is the ability to maybe read minds or see energy fields or something that connects us all, I don’t know.
ShockYa: What were your impressions of Lawrence before working with him, and then after the experience?
AZ: I have nothing to compare it to, because I don’t know how he was when he did his other movies. But I think Larry is a person who likes a lot of rehearsals and he didn’t get a lot on this (since it was his first independently financed production). But he did get three days of table reads, so that’s something. He seemed to be very relaxed, he didn’t seem anxious. He seemed to be in a zone, because I think he really likes making movies. And I think for a person who actually wrote the screenplay, to see it come alive can be, if it’s going the right way, a very fulfilling experience. I remember very specifically a scene where he was very nervous, because it was a big ensemble with everyone sitting around the table and so a very long scene, and he said to us, “So… today’s important.” And when that scene was over he was so happy, you could tell. Every time he moved the camera a little bit, you could see him getting more relaxed and excited, like a kid.
ShockYa: And what can you share about the upcoming “Man of Steel,” in which you play Superman’s birth mother?
AZ: I think it’s going to be an awesome movie, really. I loved Zack (Snyder). I think he’s a very cool and creative director, and I think the executive producers who developed the project are really on top of it because it’s a major movie and they’ve invested so much in it — not just money, but time. So I think the edginess of the direction that Zack took is something that’s really going to pay off. I have some scenes with Russell Crowe. And I love the costumes. I would steal one if I could. I don’t know if I’d have anywhere to go in it, but they’re nice, and overall it was such nice, nice work.
Written by: Brent Simon