Interview With Zoe Kazan
How did you first discover ‘Olive Kitteridge’?
[Executive producer and star] Frances McDormand did a reading of a play I wrote a handful of years ago, and afterward she sent me a copy of the book. It was presented as something I would like. She explained, “I think I’m gonna do something with this. It would appeal to your sensibilities.” I loved it. It was this little token between us. Then three years later, I got the audition.
What appealed to you about playing Denise?
I read the description of her in the book and felt very drawn to that. I thought that what [screenwriter] Jane Anderson had done with adapting it was incredibly smart and very emotional. I’ve only had this feeling a couple times in my life as an actor, but I didn’t want anyone else to play her because I wanted to be her champion. She’s such a delicate person, and what she goes through is so hard. I thought it could be easy to play her as a caricature, but I really wanted to be the person to represent her in the world and protect her.
Did you do anything special to prepare for this role?
We had a really talented vocal coach, a dialect coach, who worked with all of us. She was helpful in talking to me about Maine and the way that they talk and where that comes from culturally. That was a real help in transforming myself because the way Denise talked was so different from me, and she’s such a different person than I am. It’s really helpful to have something like that, an accent, to take you away from yourself immediately.
I also kept a journal on set, between me and Denise. I had this idea where I would keep this journal between the two of us and I could write her on set if I was having trouble. “Hey honey, what’s going on?” And she would write me how she’s feeling. It separated the two parts of my brain. It sounds crazy, but it was great for me to have a secret place to communicate with her.
HBO: Did you think much about Denise’s backstory?
Did you think much about Denise’s backstory?
I’m wary of doing too much explaining about backstory because it can take you away from the source material, if you start inventing things. But there’s a lot about her Catholicism in the book that isn’t in the miniseries, so things like that were useful. I felt like that was really at the crux of this character -- she believes in heaven, she believes that when her husband dies she’s going to see him again. It helped support for me, emotionally, the storytelling.
What’s your take on Denise’s relationship with Henry Kitteridge?
There’s a kind of love that blossoms between them that is parental and childlike, and it’s also romantic love. There’s a real purity to it, because I don’t think either of these people would act sexually on their feelings even if they had them. I’m not even really sure if they’re people who could admit to themselves about the feelings that they’re having.
Are Denise and Henry providing something to each other that they’re missing in their own relationships?
In the book it’s very clear that he’s falling in love with her in some ways. The miniseries really doesn’t judge it at all, or put meaning on it. This man, who is about to exit the sexual prime of his life, is having a moment where he’s reaching toward youth. And this young girl who is in the middle of her life, but in the very brightness of youth, is suddenly thrust in the position of being a widow, of being an old woman in some strange way because she pushed forward into an event that she thought would happen at the end of her life. I think that’s very beautiful. They’re both reaching across the divide and touching the other side before they go back to their real lives.
How would you characterize Denise’s relationship with Olive?
Before Denise ever comes along, Olive says to Henry something like, “Oh now you can hire someone cute who will worship you.” Part of the way in which their marriage survives, and the ways a lot of marriages survive, is by understanding that the person sitting across from you is still a person and not just your husband or wife, they’re still going to have feelings. Olive talking about it and calling Denise a “little mouse” and calling Henry out on having this little crush is a way of keeping it within the conversation of their marriage.
Do you have a favorite part of Denise’s story?
There’s this thing from when we first meet Denise. She tells this story about her husband Henry filling up her gloves with jelly beans so she couldn’t even get her hands in, and then later, after her husband dies, Henry Kitteridge and Denise are in Henry’s truck together and one of Henry Thibodeau’s gloves is on the dashboard and she puts his gloves on, and they’re far too big for her hands. That spoke to me so eloquently about how she had this overflow of love, so much love that she couldn’t get her hands in her gloves, to these gloves that are too big and her hands are rattling around in them. I thought that was really useful to me. Thank God for those gloves, as a prop. As soon as I put those gloves on, I knew I would feel something.