Maya Kazan might be making her inaugural appearance in film promotion at SXSW, but she’s no newbie to the festival.
The 31-year-old Los Angeles native used to make the trip to Austin to support her now-fiancé, Ted Feldman, and his band Bear Hands. “I definitely got accustomed to the plus one, girlfriend-of-the-band thing,” Kazan says over the phone from L.A., ahead of the festival. “Which was really exciting and, at a certain point, old hat.”
She’s now attending the film portion for the first time this weekend, in promotion of her film “The Unicorn,” from director Robert Schwartzman. With several roles in television under her belt — from “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Knick” and “Jane the Virgin” to, most recently, Steven Soderbergh’s HBO series “Mosaic” earlier this year — “The Unicorn” marks her foray into both feature films and comedy.
“I’d really been wanting to do more comedy. It’s a funny part and it’s a really funny script,” she says of the film, in which she plays lead Lauren Lapkus’ sister. Kazan and Schwartzman knew each other socially prior to filming, having attended the same high school. “It was a new kind of adventure. I’d done a lot of drama in my career really early on, and I’d been looking for things to fill out my résumé, to show I can do other things, too. And ‘The Unicorn’ fit perfectly in that spot.”
It also gave her the chance to try her hand at comedy, alongside “Saturday Night Live” alums at that.
“I worked on ‘Jane the Virgin’ and those actors are amazing and very good at improvising, but they don’t have the same stand-up, UCB, SNL background that so much of the cast did on ‘The Unicorn,’” she says. “So it was really fun for me to get to play with actors who essentially just play for a living.”
Kazan comes from a long line of filmmakers. Her older sister, Zoe, is an actress most recently in “The Big Sick”; their parents, Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord, are screenwriters and then there is her famous grandfather, Elia Kazan, a three-time Oscar winner who directed “East of Eden” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Like any good youngest child, she initially rebelled against joining the family business. “I grew up in a family where a lot of my family is in the business. I watched a lot of movies growing up and it was something that was important to them, but I think I sort of rebelled because it was important to them,” she says. “I was like, ‘It’s not important to me, I hate films!’ And then I got to college and I was like, ‘Actually, all I want to do is write papers about movies and watch movies and talk about why they’re good. So actually, I do care — I take it all back! Please tell me everything you know!’”
While studying at Wesleyan, she sought out a career path as a director. “I ended up becoming an actor because I went to acting school to learn about actors as a director,” she explains.
While the acting thing is taking off — after SXSW, she has “Plus One” with Jack Quaid and Finn Wittrock due next year — she still is keeping her behind the camera skills sharp. “I wrote a movie with my dad a couple of years ago, a romantic comedy. I’ve started to develop myself as screenwriter the last few years, so I’m trying to figure out how I can make something of my own,” she says.
The experience of working with family might seem a no-brainer when you come from such lineage, but it likely was a one-time thing for her.
“I loved working with my dad, but I felt that at a certain point in our process all we talked about was the movie we were making together. And there was some loss in that as well as the pleasure of a great collaboration,” she says. “So I sort of felt like I dipped my toe in that water and I was like I had enough. I think I want my family to stay my family. I think it’s better for me to make my own way.”
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