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Interview: Introducing Carrie Coon, 2014's Most Exciting New Actress

Carrie Coon at the premiere of Gone Girl in NYCActors who can register potently in all three acting mediums are less common than you'd think. Some movie stars are duds on stage (and vice versa) and, though it's becoming less of an issue as mediums shift and even merge, you can sometimes spot noticeable scale shifts in charisma in the actors who jump back and forth between TV and film as if one is the place they were born to live in and the other a nice place to visit. The lines may be blurring as more and more actors make a habit of doing all three but some actors seem right everywhere. It's not the medium but the acting itself that's their true home.

Carrie Coon is not a superstar (yet) -- "I'm not famous," she insists as we settle into our conversation about her breakthrough year -- but whichever medium you first caught her in, chances are you've already fallen. In a shockingly swift and continuous series of firsts over the past year and a half she's logged her first Broadway show (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Tony Nomination 2013) her first series regular TV (The Leftovers, expect nominations any second now) and her first film (Gone Girl, a huge hit, and inarguably one of the most talked about features of the year even if its awards season prospects are still hard to read).

Perhaps it's a case of mutual Midwestern ease but our hastily scheduled phone call feels not unlike meeting a very cool stranger a party who is completely chill and ready to TALK.

Our conversation on Gone Girl & The Leftovers is after the jump...

Nora & Margo in The Leftovers and Gone Girl to chase your Tony nomination? That's quite a year.

She interrupts playfully. She's quick to laugh and check herself (fearing arrogance at one point but being way too humble at another) and also exhilaratingly candid. She seems ready for whatever Hollywood might throw at her. Or not as it turns out -  you get the sense that so long as she's acting, anywhere, she'll be fine.

Up until very recently Carrie Coon spent the bulk of her career in the Midwest and highly recommends Chicago as a cheaper option for young actors getting started. Why move immediately to New York or LA "I spent the early part of my career doing Shakespeare in Wisconsin," she tells me and swears by a theatrical grounding. "It teaches you how to use your body and voice. Do theater! Do theater!"

Here's our conversation...

NATHANIEL: I imagine breakthrough moments  feel different from the inside but wow... Virginia Woolf? Gone Girl? The Leftovers? Maybe you finished these long ago but it's so much at once for us. You've had quite the year....

CARRIE COON: I really have. It’s odd. I did The Leftovers after Gone Girl but it came out first. So it’s funny for me. I’m thinking 'I got better' and then I go and see Gone Girl and I’m thinking “Carrie, just relax!” [Laughter] There’s the work of an inexperienced person but it’s coming out second!

You're too humble. People are very excited about you. I told a few friends I was speaking with you and they’re like 'I LOVE her' ... 'Um, you JUST met her. Calm down!'

[Laughter] That’s adorable.

Carrie as traumatized Nora whose entire family vanishes in The LeftoversThe Leftovers is so strange and I’ll tell you, I wasn’t sure about it for a while. It took me until your episode, actually, "The Guest" which you had basically all to yourself where I was like ‘Holy hell, this show. So experimental and interesting’.

Oh wow. Well, they did write me a real hum-dinger. That was an extraordinary script - it was so much like a short film and deviated from that serialized storytelling. I was really surprised by it. I didn’t know it was coming and I’m happy to hear it was galvanizing rather than off-putting. I love that it’s not like everything else out there. I love ambiguity in my art. 

Me too.

How often does real life get wrapped up in  a package with a little bow on it? I think it’s funny that we expect more resolution in our art than we get in our life.

All three of your recent breakthroughs Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf on stage, The Leftovers on TV and Gone Girl on film, they're such rangey emotional pieces but what joins them might well be that though they're all serious and dark they've also got sharp gallows humor. Even Gone Girl. I hadn’t read the book and I had no idea it was going to be so funny. So when you're playing something like that are you thinking of the genre housing it like 'thriller' or 'dark comedy' for inspiration or tone?

No. Certainly with a play like Virginia Woolf if you were to start comparing yourself to itierations of that play that had been done before you would not get out of bed. We had to approach it like it had never been done before. So all you’re thinking of is the actors. What I [the character] want moment to moment and how do I get it? That’s true of everything I’ve been working on. If the humor comes out, great. Any time you force humor it’s not funny. Humor doesn’t lie.

I was gratified to see how much of the humor was intact in Gone Girl because it is a disturbing story. But, I know I've said this in other nterviews, Fincher describes Gone Girl as "an absurdist thriller". I think he really achieves that by the end of the film. It becomes absurd and funny and strange. I like working on pieces like that. 

When you’re a young actor and you’re…

[Interrupting] Oh, thank you. Please tell Hollywood would you?! [Laughter]

Hey, you brought that on yourself playing Ben Affleck’s twin!

That’s true. I did. Welcome to Hollywood everyone, where the women are ten years younger than they’re supposed to be so nobody knows what a woman is supposed to look like anymore. 

Usually actors early in their careers don't have a lot of choices. It's about what parts you can scramble to get. But these three pieces -- it's so impressive. I’m not downplaying your talent but is this like the best of lucky breaks or are you just super picky about material?

Well, I am ... specific. I am a real snob when it comes to scripts and language. My husband is a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright so in my house you’re not really allowed to do things that are crappily written.  I’m a big reader. I find poorly written work really implausible and not interesting, characters without complexity don't get me excited. All of these projects were things I connected with immediately and very viscerally. You get this feeling 'Oh, no. Nobody else can play this part but me. I have to play this part!'

I think that happens rarely but I just happen to have three major projects -- sometimes things are just right at the right time for the right person. It was an odd confluence of events and I’m really grateful for it and I recognize it might not happen again soon.

But, you know. It’s not like I'm batting offers away right and left. I still have to fight for the things I’m going to do. If I have to fight for things and spend a lot of energy to do that I'm going to be picky about what I fight for!

Makes sense. Things like awards and fames are complicated matters that dont have as much to do with the work as they should… 

And they are also [emphatically] just happening on the internet! Anyway, go on...

Watching her screen twin's life unravel in "Gone Girl"

But with all this attention, I'm just saying that soon people are going to say 'I want HER' and then you'll have to play underwritten parts and try to elevate them like everyone else. [Laughs]

I hope so. I don’t have to be the center of attention. I want to tell a good story. I recognize in the film world you’re going to go back and forth. Every now and then maybe a great leading role will come along. But most of the time you’ll be supporting the story. Especially if you’re not a typical Hollywood beauty or type. Which I don’t think I am. I’m happy to not be. I’d much rather be a character actor and work well into my seventies which is my intention.

And we’ll remind Hollywood that your seventies are a long long time away.

Thank you, thank you. Don’t let Ben Affleck deceive you!

Gone Girl  and The Leftovers  have huge talented casts but your parts don't connect to all the others so you're only working with a handful. Is that frustrating with so many good actors milling about? 

Here’s the great thing about that [Gone Girl] process. We were in Missouri for six weeks in this hotel in a very corporate park kind of area. it was like summer camp in the best sense of the world. I got to spend a lot of time with Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit and Lisa Banes and David Clennon and Missi Pyle and Casey Wilson and we had the best time. Because of the set David creates wherein everyone is reaching for a very high bar and all the people that he employs have a very strong work ethic, we had a wonderful time at work. They're just really good hardworking people, smart generous actors. I had so much fun and it was my first film and they were all so excited for me. I’ve made friends for life from that process.

And similiarly: The Leftovers. I would have liked to have spent more time with some of the women on that show. Obviously I had stuff with Justin and Chris Eccleston but all the encounters I had with those gals -- the Ann Dowds and Amy Brennemans of the world -- were special. It was also my first TV series and they've been incredibly generous and have been doing this a lot longer than me. I have to say so far those stereotypes about actors I have not found to be true.

How did you even get the Gone Girl part?  It's so high profile. You’re much younger than Ben. You don’t have a villainous chin.

The way I got that job is because David Fincher isn’t afraid to cast the best actor for the part. I hesitate to say that because it sounds arrogant but what I mean is that Fincher is excellent at ensemble-building. On an actor’s worst day they have to embody something essential about the character he’s casting. When they were looking for their 'Go [Margo Dunne] it was more important to him to find somebody who could match Ben rhythmically than it was to be age-appropriate or identical. I was in Chicago, I made a tape in my living room, post Tony Awards and after I'd shot the pilot of The Leftovers --  '22 pages of material we’ll knock this out. Nobody is ever going to see it. I’ll do the best I can and forget about it.'

I don't know why they watched the tape!

So I was really shocked to get the call for a meeting. David casts really good listeners, actors impacted by the person across from them. He’s not looking for someone who is self-generating the emotional content. I think theater prepares you uniquely for that because that’s the whole point. In Chicago theater it’s all about talking to each other and listening to each other. I’m not interested in acting opposite people who aren’t listening to each other. I think it’s so boring. And also: it’s much harder!  

Well for this particular role, it was very smart. Ben Affleck is the type of star in the type of role -- well, you’re inevitably going to project your own issues on to him. It helps that you balance it out and make him feel more like real person as opposed to a "Star". I hope that makes sense.

Yeah, yeah. Go really humanizes him and also is one of the only people who trusts him. If you don’t have Go saying to the audience ‘Trust me. He’s a good guy. He's not capable of this,' then the audience dismisses Nick out of hand because he’s not fully likeable. Gillian knew that. It was really smart of her to write a female counterpart to her protagonist that helps us embrace and root for him when things change. 

Speaking of genius writers, since you brought it up, you're married to one. He writes really interesting roles for women. August: Osage County of course but I'm totally obsessed with Bug which was one of my favorite theater experiences ever. You’ve worked together as actors now [Letts won the Tony for Virginia Woolf] but would you star in one of his plays?

Absolutely. A lot of the roles he’s already written I’m not old enough for yet but I look forward to sinking my teeth into them because they’re complicated and well written and I thought that before I married him! He’s continuing to write -- he’s being prolific these days. We worked together at Steppenwolf and we enjoy it very much. It also helps that he’s my biggest champion and fan.

I know he does write women incredibly well which is fascinating to me. He really respects and is interested in women in, you know, in all ways. [Laughter] Salacious and otherwise.

What are we going to see you in next?

The Leftovers Season 2. I'm not attached to anything. A lot of projects are theoretical... until they’re not. 

FYC Carrie Coon, Best Supporting Actress Gone Girl
Plus: More on Gone Girl | Previous interviews | Oscar's Supporting Actress Race

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Reader Comments (17)

I have the MOST enormous fancrush on her. A beautifully researched and executed interview as always. I feel like I'm in the room chatting with her!

December 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

It's funny the age thing comes up because when I looked her up after I watched The Leftovers, I was shocked to find out she is much younger than she is made to appear on screen.

December 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Carrie Coons is married to Tracy Letts?!? That's the best thing I've learned all day. I would give anything to sit in on just one dinner conversation between these two thespians.

Great interview!

December 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

Good questions, great subject.

December 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

we need more Carrie Coon in our lives please make it happen universe. she is obviously uber talented and super smart + she loves the theatre. easily blows others her age out of the water.

December 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNina

Loved her episode in The Leftovers.

I had no idea she was married to Tracy Letts! Wow! That's like the best thing that can happen to an actress, right?

December 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

AMAHZING interview.

December 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterWill h

Waiting for people to be pissed off that Aaron Sorkin didn't know who Michael Fassbender was. Ya know like how incredibly pissed people were at Tyler Perry.

December 10, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermellissa

Holy shit. Carrie Coon is married to Tracy Letts?!

December 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

"David Fincher isn’t afraid to cast the best actor for the part" PREACH!

What she did in "Woolf" was absolutely astonishing! Last year's Tony for Supp Actress made me wish there was a 5 way tie between her, Rashad/Light/Ivey/Grant, it was such an embarrassment of riches. And if you think she's good at hiding her age, she made Honey look 17, which I thought was a stroke of pure genius.

December 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJose

Great interview!

I know this is perhaps shallow or superficial or whatever, but I am so bowled over from that picture of her at the top! The vibe I'm getting from her there is so different from the caustic energy I felt from her in Gone Girl. I hope she proves to be a real chameleon!

December 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBryan

Honey is a good role for young actresses. Mireille Enos also had a good streak after playing her.
Theatre is essential.

December 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Wonderful interview! I adore Carrie Coon after seeing her in just two roles. I can't wait to see what she'll do in the future.

December 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLiz S.

Great (!) interview, Nathaniel. Thanks so much for sharing with us. Really looking forward to getting to know Carrie better over the years.

December 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

Great interview! It'll be interesting to see what Hollywood does with her - and what she does with Hollywood - next. I also hope she returns to the Chicago stage soon.

December 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

She looks like a young Annette Bening. Intelligently articulate like the Bening, too.

December 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

Wonderful interview, Nathaniel!

December 11, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

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