From Broadway to THE LEFTOVERS on HBO; An Interview with Carrie Coon
BroadwayWorld had the privilege of chatting with Tony Award nominee Carrie Coon this week in anticipation of the second episode of her new series THE LEFTOVERS. The new drama series was created by LOST'S Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta and debuted exclusively on HBO on June 29th at 10pm.
Based on Perrotta's bestselling novel of the same name, The Leftovers is an original look at The Rapture...or was it The Rapture at all? Set in a small New York suburb, the intimate family drama focuses on residents of the fictional town of Mapleton, whose preconceptions are shattered in the wake of a global event dubbed "The Sudden Departure." Three years after the fateful day when 140 million people Disappeared without a trace, the series focuses on the ways ordinary people react to inexplicable events that can unite or divide families and communities, examining how their untold grief and The Strain of an unprecedented calamity can turn faith into cynicism, paranoia, madness or cult-like fanaticism.
Coon plays Nora Durst, a woman who lost her entire family in the Departure. Read the interview below to find out details about how Coon transitioned from stage to screen, her experiences with Damon Lindelof, her love for NPR, the stage and more!
BWW: What drew you to this show?
C: I read Tom Perotta's book, but I read it before it was going to be made into a TV show. I was already familiar with his work, his novels...ELECTION, LITTLE CHILDREN, so I knew his work translated well into TV and film already and that he was a collaborator in those processes. And, this was the first time I had access to that level of television and film projects because I was in New York, and we had just finished VIRGINIA WOOLF, and I was going on all these meetings and had just met Ellen Lewis whose from Chicago. I found that the projects I end up working on that change my life are always things that I relate to very immediately. When I read the book I had a very deep understanding of Nora, very similar to the understanding I had of Honey in VIRGINIA WOOLF. So it's just like this weird inexplicable very deep connection. When it turned out it was being made into a series I auditioned for a couple of roles in the piece, but I always knew that Nora was the role -- that I was going to play it.
BWW: Seeing as you were so familiar with The Leftovers prior to it being made into a series, plus your strong connection with Nora, was this a series you went after or was the script brought to you by your agent?
C: Actually my husband was asked to audition for it first! I first encountered the script when Tracy's agent came to him with the script and then very shortly there after I also got called in for that piece. Plus, I also had a general meeting with Ellen Lewis a couple weeks before. I'm also a big reader and I was obsessed with the apocalypse as a little girl (laughs) and though this is not about the apocalypse I find myself a little bit obsessed with the end time.
BWW: Did you watch LOST or have you watched it now?
C: I didn't have a television in my apartment in Chicago. Being a broke actor and a sensible one I didn't pay for cable or TV, so it was not something I was on board with. But what I did end up doing was hosting viewing parties for the final season with my boyfriend at the time, and his friends who were really obsessed with LOST. What was interesting about picking it up in the last season was that nothing was very surprising to me, like I could always tell what was going to happen because I didn't have all the Extra information from the backstory. (Laughing) Som the fact that everyone was confused by it was very perplexing to me cause I thought it was fairly straightforward. It was a funny way to watch LOST.
BWW: Has it prepared you for working with Damon Lindelof at all?
C: I knew about sort of the epic lore of LOST and I love ambiguity and I love symbolism. Being a literature major, you know, I'm very familiar with the ways symbolism is used in our sort of mythic tales of society so anyone who is consciously trying to pull that off I think is really interesting, and clearly very smart. And of course it was this huge cultural phenomenon. Everybody knew about it and it was one of those things you could have gone to the farthest continent and somebody would be watching LOST. I knew about his impact and I know that he's interested in making an impact with his art and so am I.
Then when I got to sit down and have a meeting with him after my initial audition for THE LEFTOVERS, I found him to be so intelligent and thoughtful and interesting and interested in the process and involving the actors in the process of creation. And, letting the actors' personalities infuse his ideas of where the characters were going to go. If I'm going to do TV, cause I'm a theatre girl (this the longest I've ever been off-stage since I started my career so it feels very weird), it was going to have to be with some really interesting, thoughtful, intelligent people. Knowing that Tom Perrotta would be involved and Damon, and Damon is such a passionate artist, made me say "Okay, if I am going to do TV, this is the kind of TV I'm going to do."
BWW: Do you miss the stage?
C: Ugh, terribly! I miss it terribly. I was scheduled to go back home to do a play this summer but then our TV show went on hiatus and I had to drop out of that play. I've been seeing a lot of theatre in New York and I am sort of terribly jealous of everyone on stage, but also really appreciating it in a way that you can't when you're in the middle of it. So yes, I miss it terribly and have every intention of coming back. I hope someone will call me and say, "Carrie please come do this play!" (Laughs) And of course I've been enjoying watching Tracy do his shows eight times a week. He's exhausted and I'm totally jealous of him!
BWW: Speaking of plays, how was working on something like WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? and preparing for Honey different than preparing for Nora?
C: For one thing you know what the story is. There's this thing in TV that I find hysterical where the writers and creators will ask us if you want to know what happens to your character or if you want to experience it episode by episode. In the theatre we always know the ending; we always know where the character is going. I found withholding that an interesting idea, like why would you not want to know where this ends? So that part is odd, not knowing what is going to happen. We get our scripts sometimes a day or two before we start shooting an episode. Damon is so willing to make the characters sort of malleable because he's inspired by the work that we're doing and it informs him about what will happen next. I don't think he sometimes even knows how we're going to affect his process and where the story is going to go, so there are a lot of surprises when you read the script. Sometimes you only have a night to memorize lines so it doesn't get into your body in the same way the language does with theatre but I guess that makes it more spontaneous. Also the other thing I find so strange is that The Leftovers is a very ensemble show that we may only work one or two days a week an episode because you may only have one or two scenes. There is so much story to go around that I never see anyone! I am supposedly in this small town, my character lives in this town with these people, but we never see each other because we don't have rehearsal or table reads. I find it slightly more of a lonely process in terms of the community building I am accustomed to in theatre, and yet at the same time it's such a delight to see the actors because they are so wonderful and we have just a lovely crew and they're so supportive that it also feels very welcoming and wonderful too. If that makes any sense! I'm still learning how to act for the camera. You know, recalibrating everything. You're not trying to reach the back of the house. I mean all you have to do is think a thought and that communicates something, which is kind of exciting but sometimes feels like you aren't doing anything (laughs).
BWW: When you're preparing for something like THE LEFTOVERS, and as you said "living in a small town," how have you developed relationships that are supposedly years in the making without the long rehearsal period of a play?
C: I really have the good fortune that the actors who work with me on The Leftovers are thoughtful, hard working, open people, and generous people. You can feel very confident that when you get in that moment with the other actor they're going to be present with you and give you what you need, which is of course what you're looking for when you are on stage. And, I feel like we just won The Lottery in terms of this group of people. I mean the crew says "this is the best cast we've ever worked with!" and we're like "we love this crew!" I just trust those actors so much that it's a weird process to be on TV and create that intimacy so quickly but all of the actors on The Leftovers are willing to go there and that's a testament to Damon's casting, Ellen Lewis' casting and just the kind of people they assembled because they knew the kind of people they needed to make a show like this work. A lot of them are theatre actors too or have been trained in the theatre so we have a sort of common language to use. It's just a really present and supportive group.
C: No I haven't heard that, that's very interesting! I suppose it's similar in so far as it's illuminating a very specific town that could be any town and I think that that part of it is very true. That you're taking a microcosm to represent the macrocosm, and I think The Simpsons does that very well for us with a lot of satire and humor. Although our show is very dark, when human beings are facing dark times we do tend to find a very dark humor inside of it. That's another thing I like about Damon, kind of his darker sense of humor. And (laughing) I think The Simpsons does that very well. I think we have that, I think that the moments that are funny in The Leftovers are sort of darkly funny and will catch people off guard. I hope when people see it and think it's a very dark thing they'll hang in there because of course you know when human beings are in crisis, as these people sort of are in a quiet long term way, all those other things about being human come out too. You know like the very mundane, the very human things that we deal with everyday. We just happen to be dealing with them in elevated circumstances. I suppose the plots of The Simpsons apply in that way too.
BWW: Here's a silly one - What is your MUST HAVE in your trailer or dressing room?
C: Oh my gosh, we've been on location so much that our camp is always moving so it's like you're always in a new trailer every day. I suppose what I am thankful for is the fact that trailers are now fancy and they have radios because I love listening to NPR in the morning. I am an NPR geek! Sometimes we're in a location where we can't get any reception but I like having NPR and I never want to be stuck in a trailer - there's a lot of waiting around in television - without something to read. Oh I have to have something to read! I have the NY Times, I have the book I'm reading, a script I'm reading, something. I can't, I'll get antsy without that.
BWW: Are there any plans you can reveal? Any teasers you can give us?
C: Oh my gosh, I'm not allowed to say anything! What can I say to entice people....we're not allowed!
BWW: Is there anything you can reveal about GONE GIRL coming up?
C: Yes! It opens in New York and LA on October 3rd and that's terribly exciting. I'll be able to screen it so I know it's going to be great and David Fincher is terrific.
BWW: Well that's something we can reveal - another book adaptation.
C: Yes, I'm like the book adaptation girl! You got a book you want to turn into a movie, just give me a call!
BWW: Thank you so much for taking the time, this was really great!
C: Thank you. And thank you for supporting us!
BWW: Oh of course, BroadwayWorld loves when there's amazing stage actors crossing over. To us it's not just you're a theatre actor or you're a film actor, it's talent.
C: That makes me think of Sebastian Arcelus, I got to work with him. That was really fun; he's part of our community. It's so exciting; I love looking for the theatre actors.
BWW: It's like you said earlier, there is a common language and also you know they work the same way you work. It's a great foundation to have.
C: It is and you know, I always want to tell young actors who want to be in TV and film what great training ground the theatre ends up being because the theatre requires a lot of stamina and television days are 12-15 hours and that requires a lot of stamina. And you can't lose your voice so you need to train those instruments in order to be able to sustain your work even in television. I think it's a misconception sometimes that young actors have that if they want to do TV and film they shouldn't try and do theatre and I think that is FOOLISH is what I think.
BWW: That's excellent advice for our readers. Also like you said, sometimes you sit around in your trailer all day and you have to learn to conserve your energy until you finally go out to shoot your scene at 2am. You have to be ready to go.
C: That's right. You have to be able to call on that emotional life very quickly and I think repeating a performance eight times a week for some period of time is great training for having access to that sort of emotional well you need to be able to pull up immediately when you are doing television because you don't get to tell the whole story at once. So that's all great training ground. That's my soapbox; I'm off my soapbox!