Carrie Coon burst onto television screens in HBO’s critically acclaimed and enigmatic drama The Leftovers. After a divisive first season, the drama took on a new dynamic, expanding its appeal and story threads into its second term. Critics responded in kind, and, as a result, Coon picked up an unexpected, but well deserved, Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series for The Leftovers. Having heavily advocated her terrific big screen turn in David Fincher’s excellent Gone Girl then plowing through two seasons of The Leftovers, Robin Write finally gets the phone call from the super-talented, delightful, and theater-bred Carrie Coon.
Robin Write: So, Carrie Coon, it’s great to meet you.
Carrie Coon: Thank you.
RW: When I first heard about The Leftovers I actually thought it was referencing the Oscars’ treatment of the movie Gone Girl.
CC: Oh! [Laughs] That’s funny!
RW: We were quite disappointed, really, with the Gone Girl awards reception, because we all love it.
CC: Aw, thank you for that.
RW: Did you read Gillian Flynn’s book?
CC: I did, in fact. I read it well before. My husband and I are both big readers so we had picked it up, because she’s a Chicago-based writer and we always read the book reviews in the New York Times. So we had a copy of it, and when we were doing (Who’s Afraid of) Virginia Woolf in New York, in Broadway, is when we read it. We kinda passed it back and forth and just had a great, entertaining time. I really liked the character of Margo even when I read the book, and incidentally, when I was cast for the film, Gillian was one of the only people who knew who I was because she had seen Virginia Woolf in Chicago.
RW: Oh, right! That’s good!
CC: Yeah, so she knew my work and nobody else did. [Laughs]
RW: [Laughs] Small world! Well, I loved “Go,” as she’s called in the book. I think you nailed it, to be fair, brilliant casting.
CC: Aw, thank you!
RW: Was Margo easy to become? Was it something you read and thought “I could do that”?
CC: Yes, I mean, there was something about her rhythm that was very familiar to me. I come from a very dry, sarcastic family and the script was very intact with the language of it. She was so quite verbal in the script which is like the characters I tend to play. I tend to play women who are intelligent, pretty dry, you know. Also the fact that I have three brothers and there’s that sibling dynamic, I mean, I’m the middle of five kids so the whole dynamic of siblings is very familiar to me and the rhythm of it I recognized immediately. You know, Gillian is a mid-westerner and I think I just totally understood the ease of where we were when we read the book, and I was relieved when that was still intact when I read the script. And she’s so important because you don’t see a woman trusting Nick. I think it was very intelligent of both Gillian and David (Fincher) to keep that role intact the way it was.
RW: Fantastic. So, can you describe David Fincher in three words?
CC: Oh, my goodness. Exacting. Intelligent. And, oh gosh, a perfectionist! He and I get along great because we are both perfectionists and I did not feel intimidated by the fact that he likes to do long takes because I’d never made a film before. And I needed all the takes I could get. [Laughs] And you know what? He’s a great teacher. He taught me a lot about being on camera. He recognized very early that I didn’t have a lot of experience, he knew what he was getting into and he went out of his way to show me what he was doing because he knew if he showed me, then I could do it.
RW: What do you find distinctively different about TV and film, then?
CC: Well. [Laughs] I went from Gone Girl immediately to The Leftovers with no break. I was working on the first episode and we did three takes and the director said “Oh, we got it! Moving on!” I thought “Oh, no! I was just warming up!” [Laughs] In TV you only get that time and either you get it or you don’t and they’re moving on regardless. You hope the editor can save you – so you have to learn to work more quickly on TV.
RW: I obviously know a little bit about you, you got the Tony Award nomination for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – is it fair to say theatre is your first love?
CC: Yes, that was all I was doing. Since I graduated from graduate school in 2006 I worked almost exclusively in the theatre back to back, really making my living in the theatre in Wisconsin and Chicago. So I didn’t really know much about TV and film besides from the commercial work I had done, and I had also done a couple of guest star stuff by the time The Leftovers rolled around. But, you know, I married Tracy Letts, an extraordinary play-writer, and an extraordinary actor, and it’s interesting because he’s been a theatre actor most of his life. He tried to do L.A. in his 20s, and it’s only now at 50 he’s experiencing this incredible film career, so he’s kind of in the same place, experiencing TV and film work for the first time and figuring it out. And then, you know, I’m doing his play right now so I think theatre will always be a part of my life and it’s certainly more forgiving to women. [Laughs]
RW: Yeah. So what would you say it is about acting that gets you out of bed in the morning?
CC: Oh, my! Well, you know, what I love about it is that it is a profession that invites one to be very present and I don’t feel that many professions require that of a person – and ours most certainly does. And that reminder in your work that is that to be present is to do the work well is a great rule book to your life. To be present in your life. And to me that’s very fulfilling, and I know what it feels like, so I can make those distinctions. I don’t know that everybody is in a position where they even know what that means. I feel grateful to know what that means.