Features

Extreme Ops

Intense emotion? Carrie Coon is all in.

Tatiana Siegel
  • Maarten De Boer

Back in 2010, Carrie Coon was a struggling theater actress in Chicago, auditioning for commercials on the side.

Then she got word about the role of Honey in a Steppenwolf production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

“I was going in for a beer commercial,” Coon recalls, “and it was winter. We were all in our bikinis and I was sitting there like, ‘What am I doing here?’ and my phone rang.”

It was her agent, but she couldn’t take the call because she’d just been summoned by the casting director. When she returned from the “demoralizing” audition, she learned that Honey was hers. “I wouldn’t have to do commercial auditions for a long time.”

Indeed. Virginia Woolf eventually migrated to Broadway, where Coon nabbed a Tony nomination in 2013.

“It opened doors for me,” she says.

Within four months of that nomination, Coon married her Virginia Woolf costar, Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Tracy Letts, and nabbed splashy film and TV roles to boot, in David Fincher’s Gone Girl and HBO’s The Leftovers, respectively. “A fairy-tale year,” she describes it.

If 2013 was the “Once upon a time…” 2017 is the “…happily ever after,” with Coon finishing the third and final season of Leftovers, which debuts April 16, before tackling the role of Eden Valley police chief Gloria Burgle in the third season of FX’s Fargo, debuting April 19.

Leftovers co-creator and executive producer Damon Lindelof remembers being blown away by Coon’s taped audition, written as an emotionally overwrought monologue given at a commemoration for the enigmatic event known as the Sudden Departure.

“There have been many auditions throughout my life as a producer and a writer where I really struggled with the decision, or the actor had to come in multiple times,” Lindelof says. “I just knew from the moment I saw that tape that Carrie was Nora Durst.”

Though Coon found it difficult to relate to Nora, whose husband and children have vanished, she prepared for the role by reading Sonali Deraniyagala’s 2013 memoir Wave, about losing her entire family in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

“That became the sort of grief handbook that I would carry around with me on the set,” explains the actress, who found many opportunities to refer to the tome.

In a scene at the end of season one, Nora lets out a painful, animalistic wail. Lindelof was on set that day. “The first time Carrie made that noise, chills just went up everybody’s spine,” he says. “Then [director] Mimi Leder called ‘Cut,’ and Carrie said, ‘I can only do that three more times.’ Everybody laughed. But, you know, she did it three more times.”

But doing it again is part of the fun for Coon, who still lives in Chicago with Letts. “I’d always thought of theater as collaborative and TV as more individual. But [on Leftovers], I understood that TV, in its way, is just as collaborative because of what it asks of you, the extremes.”

And there has been no shortage of extremes on the series, set three years after the simultaneous disappearance of 140 million people around the globe.

One thing is certain. There will be more of that spine-tingling execution from Coon over the eight-episode season. “The series ends in a very vulnerable place for Nora,” she teases.

And for those who are looking, there’s a through line between Nora Durst and Gloria Burgle. “They both strike me as pretty practical women,” says Coon, who studied literature in college and once hoped to be a linguist.

So far, the biggest challenge with Fargo has been getting that Midwestern accent just right. And, happily, the anthology series offers something that has been absent from much of the actress’ work: humor.

“My family doesn’t understand why I’m doing drama all the time,” the Ohio native quips. “Because I’m quite light-hearted. My family thinks of me as this total goof.”


This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 3, 2017