'Castle Rock' Star Lizzy Caplan on Finding "Misery" in Season 2

[The following story contains spoilers for the season two premiere of Hulu's Castle Rock, "Let the River Run," and the Stephen King novel Misery on which it is partially based.]

When viewers first lay eyes on Lizzy Caplan as Annie Wilkes in Castle Rock, they are not just looking upon the first scene of a new, twisted journey. They are witnessing Caplan's very first moments inhabiting the role, outright. 

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Caplan says the first day of production was the same day her character hopped behind the wheel of the car, declared a surprising destination ("To the Laughing Place!"), drove herself and her young daughter away from a hospital with antipsychotic medication in hand, and immediately started belting out Carly Simon's "Let the River Run," from which the premiere gets its name. That's one way to break the ice.

Based on how Caplan describes her process, jumping headlong into the world of Castle Rock sounds exactly like the right way to begin embodying an iconic character like Annie Wilkes. Originally hailing from Stephen King's 1987 novel Misery, and brought to stunning life three years later by Kathy Bates in Rob Reiner's feature film adaptation, Wilkes was a nurse obsessed with novelist Paul Sheldon (played by James Caan in the movie), capturing the man and shattering his hopes, dreams, psyche and feet in the process. In Castle Rock, Caplan plays an earlier version of Wilkes, one who crosses paths with the supernatural dangers of the world in which the Hulu drama is based, but one who is almost certainly on a collision course with her Misery endpoint all the same. Whether or not Caplan's Wilkes ultimately arrives at "the Laughing Place," she will certainly encounter her fair share of horror on the way — and cause a good amount of it as well.

With the first three episodes of Castle Rock season two now streaming on Hulu, Caplan speaks with THR about signing on to put her stamp on the unforgettable King character, from the psychology and the physicality all the way to the themes this woman represents.

What drew you to Castle Rock? With a role like Annie Wilkes, there must be a lot of reasons to say yes, and a lot of reasons to be afraid to say yes…

That's pretty much my answer! I was a fan of the first season. I was looking forward to being a fan of the second season. This has completely ruined that for me. (Laughs.) I have always loved the film Misery and, specifically, Kathy Bates' performance in that movie. So, of course, it was completely terrifying. And I find that the terrifying things are the exciting things to try. If I question whether or not I can do something, that makes me really want to try to do it. Because, why not? Why else are we fucking here? I definitely didn't reach a moment of "I can definitely do this." I reached a moment of, "If I say 'no' to this, I will regret it forever," because I don't want to be run by fear around these types of things.

What was it about Misery and Annie Wilkes that resonated with you?

Both the movie and the book are [told] from Paul Sheldon's point of view. In the film, you get a little more shades of Annie, but both of them are pretty much exclusively Paul Sheldon's point of view. What I think makes her so terrifying and so different than so many straight-up movie villains or villains in literature, is that she really does have many different gears and modes and sides to her. She is kind. She's kind of silly. She gets excited and acts like a little girl. There's something really disarmingly sweet about her. And then when she turns, it makes it that much more terrifying. I think she is so much scarier than just a straight-up monster, because she's so much more complicated than that.

Did you find that in the script right away?

Yeah. The script was really well written. It was really exciting. But even if I had gotten to a point where I felt like, "OK, I can tackle the character of Annie Wilkes," the situations that we put our Annie Wilkes in are so different than any situation you see the Misery version of Annie Wilkes in. She is so isolated. She is not interacting with the rest of the world. She's with her daughter, and she is trying to make her way in the real world. So that, I guess, sort of abated some of the fear. It became very clear very early on that this Annie would have to be very different from that Annie, because we were putting her in all these completely novel scenarios. I knew we were going to be playing a lot of the same notes that people love, hopefully that people love, from the film, like the way that she speaks, how she goes off on these long tangents and can really spin a yarn.

The "cockadoodie" of it all.

She has a way with words and her own unique vocabulary that she draws from. (Laughs.) If you love that about Annie Wilkes, then I think we scratched that itch.

How did you get into Annie's skin, coming up with the physicality?

I didn't know exactly what that was going to look like at first and what it needed to feel like. But in Misery, Annie's physicality is described in many, many different ways. Usually, it's that she's a mountain of a woman: she's big, she's imposing. I'm not tall, I'm not particularly imposing in any way. So, it was finding something that felt very unlike how I naturally move. I thought that was really important. 

I realize now how much I [could have] relied on my own tricks, or, "I could just make this baby believable," in a Lizzy kind of way. And I think a lot of actors sort of go through that. You know, it's easy and comfortable to do the things that you're easy and comfortable doing. This was nothing like anything that I had done before, and it's nothing like how I am in person. So I wanted everything to feel different. To get into her, I had to feel different. Because I couldn't make myself taller or appear stronger in any way, I wanted to at least be unsettling. I hope that it's unsettling enough to be somewhat ominous, because she walks like a fucking weirdo.

Did you practice the walk?

I tried a few different options. I don't remember why the not swinging my arms thing became an important element, but I remember that happening first. I don't know if there were shades of that in the film. I kind of don't remember. I'm sure [studying Kathy Bates] was part of it, but I can't say for sure. I watched so many clips of the movie. And she has this lumbering walk. I think that was probably the main thing I pulled from it.

Your first scene we see — belting out "Let the River Run" — was also your first day of production. I am sure people who have watched the premiere are severely ear-wormed now.

I apologize for that. (Laughs.) I will apologize right now. It was in our head forever. Forever. It's the weirdest song! God bless you, Carly Simon. She's amazing. But what is this song? It's super complicated, really weird to learn, and on our first day of shooting, Elsie [Fisher, who plays Annie's daughter Joy] and I had to sit there belting our little hearts out, and that was our first day.

Does that get everybody feeling more comfortable about what you're embarking on? It strikes me as a pretty good icebreaker!

I don't remember being completely comfortable, because it's always weird when you start a job. I always look out at everybody, and I'm going to know these people. I'm going to have opinions about them, they're going to have opinions about me. We're going to have some version of a relationship by the end of this job. But the first day, you're like, "These are just a bunch of fucking strangers." Now we have to do this thing, and it's so weird, and I'm just going to keep to myself. I don't know anybody here, and you just got to lean into it. In a way, when you get to know people, more of the crew and everything, those scenes can sometimes get almost more difficult. Because then everybody's sort of in on how funny and strange it feels. At the beginning, everybody's very professional and on their best behavior.

The scene sets up the central dynamic for Annie and her daughter Joy, the two of them against the world, on their way to "the laughing place." But that's not a dynamic present in Misery, where she's obsessed with her favorite author. What can you say about where we're going?

Annie Wilkes needs to love one thing. And it's an all-consuming, obsessive love. Ultimately, the final stop is her love for Paul Sheldon. This is who Annie is. She knows how to love one thing with everything she's got at the expense of all other things. It helps me see the humanity in Annie, because her driving motivation is actually a pure love for her daughter. It's not some, "I'm a creepy monster weirdo." It's she wants to protect her daughter. And she's got very good reason for wanting to protect her daughter. And it's what drives and motivates, literally, every single thing that she does [on Castle Rock].

I think that there are some themes this season that feel very universal, [such as what] happens between a mother and a daughter with a relationship as close as this. [Joy] is trying to find her own voice, and her own independence, and her autonomy, and she's just a normal teenager in that way. That is a very terrifying prospect for a lot of mothers. But it's very universal and it happens. I think that theme, hopefully, will translate. It's kind of the worst-case scenario. But then, there's also a lot of the stuff that's going on with the Somali community and the show, and the idea of others coming in and taking what you think is yours. And that feels very topical and super relevant. I think the underlying motif for everything is alienation and how toxic it can be, and how it rears its head in completely different ways for each unique situation — and ultimately, that's not how we're supposed to be going about this life.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Castle Rock season two is currently streaming on Hulu.