Carrie Coon on Her Return to the NY Stage in ‘Placebo,’ Female Sexuality and Hollywood Anonymity

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Carrie Coon

The 'Gone Girl' and 'The Leftovers' actress talks about her off-Broadway role in Melissa James Gibson's play and shares what she taught Ben Affleck on set.

The only thing that has changed about Carrie Coon is her glasses.

In the two years since the Chicago actor made her Broadway debut in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woof?, she earned a Tony Award nomination, landed her first series regular role on HBO’s The Leftovers, and made her feature film debut in Gone Girl

“I wore my own glasses!” Coon says of playing Margo “Go” Dunne, the twin sister of Ben Affleck’s Nick. “I had to get rid of those. It's like I'd be trying to have people know who I was or something.”

But no one approaches Coon on a rainy evening at the West Bank Cafe in New York. “I’ve never been recognized,” she confirms. “I didn't get recognized coming out of the stage door at Virginia Woolf half the time! And I don't get recognized in Hollywood. During the Golden Globes, there was a party at Chateau Marmont, and there was a photo of ‘Carrie Coon coming to an after-party with a friend.’ It wasn't me. They have no idea what I look like! It's hilarious.”

Even though she doesn’t feel like a Hollywood star yet, she has picked up some red-carpet survival tips: “Get ready to spend 3-4 hours getting ready if you're a woman. If you're a man, go get a sandwich and then put on a tux.” (Also, don’t wear glasses—they mess with fake eyelashes.)

Read more Carrie Coon Returns to New York Stage

Coon is excited to be back onstage. She’s just come from a rehearsal for Placebo, Melissa James Gibson’s play in which she stars as lab scientist Louise, who is working on developing a new drug for female arousal while also navigating the ups and downs of her own relationship. The production opens March 16 at Playwrights Horizons.

However, it’s only Coon’s second time gracing the New York stage — and her first time receiving an outright offer for a part in the city. House of Cards star Kristin Connolly was originally cast but had to back out due to filming obligations, and Coon received a call ten days before the start of rehearsals. She was in Chicago with her husband Tracy Letts, the playwright and actor whom she met while they were co-starring in Virginia Woolf, “settling in for the long winter."

“I’m in this really interesting position because my husband can provide for us so I don't have to say yes to everything that comes my way,” Coon says of her decision, adding that she had this free pocket of time before The Leftovers starts filming its second season. Coon was also very excited by the notion of working on a new play, particularly one by a woman about women’s issues.

Read more 'Placebo': Theater Review

“It’s often women who are writing leading roles for women,” she says. “Most of the stuff that comes my way is not actually about women. I'm just asked to be a supporting player in a story about a man, and I, frankly, was not interested in doing that.”

Although she didn’t have time to visit a lab with such a short window before rehearsals started in New York, she did speak to friends who work in the science field about research and the issues surrounding being a woman in that world. She’s also reading Daniel Bergner’s book What Do Women Want?, an examination of the changing perspectives on female sexuality. 

“Female issues get less attention in research because we're women," she explains. "If a problem plagues women more than it plagues men, the chances of it getting studied are slim, and the chances of it being studied thoroughly are very slim.”

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Coon never leaves the stage for the duration of Placebo, as her character moves back and forth from her lab, where she is trying to fix other people’s relationship issues, to her apartment, where her own problems simmer unnoticed for too long.

“The thing that's really relatable for me is there are so many people in their 30s that I know, and I've been that person, who are perhaps making decisions based on convenience,” Coon explains. “In New York, people live together because they can't afford to live apart, so maybe you move in with somebody too soon. And that question of whether we're built to be monogamous is a really interesting question. Are we biologically intended to be monogamous? Or is that a social construct? And if it is in fact only a social construct, is our biology in conflict with that?”

However, Coon is very happy in her own relationship and gushes about her husband, a Pulitzer and Tony winner for August: Osage County, throughout the conversation. Letts has a new play, Mary Page Marlowe, coming to Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company next season. Coon was a part of early readings and would love to appear in the production if her filming schedule permits. “We love to work together,” she adds.

Read more Why 'The Leftovers' Might Be the Most Creatively Bold Series on Television

It was actually Letts who introduced Coon to the book Gone Girl while they were doing Virginia Woolf in New York. In fact, when Coon was first called in for the film, author Gillian Flynn was the only person who knew who Coon was because she had seen Virginia Woolf at Steppenwolf. (Fun fact: There are many references to the Edward Albee play in Gone Girl, including the setting. Virginia Woolf is set in New Carthage and Flynn’s novel is set in North Carthage; both are apparent references to Carthage, Illinois.)

The movie filmed in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. “It was like summer camp!” Coon says of being on set for six weeks. While she learned a lot about shooting a film from co-stars like Affleck, she did have a few things to teach him. “He doesn't have a sister in real life so it was a lot of like, ‘Do you and your brothers talk about sex?’ No. No we don't. And if you're my brother, you don't want to know,” Coon says with a laugh, adding that there was a lot of “arm punching."

And even though it was a long commitment, she feels her time was used very efficiently. “When you’re on a David Fincher set, in my experience, your time is not getting wasted. If you're there, you're working,” she says. “It feels deeply respectful. Oftentimes our time isn't seen as very valued. Because there are so many actors and so few jobs, and if you won't do it, somebody else will.”

However, it seems unlikely that Coon will have to worry about struggling to find parts, with offers coming in and shooting approaching for The Leftovers. Just don’t ask her if she feels like a star. 

“It so crazy and not crazy,” she says of her recent whirlwind. “Everyone's like, ‘Oh it must be like this or like that.’ All that stuff that you're talking about is only happening on the Internet.”