Carrie Coon got an unconventionally late start in film and TV at 33, after having long since established herself on the stage. But she’s more than made up for lost time with unconventional roles. In season two of The Sinner, Coon plays a cult leader trying to get her 13-year-old son off the hook for a double homicide. In The Leftovers, she was Nora Durst, a woman so broken by the sudden and unexplained disappearance of her husband and kids that she strapped on a bulletproof vest and hired prostitutes to shoot her in the chest. In the underrated film The Keeping Hours, she plays yet another mother who, along with her ex-husband, is visited by the ghost of their dead son.
“I like it when it’s scary,” Coon says in the latest episode of Fast Company‘s podcast Creative Conversation, referring to her roles. “Because I don’t really know what I’m going to be confronting in myself.”
And now, Coon is parlaying her penchant for the absurd in Motherhacker, a new narrative podcast from Gimlet Media (which is owned by Spotify) about a mother who becomes a phishing scammer after being scammed herself.
In this episode of Creative Conversation, Coon explains how she’s reframing the archetype of mom characters, why being a good student can be bad for creativity, and what the physical side of creativity taught her (and what it can teach you).
“I try not to judge the people I’m playing, but I also try not to care too much about other people liking them. And so I think one of the things that maybe attracts roles to me, or vice versa, is that I’m not really concerned about how that person will be received in the world. I’m just concerned about how I can most truthfully inhabit that person in all of that complexity. And I wouldn’t say I’m even thinking about that overtly. It’s just if you can let go of outside judgment, then you have a lot of freedom inside of a person to muck around. Because nobody is not flawed. And I find that I don’t respond to work that feels one-note. I don’t respond to work that is humorless. I try to see a person in all of those things.”
Being so good you’re bad
“When I was a younger actor and when I was a good student and a girl who says ‘yes’ to everything ’cause girls are taught to say ‘yes,’ I was always trying to do the thing right and do it well. And that’s actually not very interesting. And I had a director say to me one time after I’d gotten out of school, he said, ‘I’m not interested in working with Carrie the good student. I’m interested in working with Carrie the artist. So stop trying to guess what I want.’ And that was really liberating for me, and it took a long time to get to that place. But I think now there’s a version of acting where you can go in front of your mirror and make a lot of choices and then you can bring those choices to work. And I suppose there’s a place for that. But it’s not a process that interests me. I’m more interested in preparing the way and then showing up and seeing what happens between two people.”
Learning to breathe
“I didn’t realize how limited my instrument was until I went to graduate school and I had a great voice teacher named Susan Sweeney. She ended up doing this training with us based on this theater company called the Roy Hart Theatre in France. It was the vocal work that made me break down in class and realize what my emotional obstacles were, because if you can’t breathe then you can’t speak. And if you can’t speak, you don’t have a voice. And as a woman in graduate school, I realized how little a voice I had. Again, I was the good student who was saying ‘yes’ and trying not to make waves. And just being raised as a woman in the Midwest, it was just how I was taught to be. And I didn’t realize how little I was in touch with what I wanted. And it was vocal work that ended up literally opening that space in my body.”
Listen to the full episode of Creative Conversation with Coon, in which she explains techniques to help you find your voice (which can be applied to far more than acting), along with offering a breakdown of some of her most memorable roles and the lessons she learned from them:
All episodes of Motherhacker are available on Spotify.