Carrie Coon hopes audiences can 'escape into' eerie marriage drama The Nest
Savvy TV viewers are surely well-acquainted with Carrie Coon by now, through her acclaimed performances on the likes of The Leftovers and Fargo's third season. (Indeed, as EW readers may recall, she was one of our 2017 Entertainers of the Year.) But film fans may be less familiar; as the actress herself notes, she's rarely cast in big-screen leading roles, which is one reason she eagerly accepted when writer-director Sean Durkin came to her with his marital drama The Nest.
"I'd never seen marriage dealt with quite this way," Coon says of the film. "Oftentimes, when you have a movie that deals ostensibly with a marriage in crisis, you have a divorce, you have a death, you have cheating. And this was really about marriage, in a way that I hadn't really read [in] another script."
The 1980s-set film stars Coon and Jude Law as Allison and Rory, a couple who relocate their family from the U.S. to a centuries-old country manor Rory's native England. The move completely upends their lives, from Allison's work as a horse trainer to their financial situation, and places a new strain on their marriage as Rory's promises of a new start begin to fall flat. While the film debuted to acclaim at this year's Sundance Film Festival in January, its characters' feelings of isolation and ambivalent relationship to their abode have since gained added resonance thanks to our months-long quarantine.
"I hope it will be something that people find some escape into, and that they can relate to it, as opposed to not wanting to see it because it seems so close to their own personal lives," Coon says with a laugh.
With The Nest hitting theaters Friday, the actress spoke to EW about preparing for the film while raising a baby, bringing her stage training to screen acting, and '80s dance moves.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it about this film that attracted you to it?
CARRIE COON: Well, firstly, it was offered to me. That's the biggest attractor. [Laughs] It was a film that was actually going to get made, and I don't get offered a lot of leading roles. I had met Sean a couple of times, and I quite liked him personally. He spoke so intelligently and so specifically about his work. And then the script was also very specific. Often kids in scripts are collateral damage, but on the page this story had such nuanced relationships between all the family members.
And of course, it's set in the '80s, which just makes it interesting, because it's pre-cell phones and it's a period piece. I was a kid in the '80s; I never got to wear adult clothes in the '80s. That was a big draw. And the horseback riding, too. I'm always looking for a challenge, and that was not something I had done before, so it was exciting to consider the possibility of training for it.
I was going to ask if you were a horse person, because you do so much work with horses in this movie.
I mean, nominally. We had some old paddock horses across the street we used to ride around in a circle, but that is not nearly the same thing. So I had a lot of work to do. It was a really important piece of the film for Sean, because his mother trained horses, and so did his sister. It was very important to him that Allison be a very good teacher, and that I be confident in that piece of her life.
How much did you work with Jude to develop your characters' dynamic?
We had one meeting before we started production. Jude and Sean came to see me, and we sat down and talked through some of their history and backstory, pretty psychologically and extensively. And that was it, we were off and running. Because it's an independent film, so you don't get a lot of time. Sean would allow for rehearsal time, but he'd just as soon shoot what we're rehearsing, because sometimes spontaneous and interesting things happen if actors are prepared and know their lines. And it really felt like doing a play. Jude and I both come from the theater, and we both responded to that dynamic, where it really sometimes felt like we were two people on a stage rehearsing a scene 12 times, as opposed to making a film. That was a really gratifying way to work.
Can you talk more about that — how much do you draw on your stage experience for a film like this?
When the camera is set so far away from the actors, as it is in Sean's visual vocabulary for this particular film, you do often feel like you're on a stage; the camera is seeing a lot of your body. And when you're on stage you can't hide yourself from anyone, so every physical choice you make is part of the storytelling. So having had some time in the theater to understand what my physical body in space signifies is really helpful when a film is being shot that way. And Sean would always allow us to do another take if we didn't feel like we got something, even though we were on a limited amount of time. Sean would always prioritize performance over any other consideration, so it felt very actor-driven in that regard.
On that note of physicality, there's a great moment near the end of the movie where your character dances in a bar. What goes into acting a moment like that, when you're conveying so much through physicality and the way that you're moving?
I was really intimidated by that moment when it was coming up, because I don't consider myself to be a particularly uninhibited physical person. So it's more a matter of, "Can you let go of control?" But "can you let go of control with some '80s dance moves" was not something I had considered previously. [Laughs] So the most intimidating part of it was making sure it still felt like the decade. I hate it when things feel like they're anachronistic. But there was so much about the way that the environment was created that day — the atmosphere in that club, the way the extras were dressed, and how they were throwing themselves into it was really incredible. And also our costumes; our great costume designer, Matt [Price], did an amazing job. So I really felt the part when I walked in. And of course, the song that you hear in the film is the song that we ended up playing. It's good to have a proper '80s dance piece to really get into it. But it really is about letting go of your inhibitions and not worrying about what you look like. It's not interesting as an actor to worry about what you look like, I don't think.
You've been playing moms on screen for years, but this was the first time you've played one since becoming a mom yourself. What was different about that experience this time?
I wish I could say something compelling about this subject, but what it really amounted to was that I just had less time to prepare for the movie, and no free time when I wasn't on set, because it was the only time I was seeing my baby. So if it was a lesson in anything, it was that there is no magic mom button that makes you better at acting moms, and that you really have to trust that if you memorize the lines and show up, that good writing will support you, and that an excellent director will guide you. I had to just trust that process in a way that I haven't had to before, because I had luxurious time to delve psychologically into all of my characters, and I just can't do that anymore because I have a toddler.
Is it difficult to come at a role like this, which is so psychological, when you haven't had as much time to really dig into it?
I think any actor would say, "I would always like a little more time to prepare," but that's just not the way the business works. But that's why I choose to put writing ahead of almost every other consideration, because as I said, if the writing is strong, everything you need to know is on the page. I think I rely very much on on good writing to take care of that for me. Because, you know, I can't be a married woman in the '80s, and there's not really a book you can read to get you ready to be that woman. But I had exposure to my parents' marriage, which was actually an unusually egalitarian marriage for the time. So I did have some schemas for Allison's relationship, but ultimately it comes down to what's on the page.
Do you think being married to a very prestigious playwright [Tracy Letts] also influences your choice to consider writing first?
Yes, because I've actually worked on his writing, and I know what it's like to play a well-written woman, and it makes my job infinitely easier. But also because Tracy is an actor as well, and he understands it from an actor's point of view, so I always make him read a script that I'm really seriously considering. And he's very deft. If I feel that something is wrong with the script, I can't always pinpoint what it is, but he is very adept at drilling down, because he's such a structuralist. And because he knows what it would take to act something that has holes in it, and whether or not it's worth it.
This movie, with its themes of isolation, hits a bit differently right now. What do you think about the resonance that it has with these very strange times that we're living through?
The house they're living in is very much a character in the movie, and I think everyone probably feels that way about their own spaces right now, that it's a character, whatever their relationship is to that character. [Laughs] But I do think that isolation is something we're really struggling with. And ultimately, this is about a couple who have become isolated from each other, and are fighting their way back to something. I think the movie feels very truthful in that way, and so I hope it shows a vigorous path through challenges.
The Nest is now playing in select theaters. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.