Style Carrie Coon on The Nest, ’80s Fashion, and Filming During Covid
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The elegant and harrowing new film The Nest from writer/director(Marcy, Martha, May, Marlene) is a haunted house movie flipped on its head. Here the inhabitants do the haunting—a family of four who relocate from suburban America to a country estate in England and then slowly turn on one another. The father, Rory (Jude Law), is a British finance broker with a huckster’s appetite for big bets (and a talent for big losses). His wife, Allison, played by the amazing Carrie Coon, is a horse trainer who is yanked along by her husband’s ambitions and knows how dangerously overextended they have become.
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The Nest, which opens in theaters (where theaters are open) on September 18th, and will move to on-demand screens in November, is an acting tour de force—and Coon, a stage-trained actor who has broken out on TV’s The Leftovers and Fargo, is especially revelatory. Watching her and Law go toe to toe is a reminder that marriages have fault lines and bonds that keep damaged people together. It is a period piece, set (exquisitely) in the 1980s and recalls those patron saints of privileged domestic angst—Yates, Updike, A.M. Homes, The Ice Storm—but in its air of lockdown and stasis, The Nest also has lots to say about our current reality. It’s one of the very best films I’ve seen in this very strange movie year.
When I spoke to Coon by phone the other day, the actor was under quarantine in New York City, preparing to go into production on the HBO period series The Gilded Age (from Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes). Her husband, the actor and playwright Tracy Letts and their two-year-old son, Haskell, were back at their home in Chicago where the family had spent the months of lockdown together.
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How are you feeling about going back to work?
Cautiously optimistic... We’re one of the first productions back, and there’s a lot of energy toward making this work. It is a little stressful to be part of the first round of shooting in a city but I feel very confident that at any point anyone feels unsafe, we will raise our hands and everything will stop. So I do feel safe. And I’m excited to start but I’m also a little bit more apprehensive about the artistic piece: what it’s like not to have casual contact with my cast mates on set. I don’t know what that is going to feel like. It’s not what we do. So much of TV and film work—because we don’t have a formal rehearsal process as in the theater—depends upon building a rapport. Zoom rehearsals don’t quite create the same magic, so…we’ll see.
Are your social skills a little rusty after lockdown?
Goodness sakes, yes. Doing these interviews [for The Nest] is terrifying. I’ve been talking to a two and a half year old for months.
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I loved The Nest, but also found it to be a quite harrowing experience. What did it remind you of when you read the script? What drew you to the film?
In fact, it reminded me of nothing. I had never seen marriage treated this way. Oftentimes when you have a film about marriage it has to do with divorce, a funeral, a dead child, or cheating—and this was just about the dynamics about and individual marriage and the tacit agreements that we make and what happens when those agreements aren’t functioning any more, when the dynamics become aberrant and we have to decide whether to reinvest and remake those agreements, whether to soldier forward and keep them in place, or walk away. I actually think there are a lot of marriages like Allison and Rory’s that continue inexorably forward whether or not you think they are a good match. I happen to think they are a good match and that they are a lot of fun and actually quite good for each other.
Is there any preparation you have go through to get to the final scenes of a movie like this?
An actor can’t play the end at the beginning. You can’t be thinking about how harrowing the story is. And frankly it's hard to believe that we created that film out of how much fun we were having. We so adored each other on set. When you get to a moment like the scene at the end, I remember walking around with my arms around a big broomstick, pacing around, sort of taking up space so I could keep breathing because there were multiple takes and it was taking time. It comes down to stamina. I always tell young actors when they want to get into the business not to skip theater training. The theater is great preparation for having to go outside and scream for eight hours at a clip. So many young actors underestimate what that vocal training can give you when you have to do something at three in the morning and do it twelve times and also tell the story with your whole body. Sean [Durkin] described Allison as very grounded, that she’s the thing that is tethering Rory to the earth. So her being in her body is really critical and theater requires you to tell a story that way. It teaches you how to use your body to tell a story more clearly.
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Tell me about wearing those incredible ‘80s clothes.
Aren't they amazing? [Costume designer] Matthew Price is a guy who wears a Carhartt jacket and has a little rusty beard, and you think he looks like a grip and then he pulls out this beautiful mockup of a Chloe suit. He used a lot of vintage pieces and they felt very warm and lived-in: ‘80s without screaming ’80s. And I felt really sexy! For someone like me who is not often invited to play leading ladies in film it was really important to my performance. Because I'm a tomboy who got kicked out of ladies rooms until I was 17, it’s hard for me to see myself that way, so a costume so lovingly rendered to make me feel alluring is absolutely critical in a movie like The Nest. The makeup and hair designer Emma Scott can do the most theatrical and otherworldly makeup but she's so good at the everyday too. She got me some perfume from the '80s to wear. She was very specific. It all felt really right.
You began your career in the theater. Can you tell me how you’re feeling at this perilous moment for live performance?
I’m still wrestling with a lot of despair about it. Primarily because 98 percent of my friends are unemployed and often doubly unemployed because they were in the service sector and there is no end in sight and we still don’t have another relief package coming through the Senate. So there's a lot of pain in our community and that's in addition to the struggle we have trying to acknowledge our complicity in the oppression of Black performers and people of color that our institutions—which, though they’re absolutely liberal, that does not exempt them from systemic racism. There's a lot of reckoning going on but unfortunately the reckoning is also happening in a vacuum because we can’t actually put our feet on the ground and have these conversations face to face and try to remake and reimagine the theater for now. They are talking about how we won’t be able to get people back in a theater for a year after getting a vaccine and its a shame because we need community. We need people breathing together more than ever. But I am hopeful for the space that’s being created because there's room for everyone. So I hope that what we see come out of this will be a phoenix. But most of the theater companies are going to close. So we’re gonna need new ones. That's what's gonna happen. So many of the beloved institutions that a lot of us have worked in won't be around anymore, and maybe that's for the better. We’ll see.
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How are you going to get yourself through the coming election in one piece?
I had the fortunate distraction of going back to work—which was not assured. It's going to be interesting to figure out the balance between staying politically engaged and staying safe at work and raising my son. I hope to continue to educate myself on the side and I hope that art still matters. I’m always looking for the special skill I have to offer this historical moment, and my husband reminds me you're an actor, it's storytelling. So my work is trying to trust that right now. That’s my work.
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