TV

Lizzy Caplan On Annie Wilkes And The Art Of Honoring An Iconic Character

In the second season of Hulu’s Castle Rock (which premieres Wednesday on Hulu), Lizzy Caplan is tasked with playing Annie Wilkes, Stephen King’s violently obsessed fan from the pages of Misery and, perhaps more memorably, from the film of the same name that was given its spark by Kathy Bates’s Oscar-winning performance. Does someone channel Bates in totality when playing a younger version of the character or do they shake things up entirely and try to make it their own?

We spoke with Caplan about that recently while exploring the respect she has for Bates’ performance, the freedom she had on set, and the heaviness of playing one of Stephen King’s most damaged and distant characters.

What’s your relationship to the world of Stephen King? His works?

I am a big fan of quite a few of the films but I will admit I was never a big Stephen King reader. I think I just, for whatever reason, didn’t know how seriously I should have been taking him, but also I was not a massive horror fan, in general — film or books or anything. My husband is the biggest Stephen King fan ever and the biggest horror fan ever and he has turned me into like a total convert, though.

Was that a conflict in the relationship? I know with my wife if I don’t watch a thing she watches or vice versa, there’s a problem.

Not a conflict because I was very on board to go on the horror tutorial journey and now I will always pick a horror movie (which is like really crazy) when given the option. I have quite a lot of reading to do. I’ve read Misery, but most of the Stephen King experience I have is with the films and I love so many of the films.

Had you read Misery before this?

I want to say I did, but I’m not sure I actually did.

Obviously, Kathy Bates is amazing in the film. You really capture the mannerisms of that character. How much studying went into that and also is it limiting to feel like you want to kind of echo someone else’s work in something?

It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this. All I knew was the book is iconic, but something so wonderful and unique about Stephen King is that the books and the films based on the books sort of get intertwined into the collective culture and so they have equal importance. There are some movies that are totally terrible and some books that aren’t as strong as the films, but for the most part, as an audience member, I accepted it all as one meal, the book and the movie. What Kathy Bates did, to me, that was the only way to play Annie Wilkes. I’m not even talking about Castle Rock, I’m talking about the film Misery. She nailed it. Obviously. She won an Oscar. She’s the greatest, she’s a goddess and I’m such a fan of that performance. In my mind that is Annie Wilkes.

I didn’t want to do something that was so different from that because I realize the only reason behind doing that would be to be doing something different instead of leaning into what I feel is actually really correct and really right for the character. As an audience member, if I was watching somebody take on this role, if they completely flipped it on its head and did something totally unrecognizable, I think I would feel kind of cheated as an audience member. A lot of this was my own anxiety and thinking about it, but I felt like in our story we put Annie in very, very different scenarios than the Annie that most people know from Misery. I wanted this person to feasibly be able to become that person in the future.

There’s certainly… and this is just natural with the space of a television show, but there’s more dimension to the character. We’re seeing a little bit more of her life. Was part of the appeal also to take a villain and kind of make that into a whole person?

In the film and definitely in the book, it’s Paul Sheldon’s point of view of this monster. I was always very curious about the monster. She’s the most interesting part of Misery. Far more interesting than Paul Sheldon, but she’s a symbol to him. She represents things to Stephen King, but she’s not a fully formed human being. So yes, obviously getting to shade some more colors… Is that an expression?

Sure.

To give her more. I always thought that Annie Wilkes deserved more and now obviously we have created this completely bonkers narrative around her. I can’t imagine Steven King had any of this in mind, but I hope that it works because for me, I feel like in the film and the book, she’s isolated and alienated from everybody and everything. Now, I think that there are many roads she could’ve taken to get to that place where that’s her final resting place, that house far away from everybody else. But if all of the shit that happens to her in Castle Rock happened to that Annie Wilkes, I think she would absolutely isolate herself in that house.

I think so. Is there a challenge to find the right level when she’s far gone?

Yes.

Is it a bit of experimentation or is it mostly laid out in the script?

It really wasn’t. They really gave me a lot of free reign. The first episode was definitely kind of finding the character, but I came in with pretty clear cut ideas and I didn’t tell them any of the things I was going to do beforehand. I just sort of showed up and did it and waited to get fired and they didn’t fire me, so I just kept doing it. Yes, the kind of nutso freak out moments. To be honest, all of it was a challenge. This was an extremely long job. Living in that kind of mental headspace is always kind of strange, but I found the most challenging thing…and I didn’t really anticipate this, but I realized that as an actress, the thing that I enjoy the most and find the most magical in the moment is when you’re doing a scene with somebody, you find a rhythm and you’re really connecting between action and cut and you have this moment and you have this thread between the two of you. Finding that is really the job and how I’ve always kind of viewed the job. Those requirements were completely out the window with Annie Wilkes. She is not somebody who connects with people, quite the opposite. She connects with her daughter and she distrusts everybody else. She is suspicious. She’s strange, she’s ornery. This is not somebody looking for human connection at all and it was a challenge in that way because I realized how much… That’s kind of what I’m always looking for in a scene and it was the total opposite here.

Hulu

Without giving too much away in episode one, there’s a level of violence that was somewhat stunning. Can you talk a little bit about just playing that as well?

It was awesome. [Laughs]

Yeah, a lot of tension and stress got released?

Yeah. We did a lot of our own stuff. We had great stunt people helping us, but for the most part, yeah, it’s a little scary.

It was inventive. It sure was inventive.

Yeah. I’m very happy to hear that it came out as violently as we hoped.

Uh-huh. As violently and as shocking and as inventive as I think you would hope for.

Amazing.

It’s really one of those scenes. A couple of scenes this season have kind of taken me aback.

Awesome!

Which is surprising because of who the character is. It’s shouldn’t be surprising, but I think to give credit to you, you don’t see it coming for a second because I think you get lost in this earlier version of the Annie Wilkes character.

Thank you.

You talked about finding a connection and how that’s not really something you had to do here, but with the Joy character [Annie’s daughter] played by Elsie Fisher, there is a great back and forth there. I feel like that’s something that’s really one of the more interesting aspects of the show. Can you talk a little about finding that level of chemistry?

Yes. It helped that it was Elsie. She’s so great. Like, ridiculously talented. I was such a massive fan of hers before meeting her. I loved Eighth Grade. I loved her in it. Getting to work with her has been truly a joy. Eh? Get it?

Brackets, “laughs.”

Laughs for five minutes… So yes, portraying that connection if it wasn’t actually there would have been fucking brutal. It would have felt like a year-long job instead of a seven month job. I’m very, very grateful for Elsie Fisher being the actress. Yeah, that is her one connection in the world: the connection with her daughter. We are sort of setting up how, and there is stuff in the backstory that I shouldn’t spoil, but she basically has a singular person that she obsesses over and fixates on. In our story, for the majority of it, it’s Joy. In the future, it shifts over to Paul Sheldon. This is how Annie Wilkes operates. She only knows how to fixate on one thing and she gives it everything. She loves with all she’s got.

It’s not really my job as an actress to notice how nuts Annie is and how she’s like weird and mean and whatever. My job is to see what motivates Annie and why she, in her own mind, thinks that she is the hero of this story. It really wasn’t that hard to do because her motivation is pretty pure. She’s looking out for her daughter. She wants to protect her daughter at all costs and she will do anything to do that.

This seems like it’s something that’s a one-season kind of deal. You’re playing twins in an upcoming Apple TV show called Truth Be Told that’s been reported as a one-season deal as well. Is there an appeal to you to have something where you can go in for one season with a closed ended kind of story and then you move onto the next character and the next adventure?

Yeah, there’s something very refreshing about that. It feels almost like the perfect hybrid of film and television and I really do like a lot about that. It’s easier when you’re not having the best time on a show to know like, oh, I’m done and over and it’s finished after this. I also really miss the regular television, going back every year and everybody goes off and does whatever they want during the hiatus thing. You know, you have this steady thing waiting for you and it feels very much like a family and a solid gig. I do miss that, as well. I don’t really know what the answer is because then inevitably if you’re on a regular TV show, you get bored with that and you want to go off and do other things. It’s trying to find the balance there. I don’t know what it is yet. Talk to me in ten years, I’ll let you know if I figured out. [Laughs]

‘Castle Rock’ season 2 premieres on Hulu on Wednesday October 23.

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