Carrie Coon has spent most of quarantine catching up on classic movies with her husband, playwright and actor Tracy Letts. Every night after putting their 2-year-old son, Haskell, to bed, the couple retreats to their basement to watch episodes of “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” followed by a feature film like the Robert Duvall drama “Tender Mercies” or the 1969 Czech black comedy “The Cremator.” For an actor who has spent much of the past few years on the road, starring in TV series like “The Leftovers” and “Fargo,” it’s been a rare respite — and a silver lining in an otherwise bleak time. One of Coon’s pre-coronavirus jobs, a starring role in the domestic drama “The Nest,” opens on Sept. 18.
Why did you want to make “The Nest”?
When it comes to leading lady parts, what attracts me to the project is that they want me to do it. It’s so rare. I have to fight for those parts. When I read the script, I’d never seen marriage depicted in that way. “The Nest” wasn’t about a divorce, a funeral, a dead child. It was just about the tacit agreements we make in marriage.
You have to fight for leading roles?
Sure I do. Ten actresses have to retire before I even make the list. That’s not to complain. I get so many wonderful offers, but generally speaking if you’re talking about a movie like “The Nest” or “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” a lot of people have to turn those down before they come to me. It’s very flattering to be thought of first, and it makes me inclined to say yes.
“The Nest,” set largely in an isolated estate on the outskirts of London, was shot before the coronavirus made us all virtual hostages in our homes. Does the film land differently now?
I haven’t seen it since the pandemic, so it hadn’t occurred to me how it might resonate now. It’s true the house is a character in the film, and the sense of oppression it symbolizes in the characters’ lives shapes things. Maybe we’ve stumbled into new relevance just like “The Leftovers.”
Are people watching “The Leftovers” more during the pandemic?
Yes, because a lot of people are running out of things to watch. There are so many people who swore that they would see it but never found the time, who are sitting down with it now. Nobody really watched it when it was on. People came around to it years after it went off the air, but it was very prescient about coronavirus, right down to depicting 2% of the population disappearing. There’s a lot of grief right now. Grieving for lost lives and the loss of any sense of normal. I think the show can be comforting because it is ultimately hopeful.
Movies don’t usually address pocketbook or checkbook issues, but money is a major concern for your character Allison and her husband Rory (Jude Law) in “The Nest.”
It certainly was something I grew up aware of. My family never went hungry, but there were absolutely times when my parents were under pressure to make ends meet. Allison and Rory haven’t always made good decisions. They got together when they were really young, and you get the sense they had a lot of fun, but they weren’t always the most financially responsible people.
I love when Hollywood is painted as elitist. A set is one of the most diverse work environments you can be in, at least in terms of class. You’re exposed to all economic levels on a set. I do miss that microcosm. What’s amazing is somehow, 90% of the time, a project gets completed. You have people from all different walks of life coming together to make something out of nothing. That’s a metaphor for what we’re lacking at a national level.
Do you think theater and other art forms needs some kind of federal rescue package?
I do, but there’s no support federally for the arts in this country. I think we’re going to see an astonishing die-off of theater companies. They’re not going to survive this. The revenues rely too heavily on ticket sales. So many of my friends are actors first and waiters second, so they’ve lost two jobs during coronavirus. People in my business are struggling and going hungry. It feels existential. I don’t really know how we recover from this moment. Life will out. Art will always get made. Something will fill the void, but the void is painful right now.
The arts are for a gateway for people who lack a formal connection to church or spiritual life. It’s really devastating to me that we live in a country where the first thing that gets cut out of a school budget is art or music or theater. The arts help give people empathy and we’ve seen what happens when people don’t have empathy. When they can’t imagine themselves in someone else’s circumstance, they don’t stand up when people are being caged at the border. They can’t find it in themselves to care and that — that — puts us in the position we’re in right now.
You’re getting ready to film “The Gilded Age,” from “Downton Abbey’s” Julian Fellowes. What can you tell us about the new series?
There are going to be gorgeous costumes, and who doesn’t want to play a cutthroat, nouveau riche social climber? I’m excited about the subject matter. There were growing pains in our country during that time period. There were so many people raking in tremendous fortunes, and the divide in incomes kept getting wider and wider. People were starting to get angry with the displays of wealth they were seeing and what the millionaires were getting away with. Although it’s going to be a stunning period drama, it could also be a compelling political statement right now.
Things you didn’t know about Carrie Coon
Age: 39 Birthplace: Copley, Ohio Love at First Fight: Coon and Letts met while appearing in the Tony Award-winning revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Bunny Hop: The actor’s screen debut came in “The Playboy Club,” where she played a reporter infiltrating one of Hugh Hefner’s infamous hot spots.