Laurie Metcalf on Broadway’s ‘Misery’ and Finding Those “Two or Three Drops of Vulnerability” in Playing Annie Wilkes
“It’s such a theatrical character, which makes it a great fit for the theater. I don’t know what I would have even done in an audition room” – Laurie Metcalf
People are saying a lot of things about Misery, the stage adaptation of Stephen King’s novel and its 1990 movie version about an obsessed fan, which is currently on Broadway starring Bruce Willis. But the one thing everyone seems to agree on is that the show is carried by Laurie Metcalf, who plays the horrific Annie Wilkes. In a conversation with Entertainment Weekly, Metcalf speaks about what it’s like taking on such a notable role and the important role audience reaction plays in her performance.
While Metcalf admits it’s easier to go overboard with a character like Annie, she explains why she doesn’t think of her as a monster, saying, “If I can find just two or three drops of vulnerability or empathy for her, then I’m golden to go as nuts or crazy or hysterical or violent as I want. Those little drops go a long way. And I don’t have to worry about being a monster because I don’t think that she is, and hopefully, with laying in a couple of those moments, she’s not in the eyes of the audience.”
Surprisingly, Metcalf did not have to audition for the role, which was offered to her after Elizabeth Marvel (House of Cards, Fargo) dropped out of the role. She believes not having to audition actually worked to her advantage. She explains, “It’s such a theatrical character, which makes it a great fit for the theater. I don’t know what I would have even done in an audition room. I was attracted to the weird humor in it. There are a lot of really bizarre laughs.”
Metcalf notes that many of those “bizarre laughs” come from the costuming, pointing out, “I know that people are going to think of Kim Davis, but either you embrace it or go against it, and I just thought, well, let’s just embrace it because it feels so right.” She also found laughs coming from the audience’s familiarity with the material, adding, “I also didn’t know that there were going to be such great reactions to the famous lines from the movie. When I said, ‘I’m your number one fan’ and it got a reaction, I thought, ‘Ohhh, okay, well, log that.’”
One aspect of the character that Metcalf decided to avoid early on was trying to figure out what exactly is wrong with Annie’s mental state. She says, “I, for a little bit, went down the road of researching all kinds of mental illnesses or, like, religious fanatic. But to label her is to open the door to say, well, then there’s a fix for her, if she had the right medication. You want to keep it vague that she just can’t find a place. To me, it’s a hint at how she was raised, or her failed marriage, or what her relationship to her mother was. I’m thinking that her upbringing was very turbulent and that’s why she has these mood swings, and that’s why there’s no ‘in between’ for her. Only good and bad. You do one bad thing, you’re a dirty birdy. ‘Good’ is an interesting word for her. You must be a good man or you never could have created a character like Misery Chastain. But then he kills her off, and now he’s dirty. But maybe he can be saved.”
Naturally, one of her favorite scenes is the infamous “hobbling” scene, which draws the biggest reactions from the audience. It’s a dream on-stage moment to hear that sort of audience engagement, and she admits, “I like it because they like it. I want it because they want it.”