“I spent some time before the audition in my apartment in a slip, with my hair in rollers, with a little cigarette…” – Carrie Coon on Preparing for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Actress Carrie Coon has established herself on the stage, film, and television, having appeared in a variety of roles in theaters across the United States, televisions shows like The Leftovers and Fargo, and films ranging from The Post to Avengers: Infinity War. In a profile in The New Yorker, Coon speaks about how she prepares herself for her roles, including the stage and television roles that she has received awards for.
Coon recalls that prior to auditioning to play Martha for a 2010 production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in Chicago that she considers her breakthrough role, she did some character development work. First, she watched one of Uta Hagen’s master classes on acting on YouTube (Hagen having originated the role on Broadway) and learned Hagen’s advice on acting drunk — “Don’t act loose and chaotic; act like you’re trying that much harder to be precise.” Afterwards, Coon practiced Hagen’s advice, saying, “I spent some time before the audition in my apartment in a slip, with my hair in rollers, with a little cigarette, and I got some brandy or some port wine. I didn’t get drunk, but I would just sip it throughout the day—because I had nothing else to do—and make a grocery list. I really wanted that part.”
Years later, Coon still uses specific materials to prepare herself for particular roles. For example, she cites the book Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala, a woman whose two sons, husband, and parents all died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, as an influence on her performance in The Leftovers, the HBO show in which she played a character who lost much of her family in a mysterious sudden disappearance. Coon recalls, “It became a totem, almost like a meditation. I’d read it in the morning, maybe before work, before going through hair and makeup. And then I’d have it on set with me. I could open it to almost any point, and any paragraph would be evocative in a useful way that just reminded you of the magnitude of her loss. A toenail, a dead leaf inside a cricket bag—anything can trigger it.”