The Untold Truth Of Carrie Coon

For television viewers, Carrie Coon is one of those rare actors who seemed to suddenly emerge from nowhere, fully formed as a formidable talent and bona fide star. In fact, when the actress first captured attention through her breakout role in HBO's "The Leftovers," Coon's screen credits were remarkably thin, given that she'd spent the bulk of her career until then working in theater. 

"The Leftovers" created a lot of buzz around Coon, leading to further roles in critically acclaimed TV series like "Fargo," "The Sinner," and "The Gilded Age" — along with the promise of much more greatness to come. "It's funny 'cause it feels at once very quick but, at the same time, slow and steady," Coon said of her career in an interview with the Independent. "I feel so fortunate. I have an IMDb page that I'm really proud of; I don't have a lot of duds in there."

Despite appearing in some of the most talked-about TV series of the past few years, there's actually a lot about this talented actor that viewers probably don't know. Here's the untold truth of Carrie Coon.

She fell into acting accidentally

As a Vulture profile noted, Carrie Coon was raised in Akron, Ohio, not exactly a hotbed of opportunities leading to a Hollywood career. As Coon told Interview magazine, she saw her first play at age 10 and became captivated. Then in her senior year of high school, she was "waiting for soccer practice to start" when she noticed that auditions were being held for the school's production of "Our Town." She auditioned, and she wound up playing the lead role.  

"Then, when I got to college, same kind of thing: I hadn't settled on a major and I was playing soccer and I saw a posting for auditions for 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' I auditioned and I got the role of Titania in 'Midsummer' as a freshman," she explained. While she continued acting in plays throughout college, it wasn't something she had seriously considered as a profession. 

As she told the Independent, one of her college professors persuaded her to change her plans and focus on acting. Just four years after completing graduate school, she was cast in a production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" mounted by Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater, and it ultimately ran on Broadway. After that, she added, "it was off to the races."

She used to be obsessed with the end of the world

In addition to acting, Carrie Coon also held a childhood fascination with the biblical apocalypse, as foretold in the Book of Revelation. "When I was 5 or 6, I used to wake up during Johnny Carson and ask my parents when Jesus was coming back," she recalled during a interview with TV Insider. "They'd assure me that Jesus is not coming back in my lifetime and [tell me to] go back to bed. I was kind of a little freak."

Eventually, that explanation no longer flew. "But you don't know that," she would tell her parents, she recalled for The New Yorker. "We don't know when it's happening." For reasons she still doesn't comprehend, as a child she prepared for the world to end."

With that in mind, there's a certain irony to the fact that Coon's breakout TV role was in HBO's "The Leftovers," a dark drama set in the days after a Revelations-style rapture event in which 2% of the planet's population mysteriously vanishes. "We didn't have to seriously consider anyone else," series co-creator Tom Perrotta told Vulture of her audition, noting, "It was the simplest casting decision we made."

Carrie Coon began her career in the theater

After completing graduate school at University of Wisconsin-Madison, noted OnWisconsin, Carrie Coon decided to remain in Wisconsin when she landed an apprenticeship at the American Players Theatre in Spring Green, appearing in productions over the next four years. Money was tight, and she booked gigs for TV commercial voiceover work while working primarily in theater, including productions at the Madison Repertory Theatre, before moving to Chicago, arguably one of America's most vibrant theater cities. 

While she's gone on to great acclaim with her television roles, Coon remains, first and foremost, a theater actor. "There's just nothing like the experience of a live performance and telling a story in order from beginning to end," Coon explained in an interview with TV Insider

She's noticed some key differences when it comes to stage vs. screen acting. "In the theater, once you're done with rehearsal, you become your own arbiter of taste," she told Backstage. With film and television, however, actors tend to look outside for validation that they're on the right track. She noted, "And you lose touch with the inner arbiter that lets you know when you have it."

One of her earliest jobs was providing motion-capture for video games

Money has never been a big motivating factor for Carrie Coon. "When I was in grad school, I was making $9,000 a year as a TA, but I can live off of $9,000 a year," Coon told Vulture. "So for some people, that would be a struggle, for me it was just, 'Make chili every Sunday and freeze it.'"

Yet Carrie Coon was also keen to jump on any opportunities that came her way that could bring in a few extra dollars to supplement her starving-student lifestyle, such as appearing in a TV commercial for high-fructose corn syrup that she's since come to regret

Another was providing motion-capture for video games like "Return to Castle Wolfenstein," which involved her wearing a special suit outfitted with what looked to be ping-pong balls. "I think part of my audition for that job was I had to pretend I was a creature that didn't have a spine, creeping out of the ground — it was that sort of stuff we were doing," she recalled for The A.V. Club. Even after finding success onstage, she would work there every so often. "I loved that place," she said.

Her first TV role was in a show that generated more controversy than ratings

It was Carrie Coon's breakout role in "The Leftovers" that put her the radar of most TV viewers, but that was far from her first television role. As Coon's IMDb page indicates, her prior television roles included guest spots on the series "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," "Ironside," and "Intelligence."

Her very first screen credit, however, was in a short-lived series best known for the controversy it sparked: NBC drama "The Playboy Club." An apparent network television attempt to mine the same territory as "Mad Men," "The Playboy Club" was set in Hugh Hefner's famed Chicago nightclub, where scantily dressed women served drinks and shrugged off sexual harassment by male patrons. After being criticized by both the right-wing Parents Television Council and feminist icon Gloria Steinem, reported Reuters, the show was canceled after just three episodes aired.

Making her television debut, Coon played Bunny Doris Hall. As she explained in an interview with People TV, squeezing into that Bunny costume was no easy feat. "They basically paint them on," Coon joked. "You're fit within an inch of your life." 

A single role changed her life

When Carrie Coon made the move from Wisconsin to Chicago, she was cast in the Steppenwolf Theatre revival of Edward Albee's classic psychological drama "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" The play proved to be such as success, noted Vulture, that the production enjoyed a run on Broadway in 2013. The gig ultimately landed her a Tony nomination.  

Speaking with Rolling Stone, Coon admitted she continues to be amazed by how that one role sent her life on an entirely different path, even though stardom had never been her game plan. "The idea was never to get famous," she explained. "I was in my early 30s, living in Chicago, I was doing theater, some voiceovers, some motion-capture work for video games." She added, "I could afford my life. I was content." 

As it happened, TV producer Damon Lindelof was preparing to cast a new HBO series at the time, "The Leftovers." As he told Rolling Stone, he was eager to cast actors who hadn't had a lot of on-screen work. When a casting agent who'd seen Coon on Broadway recommended her, Lindelof was blown away by her audition. "Carrie was the first person we hired," he said.

She's married to an acclaimed playwright and actor

Another way in which "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" changed Carrie Coon's life was by introducing her to co-star Tracy Letts. Letts is a theater and screen actor with an extensive list of credits. His TV work, for example, includes such series as "Homeland" and "Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty." He's appeared in films such as "Lady Bird" and "The Post." Letts is also an acclaimed playwright, the author of such plays as "The Minutes" and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "August Osage County."

During their time working together on "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Coon and Letts fell in love — a somewhat complicated matter, given that both were in relationships with other people. "It was a little bit messy," Coon admitted to Vulture. After disentangling themselves from those unions, Coon shared, "Ultimately it was one of those things where we pretty quickly realized that that was something we were going to have to give a go. And so by the time we got to the Broadway run, certainly, we were very much in a relationship."

The two eventually married (in a hospital, where Letts had to undergo gall bladder surgery), and today share two children. Coon told The Guardian, "I have a healthy, happy marriage."

A famous movie director gave her some helpful pointers

Carrie Coon made her movie debut in the 2014 thriller "Gone Girl," playing the twin sister of Ben Affleck's protagonist in the film. As Coon told Vox, the experience provided her with a crash course in the technical aspects of filmmaking, courtesy of director David Fincher. "David became a wonderful teacher," Coon explained, "and the fact that he does 50 takes, that didn't bother me at all." In fact, Fincher's notorious reputation for making his actors repeat take after take was actually a great fit with Coon's own sensibilities. "The only thing David and I shared [was] we were perfectionists," she added. 

In an interview with the Independent, Coon described the experience as attending "David Fincher film school." According to Coon, there was a lot to learn. "There was actually a lot of language about being on a set and working on camera that I didn't know," she shared. Luckily, Fincher and Affleck were there to fill her in.

Since then, Coon feels that her ability to act for the camera has improved immensely. "When I watch 'Gone Girl,' I see my learning process. I see myself learning," she told The Hollywood Reporter.

She was catapulted to television stardom

While her Tony-nominated performance in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" led Carrie Coon to be cast in HBO's "The Leftovers," even she remains surprised by how seamless the process was. "I expected I'd be jumping through some hoops for the network, but they just offered it to me," she told Interview magazine of her casting.

In 2017, while still appearing on "The Leftovers," Coon played the wily Minnesota police chief Gloria Burgle in the third season of FX's acclaimed series "Fargo," as noted by her IMDb page. This was followed by the starring role in TV drama "The Sinner" and roles in such films as "The Post," "Kin," and "Widows." 

Coon's rise to television stardom has certainly not been premeditated; in fact, she told Vox, there's a certain haphazardness that suits her. "I haven't been overly attached to this particular journey of being an actor. I've just been open to the possibility of being an actor," she explained. Her refusal to be hemmed in by specific expectations of how her career perhaps should take shape, she said, has prevented her from limiting her vision. "Possibility is much more interesting," said Coon.

Reading this book helped shaped her performance in The Leftovers

Actors find their inspiration for roles in a variety of ways. For Carrie Coon, that inspiration often comes from books. "My husband and I are huge bibliophiles," she revealed to Interview magazine. She told Vulture that reading has helped her creatively.

"I always thought of myself as a very intellectual actor; that that was my way in," she told Backstage, revealing she would often read when researching a role.

That was certainly the case when she was cast as Nora Durst in "The Leftovers," a woman who lost her entire immediate family in the rapture-like event that forms the basis for the series. As she told The New Yorker, she was able to hone in on Nora's core by reading "Wave," Sonali Deraniyagala's account of losing her husband and children, as well as her parents, during the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Coon explained, "It became a totem, almost like a meditation." She would pick up the book on the set and open it to a random page, she explained. "Any paragraph would be evocative in a useful way that just reminded you of the magnitude of her loss," she shared.

Carrie Coon wasn't the first choice to play Bertha Russell in The Gilded Age

In 2022, Carrie Coon made her debut as aspiring socialite Bertha Russell in HBO period drama "The Gilded Age." While the show garnered mixed reviews, Coon's performance was roundly applauded; The Hollywood Reporter, for example, singled her out as "the immediate standout," while Variety praised "Coon's big, bold, endlessly watchable performance."

However, Coon wasn't the first actor cast in the role. As THR noted, "The Gilded Age" had a long and complicated journey to the screen. Production was initially scheduled to begin in the spring of 2020, but was delayed due to the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down film and television production throughout the world. At the time, Amanda Peet had been cast as Bertha; when production finally moved forward six months later, however, Peet was no longer available, and Coon was cast in her place.

One thing viewers likely don't realize is that bringing in Coon for the role led the show's costume designer to completely reimagine the character's wardrobe. "I walked into the room and suddenly she had different ideas about the direction she wanted to go in," Coon told Insider.

She had to think long and hard before agreeing to The Gilded Age

After three seasons on "The Leftovers," Carrie Coon gravitated towards projects that would not tie her up for years in the future; both "Fargo" and "The Sinner," for example, offered her closed-ended storylines that would only require her for a single season. 

Signing on for "The Gilded Age," a series that could conceivably run for many seasons, required some serious consideration. As Coon told The Hollywood Reporter, during the years that she's been acting for television, she's noticed something of a sea change when it comes to the restrictive contracts that have traditionally bound actors to television series. "One of the benefits of that for actors is that we are not being pinned down legally in the same way we used to be," she said.

Had that new attitude in networks' approach to actors not been apparent, Coon admitted she may not have signed on to "The Gilded Age." "I mean, that's a huge part of my life I could potentially spend making 'The Gilded Age,' and that affects everything about my life," she explained. "That affects where my little boy goes to school. So these decisions are not to be taken lightly ..."

She's aware of her place in Hollywood's pecking order

While Carrie Coon has established herself within just a few years as one of Hollywood's most sought-after actors, she's also keenly aware of where she fits within Hollywood's hierarchy of stardom. Speaking with Variety, Coon confirmed that she still found herself battling for roles and is often cast only after other actors have turned the part down. "Ten actresses have to retire before I even make the list," she explained. 

She stated that's she's enjoyed parts in great on-screen projects. However, she pointed to her roles in movies "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" and "The Nest," noting, "A lot of people have to turn those down before they come to me." That's why, she added, being the first actor approached for a role, which hasn't already been rejected by others, has sometimes lured her in. "It's very flattering to be thought of first, and it makes me inclined to say yes," she explained.

As she told IndieWire, that was largely behind her casting in "The Sinner." She shared, "Somebody had somebody in mind and that didn't work out, and some other people had me in mind, and it did."

Everyone forgets she played a supervillain who battled multiple Avengers

Fans of Carrie Coon who know her for roles in "The Leftovers" and "The Gilded Age" may not realize that she's part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That's an easy oversight to make, given that Coon's character — villainous Proxima Midnight in "Avengers: Infinity War" — is CGI-generated. As Coon told People TV's "Couch Surfing," she was invited for a secretive "voiceover audition," but she wasn't told what the project was.  

After recording her lines in her closet, Coon was then asked to do motion capture for the character, as she told The A.V. Club. She admitted, "They didn't really need me for very long, because Proxima Midnight doesn't have a huge part in that film, and, once they scan you, they can make you do whatever they want." Despite the short amount of time she spent on the whole thing, she revealed that Proxima Midnight earned her a lot of attention from fans. "That is the thing I get the most fan mail for," she shared, noting, "I just didn't realize the extraordinary power of the franchise. It's just not something I'm very plugged into."

While Coon was asked to return for "Avengers: Endgame," but she wasn't able to commit to the movie.