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EXCLUSIVE: 'Leftovers' Star Carrie Coon Finds Her Rhythm on TV After a Steep Learning Curve

by Stacy Lambe 12:10 AM PDT, June 16, 2016
Photo: Getty Images

Prior to playing Nora Durst on HBO's The Leftovers, Carrie Coon was probably best known for her Tony-nominated role as Honey in the 2012 Broadway production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? At that point in her career, she had already established herself as a formidable stage actress.

"As everyone in this industry knows, theater doesn’t pay, my dear," Coon tells ET about her transition from stage to screen, joking that she had the choice of waiting tables or starring in commercials. The only problem was that she was bad at both. "I was a terrible waitress," she says, adding that when it came to auditioning for those 30-second ads: "I was just terrible at first."

Luckily, Coon got accustomed to being in front of the camera and landed the back-to-back roles, playing Ben Affleck's sister in the David Fincher adaptation of Gone Girl and starring alongside Justin Theroux in Damon Lindelof's TV adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel about the disappearance of two percent of the world’s population.

MORE: Justin Theroux Finally Acknowledges His 'Flopping Package' on 'The Leftovers'

"That was one of the first TV projects that became available to me," Coon says of joining the HBO drama after having read the book and meeting with Lindelof. "So, I just sort of just started my adventure into television, and it was such a smart, interesting project."

Of course, it was a steep learning curve after coming from the stage, as well as having spent time working with Fincher, who is notorious for the number of takes he makes his actors do. On The Leftovers set, Coon had less time to get it right. "Or at least get it adequately," she says, professing her newfound respect for her TV colleagues. "You have to find this well inside yourself you didn't know you had."

For her part, Coon has seemingly dug deep to bring Nora to life onscreen. The character is a complex loner that is first seen hiring a hooker to shoot a gun at her bulletproof-covered chest and later finds hope as an adoptive mother of an abandoned child. Season two see her attempting to play house with Justin Theroux's character as the two move their joined family to Texas, seeking a new life away from their troubled past.

MORE: 'Gone Girl' Cast on Ben Affleck's 'Masterful Performance'

The move, which shifted from New York City in season one to Austin, Texas, for season two, also marked a shift in the series, which expanded beyond the book and explored new material in addition to a new setting.

"One of the things that I recognized immediately was that we recovered our sense of humor," Coon says of season two, which recently was honored with a Peabody Award. "I felt that in season one -- though Tom's material is quite satirical and very funny -- season one wasn't particularly driven by that impulse. So, when I read the first script of season two, I saw immediately that they were engaging with a new, quirky sense of humor. I knew we were on solid ground, because I feel that human beings tend to deal with tragedy using that as a tool and I thought that felt more real to me."

While Nora seemed to be recovering from the great tragedy and sorrow inflicted upon her after losing her entire family in season one, she was met with new obstacles that challenged her happiness. "Actresses are rarely asked to explore the rage that they have," Coon says, enjoying the character's many complex emotions. "I love that Damon invited all of us to sit inside those feelings and explore them very fully."

Coon also embraced the opportunity to work with a strong female cast, especially Regina King. "It lived up to and exceeded my expectations because she and I work very similarly," Coon says of their scenes together, especially in episode six, "Lens," which sees them in a tête-a-tête of sorts. "It was a real highlight for me in my acting career, getting to do that scene with her."

"One of the reasons I love our show is because of the strong women and because of the myriad of things we're asked to execute on the show, and the skills we get to demonstrate," Coon adds. "It's gratifying."

MORE: Standout Performances of the Season

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