Carrie Coon on 'The Post,' working with Steven Spielberg and defending the First Amendment
By CLINT O’CONNOR | Akron Beacon Journal | Published: January 14, 2018
Carrie Coon just wrapped a magnificent 2017.
She won wide critical acclaim for her roles in two TV series, "Fargo" and "The Leftovers," scored an Emmy nomination, starred in the off-Broadway production of "Mary Jane," was written up in Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, and was named one of Entertainment Weekly’s "Entertainers of the Year" alongside Gal Gadot, Jimmy Kimmel, Jordan Peele and Stephen King.
What do you do for an encore?
Next, Coon can be seen with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg’s latest, "The Post." She also shot two other films, "Kin" and "Widows," due out later this year.
The first thing I wanted to ask her was obvious: Do you ever sleep?
"I like being busy," Coon said on the phone from New York. "Though I am looking forward to some time off over the next few months because my husband and I have been working nonstop for what feels like years now."
For all of the attention she’s been receiving, the hype has heightened for "The Post," which is expected to be a major Oscar contender.
"When you’re working on a Steven Spielberg movie, your third cousin in Barberton, Ohio, is suddenly excited about your career for the first time ever," she said. "They don’t know what the Tony Awards are, but they certainly know who Spielberg is. Suddenly everyone in your life wants to know how it’s going."
Coon, 36, who grew up in Copley, has lots of fans rooting for her in Ohio. I spoke with her in mid-December and she was headed home for the holidays to see her parents, siblings and extended family.
"My family has been in Copley since the 1800s," said Coon, who went to Copley High School (class of ’99) and the University of Mount Union before getting her MFA in acting at the University of Wisconsin. "My parents live in a house that was in my family two generations prior. And my parents grew up down the street from each other. I have three grandparents in their 90s back home."
"The Post" chronicles the intense efforts at the New York Times and Washington Post amid the scramble in 1971 to publish what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers, the documents detailing U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The heated First Amendment questions are the backdrop to a compelling drama about reporters and editors trying to get the story.
Streep plays Post publisher Katharine Graham. Hanks is editor Ben Bradlee. Coon, as part of a large ensemble of supporting characters, plays Meg Greenfield, who later won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.
Did she feel any added pressure working with all-caps names like SPIELBERG, STREEP and HANKS?
"The thing about Steven that’s so remarkable, is that he still loves what he’s doing," said Coon. "He’s like a child. He has so much wonder and enthusiasm for the medium. He still gets scared on the first day. And Tom and Meryl still love making movies, so that is really infectious."
Coon prepared for the part by reading up on Greenfield and Graham.
"Meg Greenfield was an extraordinary woman. The film takes place early in her tenure at the Washington Post, and it doesn’t really deal with her long and warm friendship with Katharine Graham. In fact, I had a great scene with Meryl that’s not in the film. They cut the film for plot, so you don’t get to see that friendship starting like it did in real life."
Coon’s early ’70s look included a puffed-up bouffant wig. "It’s really transformative to wear a bouffant like that. When the wig came off, none of the actors on the set knew who I was."
Another bonus of "The Post" was that the cast also included her husband, playwright and actor Tracy Letts, who plays Post board chairman Fritz Beebe. "Tracy and I had not really been in the same city for a couple of years, so that was really nice." Letts can also be seen currently playing Saoirse Ronan’s father in "Lady Bird."
Coon and Letts, who married in 2013, have thus far avoided relocating to either New York or Los Angeles; they live in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago.
Their relationship began as what she has called a "showmance" in Chicago during a Steppenwolf Theatre production of "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" When the play made it to Broadway in 2012, Coon and Letts were both nominated for Tonys. Letts won. (He had also previously won a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize for writing "August: Osage County.")
It was quite a coup for Coon to pull off a Tony nod in her Broadway debut. This past year’s Emmy nomination was for playing the no-nonsense Gloria Burgle in "Fargo" on FX. Unfortunately for Coon, her murderers’ row of fellow nominees included Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Felicity Huffman, Reese Witherspoon and eventual winner Nicole Kidman.
One unavoidable aspect of "The Post" is its timeliness. Under the current climate of the White House vs. the media, with daily accusations of "Fake News," Spielberg’s film reminds us of the importance of a free press.
"I support robust journalism and I think we really need it," said Coon.
"That’s why it’s enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, it appears we’re in a time when we need to defend that First Amendment right pretty vigorously. Certainly, I think Spielberg’s film is an optimistic point of view and a bit of a romantic point of view of what it means to be a journalist. But if it inspires a new generation of young people to dedicate themselves to that challenging career, then it’s done some good."
The other hot button issue in the country, and especially the movie industry, is the waves of women coming forward to expose sexual misconduct by their male superiors. Has Coon suffered from sexual harassment?
"Personally, I have been very fortunate to work with deeply respectful collaborators, and most of them men, frankly," she said.
"But we still have a long way to go before we achieve parity. Whenever I’m on a film or television set, I’m aware of the number of men vs. the number of women in some of those jobs. I’m also aware of the disparity in pay scales. As we have more women enter into producing and directing, we’re going to see that improve. The bottom line is we need more women in leadership positions."
Coon credits her parents and her upbringing in Copley for arming her with a strong backbone to help navigate the waters of the entertainment industry.
"It’s funny, I’m often told when I go to meetings out in L.A. that I’m ’refreshing’ because I’m such a straight shooter and down to Earth. There’s a kind of directness that comes from being raised there. It’s also the best preparation for an uncertain career. My parents taught me about saving my money and making a budget. There’s no way to survive the acting profession unless you have those skills because you’re going to go through lean times."
"Like the role of Gloria on ’Fargo’ for example. That was a tribute to the stoic, emotionally repressed Midwesterners in my life," she said laughing.
"I admire them. I really do. There’s a lot of strength there in that attitude, in that posture. The people I know work really hard and they don’t complain. Even when they should."