Copley native’s star rising
|Photo courtesy of Carrie Coon|
“I was the one who was inclined to be practical and pursue something that makes sense,” said the actress, recently nominated for a Tony Award for the Broadway revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” in a phone interview. “My parents said, what the hell, you’re 22 years old, go to acting school. They always told us that we should do something that made us happy.”
Now, after earning degrees from the University of Mount Union and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW), Coon is enjoying a career that is seeing her transition from the stage to screen with her next project.
Just last week, she began working on a pilot for HBO of a new series called “The Leftovers” based on a Tom Perrotta novel about a group of people who are left behind after a Rapture-like event takes place. The pilot is creator Damon Lindelof’s first project since the series “Lost,” she said.
“There’s lots of positive energy and muscle behind it,” she said. “We’ll shoot the pilot through July and then wait to hear from HBO. I’m really excited about it. It’s a great premise for a show.”
Coon, the daughter of John and Paula Coon, credits her upbringing in Copley with giving her the skills needed to make it as a working actor. She and brothers Josh, Kellen and Aaron and sister Morena had an idyllic childhood, she said.
“We didn’t have 30 kids in our neighborhood playing kickball,” she said. “I had my siblings and one best friend in the neighborhood. We were outside a lot in a way that I lament that a lot of children are not. It was stimulating and creative. We had to learn to fill the time and have discoveries and use our imagination.”
She also praises Copley High School, from which she graduated in 1999, for giving her a well-rounded education and environment.
“Copley was one of most diverse schools in the region,” she said. “I appreciate that I was exposed to all kinds of people growing up. I think all that contributed to me being empathetic and interested in other people. That’s the hallmark of being a good actor — being curious.”
It was at Copley High that Coon had her first stage experience. She tried out on a whim for a production of “Our Town” her senior year and got the lead role of Emily.
“I came home crying to my mom because I was so busy; I was class president and in all these organizations,” she said. “I said, ‘I accidentally got the lead in the play,’ and she said, ‘Why are you crying?’ I said, ‘I thought you’d be mad.’”
Looking back now, she said the show “was a terrible production, but I knew the play was important.”
“I knew that Emily’s speech in the second act was important and it was saying something. I saw the power of that language, and that’s when I got bitten.”
At Mount Union, Coon played soccer and ran track but also worked in theater productions as she changed her major often, eventually settling on English and Spanish with a minor in psychology. She wasn’t considering acting as a career until a theater professor recommended she look into graduate theater programs.
“I didn’t know people got degrees in that,” she said.
She went to Chicago to audition, and even though she performed “two poorly chosen monologues,” she was offered a spot at UW, completing her master’s degree in fine arts in 2006.
The chance to be part of “Virginia Woolf” came about in 2010 when she auditioned for the role at Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company. She notes that she got the call saying she was cast as Honey when she was in a bikini waiting for an audition for a beer commercial.
The show played in Chicago before moving to Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. After the last show there, the cast learned from the producer the show was headed to Broadway — but not for 18 months so that it could tie in with the 50th anniversary of the play’s original debut there. The show opened Oct. 13 last year with the lead roles played by Tracy Letts and Amy Morton, who were the writer and star, respectively, of the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play “August: Osage County.” The revival played through March 3.
Coon said the show was critically acclaimed but wasn’t getting much award love until the Tony nominees were announced. The show was nominated for five Tonys and won Best Revival of a Play. Letts also won for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play and Pam MacKinnon won Best Director.
Coon was pleasantly surprised to also get on the list of nominees for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play.
“It was really shocking to hear that at 8:30 in the morning,” she said. “It was a tremendous honor, it really was. Our show had been closed at that point, so it was wonderfully surprising.”
The Tonys took place June 9, and Coon said she had about 10 family members and friends, including her parents, with her at the big event in New York.
Another big event in Coon’s life will be taking place soon as a result of her role in the play: She and Letts are engaged and planning a simple wedding soon.
“I think he’s the greatest,” she said. “My family loves him. We’re both in different cities now, as he’s in Charlotte [N.C.] working on season three of ‘Homeland.’ So, hopefully, we’ll be in the same city soon.”
Regardless of what happens with the HBO pilot, Coon said she knows the stage is where she most feels at home as an actress.
“There’s no denying that screen work pays better, and it can afford you the opportunity to make more exciting artistic choices in the theater,” she said. “I’ll always come back to the stage. It’s what’s most fulfilling to acting for me. I’m kind of a stage animal. And I always will be.”
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