From “Mean Girls” to “Cloverfield,” Lizzy Caplan delivered a string of sharp big screen performances over the last 10 years that rendered her recognizable and appreciated, if not quite an immediately known name and commodity to the average filmgoer. Equally well received episodic work on “True Blood,” “Party Down” and “New Girl” helped change that, by degrees. Now, with a couple movies seeing release within a few months of one another, Caplan seems on the verge of shedding the label of “critics’ darling” and achieving a wider fame. In her new film, “3,2,1… Frankie Go Boom,” she plays Lassie, a wound-up gal who becomes the unwitting partner of the equally unwitting title character (Charlie Hunnam) in a sex tape that goes viral, courtesy of Frankie’s manipulative, boundary-free brother (Chris O’Dowd). For ShockYa, Brent Simon recently had a chance to talk to Caplan one-on-one over an afternoon summer ale, about “Frankie,” auditioning, acting drunk, VOD, and her next film as well. The conversation is excerpted below:
ShockYa: There’s the appearance of this one-two punch, with this movie coming on the heels of “Bachelorette.” When did you film the two, in relation to one another?
Lizzy Caplan: We shot this around Thanksgiving, in November, two years ago, and then “Bachelorette” was late summer around this time last year. But “Save the Date,” a dramedy and the other movie I had at Sundance this year, was shot before “Bachelorette.” I’m sure we’ll be getting together again soon to talk about that one!
ShockYa: The breakdown scene (you have in “Frankie”) is pretty amazing, and the movie overall has some tricky, commingled tonalities — you’re laughing through tears and crying in overtly funny situations. When you’re having to do that in an audition setting, is there a secret or trick — a shorthand in cutting to the chase and getting to that place?
LC: Usually I get pissed off when in the audition scenes one of them is a crying scene because it feels to me like a crying test and it’s so not fair — because if you have three or four scenes to do in an audition you don’t have the normal time to prep and get there. On the day of shooting it take a while to get that upset to start crying. So usually I don’t cry in auditions. This one I did because it was pretty clear (deep intake of breath) that it was a crying test. (laughs) I don’t know how much I cried in the audition — it was more the hysteria, because… I don’t know, I used to get so nervous about that stuff, and now I’m just like, “Guess what — we’ll figure it out. You give me the part and we’ll figure out a way for me to cry really hard when you need me to.” I’m certainly not one of the girls that can just turn it on.
ShockYa: Performance on set is a totally different animal than auditioning. Do you have a baseline of comfort with the latter, or is it just a pain in the ass?
LC: I don’t hate auditioning, I’m not one of those actresses that detests that part of the process. In fact, I find it helpful a lot of the time because it gives you a chance to work with the director that you would be working with, and it’s shifted maybe a little bit for these independent films I’ve done recently, from me trying to prove myself to me seeing if this is a workable relationship with the director. At this point, two or two-and-a-half years ago when I was auditioning for this, I was definitely trying to impress the director. But now, I don’t audition for stuff as much anymore. I guess that’s a very, very lucky thing, to not have to do it as much — so now I feel almost rustier, and so when I do have auditions that are generally sort of big and scary, I wish that I was more consistently auditioning. Because there’s nothing that makes you a better auditioner than (pounding fist into hand) pilot season after pilot season after pilot season, and I just don’t do that stuff anymore.
ShockYa: Do you feel that you’re a naturally funny person?
LC: (adopting a screwball voice) Clearly, I’m the funniest person there is! (laughs) Well, I think I have a good sense of humor about things. I enjoy making people laugh, and being made to laugh even more. I think that’s sort of harder to do, though — I’ve been told I’m a hard laugh. I guess ever since I was a little kid, I was considered the funnier kid in the family — but neither one of my siblings ever gave a shit about that.
ShockYa: You get to play drunk as Lassie, quite memorably. Are there secrets to acting drunk on screen?
LC: Well, in “Bachelorette” we talked a lot about this Kirsten Dunst method, which [involved] spinning around in a circle a bunch and then, when they yelled action, you just sort of (mimics vertiginous walking). And it really works. I think that’s how little kids get high — they just spin around in circles all the time. And I [think] that when my nephew does that he’s gonna have a drug problem (later on), which is not something that you should write down, I guess. (laughs) I think it depends on the drunk scene — in a drama, or a dramatic moment I’m sure they play it far, far differently than in “Bachelorette.” In [that movie] I was playing an amped-up, coked-out person, so it was like, “Get your energy up!” all the time, which is nearly impossible to do. And for this it was this person who was not only hammered but completely unhinged, and had had so many terrible things happen to her just that day. And maybe her whole lifetime, too, was this whole series of awful, unfair events, including being raised by this insane father figure (played by Chris Noth). It’s her moment to snap. I like to picture that moment where all of the years that Lassie’s been taking care of other people’s stuff — her dad and her ex-fiancé, who we never even meet — (catch up to her). You get the vibe that she’s a caregiver, and this is her moment to completely lose it for all of the years that she was expected to look after people.
ShockYa: “Bachelorette” plays like a Red Bull comedy — the whole thing exists in this crazy, heightened state. “Frankie” is populated with colorful characters, and pitched at a certain heightened level as well, but could certainly have moments of a deeper melancholy. What was (writer-director) Jordan (Robert)’s pitch on the tone of the film?
LC: I think that he hired people that he believed in. He saw the big picture — and I think this is the case with a lot of directors, especially when it’s a writer-director. They see the big picture when the actor can only see little segments of it. So he wasn’t one of those directors who tried to force us into a performance that we weren’t already doing. If anything, he encouraged us to keep doing more of what we were doing. This is a little movie, so he hired actors that he respected a lot and pretty much let us do our thing, which is always pretty lovely. But it can also be scary, too, because the material is so out there that you hope (what you’re doing is) not too much.
ShockYa: I believe “Bachlorette” was a big hit on VOD —
LC: (in a goofy voice) It was number one!
ShockYa: Yeah, it was. And now, in talking with Jordan, he mentioned how “Frankie Go Boom” is the most pirated movie on the web right now (owing to its advance VOD availability). The VOD relationship to a theatrical release is ever-changing. Is that something that matters to you at all, as an actor?
LC: Oh yeah, big time. I think that the industry has changed so much even in the past five or 10 years, and it absolutely affects actors, and has affected me.
ShockYa: Because of what — the perception of your career?
LC: Not even that — shockingly enough, it’s the opposite of that. There’s the thing of a couple years ago when the economy started tanking and they were just making fewer and fewer movies and there were fewer and fewer opportunities for actors who weren’t these A-plus list superstars. Back in the day — that being even like 10 years ago — there were maybe five or 10 major movie stars, but they could only work so much and it would trickle down and trickle down and it gave other people shots. Then they just stopped making so many movies, and so there weren’t that many shots. The independent side all but dried up for a couple years there, it felt like, and so now, with this VOD platform release thing, part of me thinks that it’s amazing because it’s going to allow people to make way more small movies, and allow smaller movies to be seen by a ton of people. Because that’s the tough thing about independent film — (giving) people a chance to see the movies. And then the other part is a little scary because we grew up going to the movie theater to see things, and (the notion of) what opening weekend meant is all starting to change. But I have no complaints about it really, because I’m about to do a television show and there are major movie stars starring in television shows now. It’s all starting to feel more fluid, back and forth between TV and movies and even the Internet. Listen, I sort of fear change as a general rule, but you better buckle up and enjoy it because (laughs) it’s not going back to how it was before.
ShockYa: You mentioned “Save the Date” earlier, in which you play sisters with Alison Brie — what more can you tell me about that?
LC: It’s wonderful, [and it] reminds me of a ’90s movie — very character-driven, about a group of friends. I think it’s beautifully written, and I’m so obsessed with all the actors in it. Alison Brie, Geoffrey Arend, Martin Starr and Mark Webber — they all killed it. It’s this very sweet and unbelievably real movie. If these other two (movies I’ve had this year) work in heightened reality, that feels like maybe the most grounded thing I’ve ever done. I’m super proud of it, I think it’s a really sweet love story.
Written by: Brent Simon