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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Lizzy Caplan on departing Castle Rock, plus we pay a little visit to Stumptown

Illustration for article titled Lizzy Caplan on departing iCastle Rock/i, plus we pay a little visit to iStumptown/i
Photo: Dana Starbard (Hulu)

Here’s what’s happening in the world of television for Wednesday, December 11. All times are Eastern. 

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Top picks

Castle Rock (Hulu, 3:01 a.m., second season finale) and Stumptown (ABC, 10 p.m., mid-season finale): It’s a day for destinations. It’s been a while since we paid a visit to Stumptown—not since its promising but obviously place-setting premiere—and it’s well past time we returned. Allison Shoemaker will drop in on “Dex Education,” slightly psychic car-stereo tape deck in tow. But first, one last road trip to Castle Rock.

Emily L. Stephens will lend her frightening levels of talent (get it?) to the recap beat for one last time this season. The A.V. Club spoke with Annie Wilkes herself, the terrific Lizzy Caplan, about stepping into Kathy Bates’ shoes, the pleasures of saying “cock-a-doodie,” and one big finale moment.

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The A.V. Club: How do you go about finding the balance between doing an impersonation or impression—here, of Kathy Bates in Misery—and building the character yourself?

Lizzy Caplan: I really believe that a lot of that work is done by the context of scripts. You don’t get to see the Misery version of Annie Wilkes in situations where she’s trying to keep her mental illnesses at bay, or trying to care for a daughter; you don’t see her on the run, hiding her identity, having to work in a hospital, or really just [being] a citizen of the world. The Misery version of Annie has already isolated herself in her house on the top of that snowy mountain. So just that alone, I think, helps differentiate our Annie from that Annie. I came into this as a huge, massive fan of the film Misery. The book as well, but [especially of] Kathy Bates’ performance in Misery. I knew that if I were a viewer of this show, that itch wouldn’t have been scratched if it was a completely new re-imagining of who Annie Wilkes is. I wanted there to be some shades of this familiar character who is seared into so many people’s brains and executed so beautifully by Kathy Bates. I wanted to have it feel like echoes of her, to have moments of homage to her performance. Hopefully, at the end of the finale of our show, you could believe that our Annie Wilkes will go off and become the Sidewinder-Colorado-Paul-Sheldon-loving version of Annie.

AVC: So when the script came your way, you were already a huge fan of Misery?

LC: Yes. I had just recently rewatched it before this came across my desk, I think probably a year before. I hadn’t seen it for a while before that, and it totally holds up. It’s so wonderful. It’s this delectable piece of film. But I was always fairly obsessed with it. So when I heard about this project—and also I was a fan of the first season of Castle Rock, I watched it when it was on—the idea of coming into a show that I already was a fan was one part of [what attracted me]. And as this character that I hold in such high esteem, who is, to me, an untouchable character—my first instinct was to come up with some reason why I wasn’t right for the role. But really, from the minute I heard about it, I knew I was going to do it because it was so challenging and daunting. And I really didn’t want to let Stephen King and Kathy Bates down. I was up for the challenge, or I thought I was—I knew I had to at least attempt to fulfill this challenge or I would regret it. And I would be sitting on my couch as a fan, watching season two, with some other actress getting to do all of this stuff. And I probably would have passed away from jealousy.

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AVC: Was there any particular thrill to getting to use those Annie Wilkes-isms, like “cock-a-doodie” and “dirty bird”?

LC: Yes. All of those Annie Wilkes-isms were a joy to say. Obviously cock-a-doodie; I was waiting to say that for quite a while. I was surprised to see some of my favorite ones, like “paper fakes”—some of the lesser-known, some of the deeper cuts. [As a viewer and reader] I never found that the use of that made the character ridiculous. [I liked] knowing that you could commit fully to this unique language and that it doesn’t turn everything into a joke. It somehow dials up the tension and the scare factor of, I suppose, how unhinged this person is. Kathy Bates did that work for me many, many years ago, because I saw very clearly that you could use this kind of language and still be completely terrifying.

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AVC: There’s this sort of inheritance present in the show; you’ve got little pieces of the Kathy Bates performance, and Ruby Cruz (who plays teen Annie) and Elsie Fisher both pick up some of those mannerisms. Did you work with them on that at all?

LC: There wasn’t a lot of crossover time with Ruby. I met Ruby, and I know she was on set just kind of observing everything. But her storyline was its own thing. We weren’t necessarily crossing paths for that episode. I had some much needed days off. But one thing that was important to me—and the production was very accommodating—was that I wanted Ruby to be able to see everything that we had done thus far, just show her as much footage as possible, have her on set as much as she wants to be. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend more time with her because she’s really sweet and really cool, and she is so talented. I was blown away by what she did. I thought that episode was beautiful and her performance was phenomenal. She worked really, really hard. I heard that she watched a ton of the footage, and then she did I guess a similar thing to what I did with Kathy Bates, which was that you kind of metabolize it. You bring your own stuff to it, and you keep whatever shades you can. And I, I think she really nailed it. I knew she was going to because everybody was kvelling over her.

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AVC: And Elsie?

LC: Oh, that was all Elsie. She’s so good. I guess we just started morphing into one being.

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AVC: Has your relationship to the film or book changed since filming? Do you see her differently?

LC: I should rewatch the movie in its entirety now that it’s all finished. Throughout filming, I would watch clips regularly. I was constantly just topping up on some of her more famous moments from the movie. But I’d love to watch the whole thing again. I remember always loving Annie Wilkes, but I don’t think I had the same level of warm feelings I have towards her now. I truly feel protective. It’s difficult to explain, but I’m walking away from this project, having lived in her skin for the past seven or eight months with a genuine affinity for this woman and nothing but warm feeling for her. And so I wonder if I rewatched the movie in its entirety if that would color my viewing of it. I should rewatch it and reread it.

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AVC: Do you consider Annie the hero, or a hero, of this season?

LC: I think that Annie is the hero of her entire life. As far as if she’s the hero of this season of TV or that film, obviously that is up for debate, and that debate is very, very valid, and you know, both answers are right. You can see her as the villain and that would be true, because she is a murderer and she makes a lot of villainous decisions along the way. But to me, she is doing everything she can to be the hero of her story and the hero to Joy. Her methods are inadvisable, but the driving force behind it is, in her mind, heroic. And so, therefore, playing this role, she had to be heroic in my mind. It was a matter of figuring out how Annie in each moment feels like she is doing the exact right thing, even when everybody else will see it as the wrong thing.

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[We asked Lizzy Caplan one more question, but it gives away events of the finale of Castle Rock, so we’ll include it at the bottom of this post. Scroll past the wild card pick once you’ve watched for more on one of the episode’s biggest moments.]

Regular coverage

Riverdale (The CW, 8 p.m.): mid-season finale
Modern Family (ABC, 9 p.m.): mid-season finale
South Park (Comedy Central, 10 p.m.): 23rd season finale
Vikings (History, 10 p.m.)

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Wild card

The Masked Singer (Fox, 8 p.m.): This batshit-crazy stuff is still happening.

Two singers will be unmasked tonight, setting the stage for next week’s three-singer, two-hour, highly-bonkers season finale.

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And here’s that last Castle Rock question. Again, fair warning, this question contains plot details from the last episode of this season of Castle Rock; close the window now or forever hold your peace.

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The A.V. Club: The finale ties the series explicitly to the events of Misery. What was your experience, as a fan of that story, when you got that script? Was there any additional pressure on that moment?

Lizzy Caplan: Oh, totally. So this happens frequently with shows: You shoot all of your episodes, and then in the edit some stuff gets moved around and the finished product is not always exactly what we had on the page. So there was some shifting around of some of the chronology there. And now it’s the very last beat of the show. [But even before that happened] that moment had to feel weighty enough that you could see this torch being passed from Joy to Paul Sheldon. You had to see her obsession shifting in the same way that her obsession shifted from her father to baby Joy. And now it is shifting from baby Joy to Paul Sheldon. It had to feel big, like a monumental moment. I see that as not only a tip of the hat, to a nod to Misery, but also something that explains and justifies so much of who Annie is. She needs to put all of this energy, all of this obsessive energy into somebody. It’s the reason why she does everything she does in our season. It’s the reason why she does what she does in the book and the film. She needs to have a person—or a person and a series of books—to put all of that energy into, and without it. We’ve never seen a moment of Annie without a subject of obsession. And I have no idea what that would look like. I’m actually very curious like, hey, between Joy and Paul Sheldon, if that span of time went on for five years and she didn’t have somebody to attach this obsession to, what would that mean for Annie? How would that look for Annie? But we’ll never know, because she managed to live her entire life from birth until death in the Misery story with obsession just being passed from one to the next.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves TV, bourbon, and overanalyzing social interactions. Please buy her book, How TV Can Make You Smarter (Chronicle, 2020). It’s short!

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