Lizzy Caplan on How Intimacy Coordinators Are Reinventing Steamy Scenes
The Masters of Sex and Fleishman is in Trouble star, 40, adds another series to her resumé when the retelling of Fatal Attraction (April 30 on Paramount+) hits TV screens. Lizzy Caplan will take over the reimagined role of Alex Forrest—for which Glenn Close received an Oscar nomination in 1988—opposite Joshua Jackson as Dan Gallagher. In the 2023 version, Dan is paroled from jail and in seeking to prove his innocence he revisits his time with Alex and how their brief affair threatened to destroy his life.
Parade's Walter Scott sat down with Caplan to discuss her work on the series.
Scott: This is a different Alex from the film version. Is she a tragic, lonely woman rather than a crazy bunny-boiler?
Caplan: I think that if there was more time to tell Alex’s story in the film, they would have hit on a lot of similar themes. From what I’ve read about Glenn Close doing her own research with the character, she was leaning very heavily into Alex Forrest’s mental illness and childhood trauma in her backstory work. And so, we have the luxury of more time and an audience that is primed to expect more from a story than “evil woman does evil things.”
Is it because streaming allows more time to tell stories? Or have times changed since the 1987 film?
I was younger when I saw it, and still today, I love the film Fatal Attraction. But as audiences, we’ve completely changed. I don’t know if that particular version of that movie could be made now because audiences are primed to ask more questions about her state of mind. They are also wondering, Well, hold on a second, he cheated on his wife, and he doesn’t suffer any repercussions in the family unit at all? He doesn’t feel the need to apologize? Either of those things wouldn’t really compute with audiences today. So, I think that it’s worth taking a second look at for many reasons. Alex is also such an iconic, incredible character that as a viewer of the show, I would want to spend more time with her and would want to get to know her a bit more.
I also think people are more interested in the “why” of characters in these longer-form series: finding out why people do the things they do, what makes them tick. We get to touch on all of that while, hopefully, still making it a fun, scary ride.
Did you talk to any mental health experts before playing the role?
I did. I spoke to a forensic psychologist that [executive producer] Alexandra Cunningham works with a lot. He’s wonderful and so smart and he walked me through. When we were thinking about Alex, we thought she probably had a bit of a grab bag of mental afflictions. But I talked to him the most about borderline personality disorder. It’s a really fascinating, not completely uncommon thing. It’s more uncommon for the person to also be violent and psychotic, but there are plenty of people moving throughout the world with borderline personality disorder and it’s a completely different way of seeing things.
It’s very black-and-white thinking and it makes many parts of living a challenge. It can distort a lot of your thinking. Even though this is not a deep-dive study of a particular mental illness—it’s not really what we’re setting out to do—we wanted to be extremely respectful of people who were dealing with some of these issues. That was important. Why reopen this story if we weren’t going to be careful with how we told Alex’s side of it?
So, speaking to this doctor was really helpful, and also reading some books about it. And Alex, the showrunner, had been living with these characters for so long by the time I signed on that she just had a full dissertation ready for any question I had, which was really amazing.
Did being a fan of the movie give you pause?
Of course, but I’m drawn to the scarier things. Why do this for a living if you’re not going to do the things that stretch you and freak you out? And also, it’s always a bit daunting to revisit something that’s so beloved, but there’s something about this particular era and genre of film that I just think there’s room for a re-examination through a modern lens.
There are some very steamy scenes. Did you have an intimacy coordinator on the set?
We did have an intimacy coordinator; that’s just baked into the cake these days. She was wonderful. It’s definitely a readjustment in how you approach that kind of work. Both Josh and I have a long history of doing scenes like that in our respective shows, so we’re both old pros at it. But when we were doing it on our Showtime shows—he was on The Affair and I was on Masters of Sex—we didn’t have intimacy coordinators. So, it’s sort of relearning how to do those scenes in this new, modern age.
I think it’s great, because really what they’re there for is to make everybody feel more comfortable. I especially think it’s extremely important for the actors who are just starting out and haven’t really found their own voice on set and haven’t stepped into any version of their own power yet because they’re just so green. So, having somebody there to protect you, it’s amazing. It’s really great progress.
Josh and I were both extremely aware that those scenes had to work, or the show doesn’t work. Similar to the film, those scenes with the two of them had to work or the rest of the movie would have fallen apart. It was the two of us and our director Silver Tree doing those three episodes at once, and it just felt like a great little bubble. There was nothing strange or uncomfortable that happened. If anything, those were the easy scenes. There’s some pretty full-on fighting scenes later on, and those were far more difficult to shoot.
Related: How Master of Sex Star Michael Sheen Got Comfortable with Sex Scenes
There’s also an intimate moment that explains why she would actually have thought he cared about her.
Yes, we were very deliberate about that moment. We wanted it to feel not just like this affair but like this real connection between these two people, where it could feel to her very confusing and feel like he felt what she felt, which was the beginnings of something very real. And so, I’m glad that that worked out.
Is the attraction of working on a limited series that they may not have the budget of superhero movies but the quality is excellent?
I completely agree. I think it’s taken up the space that used to be filled by independent films or lower-budget studio films that we used to watch in the ‘90s and the 2000s that they aren’t making anymore. Those character-driven, rich movies that don’t include superheroes or some alien or some massive, well-known IP [intellectual property]. So yeah, as an actor it’s the most exciting space currently.
What was it like to go from your previous project, Fleishman is in Trouble on Hulu, to this one?
I had just had a baby [a son named Alfie, born in 2021] when I started shooting Fleishman, he was about three and a half months old. And we were in New York shooting that from then until he was 10 months old. Then I basically raced back to L.A. to start shooting Fatal Attraction with a little brief COVID break in between the two.
I think in many ways, it’s not ideal to have to do something back-to-back. It was 11 straight months of working on fairly all-consuming things, which is a dream in many, many ways. Knowing what my entire year was going to look like was such a gift. And also, really loving both of these projects and how different they were and feeling very grateful to get to do two completely different things.
Which I think is what all actors want to be able to do. We don’t like feeling like we’re typecast or only seen in one way. So, in many ways it was a dream, but there was also definitely some psychological whiplash involved just because the two things were so completely different. I think I would have loved to maybe have had a couple months of break in between, but believe me, I’m not complaining about having had back-to-back jobs.
And you’re all good now? No after-effects from COVID?
No, I’m good. I was a little nervous because it was [difficult] for a few weeks afterwards. I couldn’t remember lines, like weird stuff that I don’t usually struggle with. But, yeah, I’m totally fine now. Thank you.
What can you tell us about working on Freaks and Geeks, which was a launching pad for your career?
I was 15 when I did my one line as Girl No.1 in the pilot episode, and then I think 16 probably when I did the remaining episodes. Yeah, the whole experience was completely mind-boggling and overwhelming. I had never been on a set before. I had no idea how anything worked. I had never seen a call sheet. I had never seen a mark. I didn’t know you had to turn the camera around. I didn’t know anything. So, it was definitely a very steep learning curve during which I was mostly just wide-eyed and trying to keep my s--t together the whole time.
I think everybody knew there was something cool about this show, and interesting. It was brilliant from the jump. I’m not grouping myself into that brilliance; I was very much somebody who just dipped in and out. But the casting, the writing, the creators, the directors—every single person went on to do incredible things. And that show itself was incredible. They didn’t run the full season. Now if they made that show, it would be a massive success. It was just the wrong time for something. It was very much the epitome of “ahead of its time.”
You once said that Party Down was one of the most fun things you’ve filmed. How did you feel about it coming back after a more than 10-year hiatus?
I love it so much. It is so heartbreaking to not be in the reboot. Truly, I’ll cry if I think about it too much. My fingers are very crossed that it’s as wonderful and hilarious as I know it will be so that we get to do it again. And I’m certainly not missing the opportunity for a second time to return. I’m so sad that I wasn’t there but I was in New York doing Fleishman.
Related: Everything You Need to Know about the Party Down Revival
Can you share anything about your upcoming project, Cobweb?
We shot that movie during the pandemic in Bulgaria, like the height of COVID. I have not seen it; I don’t really know what the status is of it. It was produced by Point Grey though, which is Seth Rogen’s company as a little full-circle moment [he was also in Freaks & Geeks]. It’s me, Anthony Starr, who’s on the show The Boys, and this little kid Woody Norman, who was in that movie, C'mon C'mon, with Joaquin Phoenix. The director directed that French horror series on Netflix, Marianne, which I loved, and I just really wanted to work with him, so hopefully it comes out at some point.
Do you have words to live by or some practice that gets you up in the morning?
Honestly, the answer would have been very different a year and a half ago. Very little would get me out of bed in the morning. I used to love lying in bed for long periods of time. But now what gets me up in the morning is my child [with actor Tom Riley] screaming on the baby monitor. There’s no time to do a little daily mantra. It’s just like, I work for him, he’s my boss.