Kathy Bates won an Oscar for her performance as Annie Wilkes in 1990's Misery. Lizzy Caplan knows you know that, and that's what makes stepping into Annie's new, modernized nurse shoes so scary.
Wilkes is at the center of Castle Rock's second season, by all accounts a major improvement on the Hulu show's uneven first. (It's acknowledged among fans that its freshman effort didn't quite stick the landing.) This year, a more clear narrative and a more narrow focus on select characters really help the show sing, and the menace the lies beneath Stephen King's famous fictional stretch of Maine feels like it's lying in wait in every scene. This year, we spend as much time in Jerusalem's Lot as we do in Castle Rock, and even Derry gets a passing mention in the third episode. The world is expanding.
But it's still Caplan front and center in this retelling of the "nurse from hell"'s origin. Instead of a famous writer, this time, her captive—if you can call her that—is a decidedly more complicated one: her teenage daughter, Joy (Elsie Fisher). Caplan's Annie can be as menacing and calculated as King's or Bates's, but there's a vulnerability we haven't seen before, too, aided by Caplan's frankly massive eyes which can blaze with rage or terror at a moment's notice. In a brilliant flashback episode, Annie's warped sense of the world comes into sharp focus in a devastating hour of television anchored by Ruby Cruz as a young Annie, in what Caplan is excited to tell me is the actress's first-ever job. It's a remarkable performance, and Caplan has even gotten compliments from people thinking she was simply de-aged via CGI for the role.
Elsewhere this season, the Merrill crime family is embroiled in a feud with the local Somali community in Salem's Lot. Family leader Pop (Tim Robbins, in-keeping with Castle Rock's tradition of meta-casting as another means to nod to King's repertoire) has allegiances to both sides, and when tensions boil over, the bodies start racking up on both sides. Thing is, these ones have an uncanny habit of coming back to life as opera-loving, red-wine drinking cultists. It's a lot to process, but Annie Wilkes is mostly concerned with problems much closer to home.
GQ: Did you watch Misery? Or did you stay away from any original text?
Lizzy Caplan: I had seen Misery more than once before this even came my way, and I had read it a long time ago. The movie's pretty fresh in my mind. First of all, it's the most iconic performance. I'm obsessed with Kathy Bates in that movie, it was part of the reason why the idea of taking on this role was... completely terrifying in the best way. I don't think anybody could be more Annie Wilkes than Kathy Bates. Obviously, our story is very, very different. But I knew that I wanted some of that spirit to be in, in this version of me.
I can definitely hear it in the voice, but a lot of Annie is her physicality, too. The way you carry yourself in the first few episodes isn't like the Annie we're used to seeing. How did you find that?
Well, one of the things in the book that [Stephen King]'s very clear about is that she's this very imposing woman, "a mountain of a woman," I think he says, and you know, any number of other slightly offensive ways to describe her. But I'm not particularly tall or physically imposing and so I could only lean into trying to do something was hopefully unsettling and very different from my own normal mannerisms and physicality. I wanted to feel solid on the ground.
There's a great line in the book that having a conversation with Annie is like listening to a song out of key, so that was in my brain the whole time. I wanted something to keep it a little off-kilter to put people on the back foot, and Annie's walk seemed to do the trick.
Annie's a nurse and a mom on this show. She's very much a caregiver. Is it safe to say a lot of her actions come from a misplaced sense of love and what's "good"?
Yes. There's an innocence, too, and I think that is what makes her so menacing this time, is she's not a straight-up black and white bad guy. There are many sides to her, including a very tender, soft side, a fun, silly side. Shooting a ten-hour piece of television, you really kind of have to explore all of that, and that was always the goal: Let's take this person who is considered a villain, and explore what makes her tick. And yes, she's mentally ill in a myriad of different ways, but she also has had quite a lot of trauma and a pretty rough go of it. So I think that is the cocktail that eventually becomes the Annie in the books we all know and love.
I adore all of Annie's little anachronisms and colloquialisms. Did you and the writers make up a few of your own?
I actually don't know. I would like to say that Dustin and Sam made some of them up but I'm not positive. I remember in the early days of the first episode, I sat down and tried to write down a few of my own just to have in my back pocket and it's really hard. So if they did come up with any, that's impressive.
Do you know where that style of language comes from? What period is that from, even? Who was ever talking like that?
Annie had an extremely strict mother, who doesn't allow such terrible things like cursing. But Annie's got so many things wrong with her. There's this really cool special feature on the DVD of Misery where a shrink diagnoses all of her different mental illnesses, and she sort of has everything. She's got a little bit of everything. And one of her main driving forces is this skewed, but very, very hardcore sense of morality, like the anti-world's version of what is right and what is wrong and cursing, definitely, is wrong. So she can do any number of other horrific things.
You said before you don't think you're very physically imposing, but in this new story, Annie has a daughter. That's someone you can tower over.
Yeah! I think that she's... I was going to say I think she's a great mother. I don't think she's a great mother. But if what kids really want at the core of everything is their parents to be emotionally available to them and physically available to them and be entirely focused on their well being. Then Annie is a great mother.
She's a dedicated mother.
Dedicated. Joy is her entire world, and you buy that and it allows us to put our Annie in all kinds of situations we wouldn't have been able to otherwise because the driving force is kind of a positive thing. It's all being done to protect her daughter. And that makes a lot of the things she does seem, I think, more understandable.
What's Elsie Fisher like as a daughter? Did you see Eighth Grade?
Boy, did I. The best movie I saw last year. That movie killed me. She killed me. It's a dream that she's in this.
Getting stuck in Castle Rock stunts Annie but it kind of gives Joy some momentum. You can see it's scary for Annie to see her daughter making friends as if they're this corrosive influence.
Yeah, she's basically becoming a regular teenager. That to me is one of the more interesting parts of our show because that's something every parent has to contend with at some point: their children becoming adolescents and wanting autonomy and wanting their own lives and not being attached at the hip with their mothers any longer. That's a bit traumatic, I think, for many mothers. So in that way, this does sort of mirror reality because a lot of what Joy is doing is just trying to be a regular teenager. She wants to go hang out with other teenagers and do teenage stuff and Annie sees it as something far more diabolical.
You were a Misery fan before this show took shape, does that extend to a lot of his other stuff?
I will say yes, I'm a massive horror fan now, but it's a new development for me within the past few years. It's all my husband, who is the biggest Stephen King fan of all times. He introduced me to more beyond Stephen King and now I love it, but it was never my jam before. I've not spoken with him but I think he and Sam [Shaw] are in contact. Just little messages here and there.
I'm sure he'll be proud of the Annie interpretation.
I hope so. All we want is our granddaddy, Stephen King, to pat us on the head.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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Originally Appeared on GQ