It’s hard to believe, but Cobweb star Lizzy Caplan hasn’t made a full-fledged horror movie until now. The genre is often a rite of passage for younger actors, especially modern-day performers, but surprisingly, the opportunities never came Caplan’s way despite launching her career 24 years ago. She started out with a handful of appearances on Paul Feig and Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks, as well as the latter’s Undeclared, and she first got to know Seth Rogen through both of the aforementioned comedic projects. Oddly enough, Rogen’s production company, Point Grey, would bring her Chris Thomas Devlin’s Cobweb script two decades later.
In 2004, Caplan’s life forever changed by way of her breakout performance as the witty and brash Janis Ian in Tina Fey and Mark Waters’ now-classic comedy, Mean Girls. So, besides having an aversion to horror movies, Caplan tends to believe that her initial reputation for comedy may have prevented scary movies from coming across her desk.
“It’s a sound theory. I suppose it was probably a combination of not actively pursuing anything — because I just wasn’t really a horror fan — combined with opportunities not coming my way, possibly because of the [comedic reputation] theory,” Caplan tells The Hollywood Reporter prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike.
In the Samuel Bodin-directed Cobweb, Caplan plays a controlling mother named Carol, who, along with her husband Mark (Antony Starr), goes to extreme lengths to shelter their eight-year-old son Peter (Woody Norman) from a secret they’ve been keeping. The film shows a side of Caplan that viewers have rarely seen, if ever, as her character exhibits some rather disturbing tendencies.
“Sam [Bodin], our director, made the show Marianne, and that was the real reason why I wanted to do this film,” Caplan shares. “He wanted to put a few things in [Cobweb] that had some Marianne echoes, specifically the creepy rictus grin that an older woman [Mireille Herbstmeyer] in Marianne always had on her face. And then they put these really disgusting long nails on me, and my own little Easter egg was that I wanted my hands to kind of look like the Babadook.”
Caplan is also fresh off her second Emmy nomination for the lead role of Libby Epstein on the FX limited series, Fleishman Is in Trouble, and this particular honor feels quite distinct from her Masters of Sex nomination in 2014.
“The difference between now and nine years ago is that it’s really nice to have it just be a pleasant surprise and a lovely thing, as opposed to something that felt like it was more important to me than anything else in the world at that time,” Caplan admits. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily going to change my life in any way, and I find great comfort and joy in that fact.”
She also has conflicted feelings about getting too celebratory at a time when her peers are fighting for survival amid the WGA strike and the then-impending SAG-AFTRA strike.
“It’s a really weird time to be celebrating anything with the [SAG-AFTRA] strike right on the horizon and the existing [WGA] strike going into whatever week we’re on now. So it’s a mixed bag of emotions, but personally, I take it as a really delightful honor,” Caplan says.
Below, during a conversation with THR, Caplan also recalls her worst fears as a child, including the movie that likely scared her off of horror movies until recently.
Well, whenever I start researching, I always look for connections first, and so Cobweb producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg immediately jumped out at me. Did they bring this script to you given your shared history?
Yes, specifically James Weaver, who runs Point Grey with them. He reached out. But yes, I’ve worked with those boys a few times, and I’m sure that’s the reason why.
You’ve been in movies that have horror elements such as Cloverfield, but I’m pretty sure Cobweb is your first proper horror movie. How is that even possible?
(Laughs.) Yeah, I guess it is. I’m trying to think, but I think you’re probably right. Your research is fresher in your brain than my own. I forget everything immediately. I did a show called Castle Rock that was in the horror vein, but as far as films, I guess you’re right that Cloverfield is the closest thing to it. I wasn’t really even a horror fan until probably the last decade or something. My husband is very into horror movies, and he has dragged me into the fandom in a very real way.
So you didn’t grow up on the genre whatsoever?
I didn’t. I was never a horror-movie kid. I was far too afraid.
The only theory I can come up with for why you hadn’t done a bona fide horror movie until now is that you began your career in comedy, so maybe you just got grouped into that category, not that horror movies can’t have comedy.
(Laughs.) It’s a sound theory. I suppose it was probably a combination of not actively pursuing anything — because, again, I just wasn’t really a horror fan — combined with opportunities not coming my way, possibly because of your [comedy] theory.
Woody Norman’s character, Peter, is eight years old, and to put it mildly, he goes through some stuff in this movie. What were your worst fears at that age?
Oh man, this is pretty basic, but I was very scared of spiders. I vividly remember watching the movie Arachnophobia, one of the few horror films I could see, and it just really fucked me up, like really bad. Like, I remember going into my bedroom afterwards and seeing a lump under my covers, and I was positive that it was a huge tarantula. And then I remember my dad going into the room to check it out for me and fully pretending like it was a spider, throwing whatever sock it was at me. I was just debilitatingly afraid of spiders.
And when I was a kid, I was more scared of movies like The Strangers versus a monster-type fear. I was more scared of those movies that are like, “We randomly targeted your house to torture and maim you.” (Laughs.) So those were mostly my fears.
Your Cobweb character has very upright posture, she speaks in hushed tones and I’ve never seen you quite like this. Were these attributes on the page to some degree, or did you find your own way to it?
It really wasn’t on the page. I have to admit that I was planning to actually watch the film yesterday with the screener link they sent me, but yesterday got a little hectic [due to Emmy nominations]. So I have not seen the movie, but I’m very curious to see how it turned out, because Antony Starr and I tried to make it as weird and unsettling as possible at every turn. And the more takes they gave us, the more bizarre and strange it became on set. So I have no idea what actually made it into the final cut, but my fingers are very crossed that they kept some of that weirdness.
There is a spider scare in the final cut, so be warned.
(Laughs.) I’ve sort of gotten over it now. My fear of spiders has been replaced by my fear of ticks, so we all evolve.
This doesn’t give the movie away, but there’s a trailer shot of your character looking rather disturbing in pajamas.
Yeah, that was really fun. Our hair-and-makeup team was great. We shot the movie in Bulgaria during the pandemic, which had its own weird vibe. It was especially odd because Bulgaria, at that time, wasn’t being hit as hard with Covid as seemingly the rest of the world. So we could go out in Bulgaria without a mask and go to a restaurant and do all of these normal things, which was a really nice vacation from what was happening everywhere else. But Covid eventually caught up to it, and I recall racing out of the country with Covid nipping at my heels. So the whole thing feels a bit surreal. It was already a few years ago that we shot it as well, but I remember wanting to make that particular scene as creepy as possible.
Sam [Bodin], our director, made the show Marianne, and that was the real reason why I wanted to do this film. I really wanted to work with him. I really loved Marianne, and he wanted to put a few things in there that had some Marianne echoes, specifically the creepy rictus grin that an older woman in Marianne always had on her face. I don’t know her name, but God, she’s amazing. She has the most incredible face of all time, and I was pretty obsessed with her. [Writer’s Note: From what I can glean, the actor is Mireille Herbstmeyer.] So we wanted to do shades of that. And then they put these really disgusting long nails on me, and my own little Easter egg was that I wanted my hands to kind of look like the Babadook.
Oh, I see what you mean now.
Has this movie ruined your enjoyment of pumpkins and soup?
(Laughs.) God, that soup. I forgot about that soup. We ate a lot of soup.
You especially …
Oh God. Yeah, I’ve never been a huge soup fan, I’ll admit. So this firmly planted me in the not-a-soup-fan camp, maybe for life, but I’m still alright with pumpkins.
Lastly, you just received your second Emmy nomination for Fleishman Is in Trouble. Your last nomination was nine years ago for Masters of Sex. God, where does the time go?
So what does this particular recognition mean to you at this moment in time?
It’s many things, but it’s very exciting. I really did not think I was going to be nominated. I was positive that Claire [Danes] would be nominated [for supporting actress in a limited series], deservedly so, and I was very hopeful that the show itself would be nominated, but the limited lead actress category is so stacked that I was resigned to the fact that it probably wouldn’t go my way. It’s partly because in order to even see the Libby character as a lead role, you have to watch all eight episodes and take in the entire story. And so I wasn’t sure how many people had done that. It’s just not one of those no-brainer-for-a-nomination performances. So I was totally fine and at peace with the idea that it wasn’t going to go my way, and it truly was a very pleasant surprise.
The difference between now and nine years ago is that it’s really nice to have it just be a pleasant surprise and a lovely thing, as opposed to something that felt like it was more important to me than anything else in the world at that time. Now, my reaction is very right-sized, which is, “Oh, that’s really wonderful and lovely.” But I don’t think it’s necessarily going to change my life in any way, and I find great comfort and joy in that fact. (Laughs.) And then, of course, it’s a really weird time to be celebrating anything with the [SAG-AFTRA] strike right on the horizon and the existing [WGA] strike going into whatever week we’re on now. So it’s a mixed bag of emotions, but personally, I take it as a really delightful honor.
Cobweb is now available in movie theaters. This interview, conducted prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike, was edited for length and clarity.
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