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'Gone Girl's Secret Weapon: Actress Carrie Coon

Tony-nominated stage actress Carrie Coon is about to break out. If you don't know who she is, you won't be able to forget her after "Gone Girl."
Image: Carrie Coon in \"Gone Girl\"
Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) confides in his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) in "Gone Girl." Photo: Merrick Morton

Heaven forbid: Carrie Coon is about to become Hollywood’s “Cool Girl.”

But it’s not the kind of Cool Girl made famous in "Gone Girl," Gillian Flynn's bestselling book — the kind of woman that pretends to like everything her man does to win him over. Coon is a hard-working stage actress, known mostly for her Tony-nominated role in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” who turned heads this year on HBO’s “The Leftovers” and now is stealing moments from Ben Affleck, playing his twin sister on in the book's Hollywood adaptation, her feature film debut.

When she first read the novel, Coon said she felt “unsettled” by how she identified with Amy’s Cool Girl musings —"most of us have been there" — but loved how the character Amy used the very tropes she criticized to manipulate her husband.

Carrie Coon and Neil Patrick Harris in "Gone Girl."20th Century Fox

Flynn’s wicked novel and screenplay about the disappearance of Amy Dunne (played by Rosamund Pike) on her fifth wedding anniversary struck a nerve two years ago with its unexpected commentary about marriage and gender politics. And in the book’s most famous 421-word passage, Amy calls out most women for pretending to be the Cool Girl—the kind of woman that never complains and will go along with anything to make her partner happy: “Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl."

“I think it articulated something about the lives of women that hadn’t really been pinpointed before,” Coon said. “When Gillian wrote that Cool Girl monologue and finally named something that we’ve all been too in the middle of to be able to step outside and name, it was surprising to people and psychologically astute."

Coon, 33, plays Margo Dunne, Nick’s twin. “Go,” as her brother calls her, is a loving, supportive sister who is also hilarious, honest and wise. As Coon depicts her, she is the heart of the film—the only reliable lead character that Flynn allowed.

“She gets to be the cipher for the audience,” Coon said. “The audience gets to participate through her, and she’s necessary for that reason.”

But Margo does much more than that, as Coon manages to steal scenes with her spitfire delivery and pointed observations. From her first scene with Affleck, who is nine years her senior, the pair has an easy chemistry that makes them completely believable as twin siblings.

“I did get some great lines to say,” Coon said. “Here’s this woman spouting off witty one-liners but I wanted to make sure that she was more present with Nick than that. They have a strong relationship and I want people to connect with that.”

“Gone Girl” hits theaters Friday, a month after “The Leftovers” ended its first season with Coon as its breakout star, playing Nora Durst, a woman who lost her husband and two children in a mysterious global event in which 2 percent of the population vanished.

Carrie Coon plays Nora Durst in "The Leftovers."Paul Schiraldi / Paul Schiraldi Photography

A Chicago-based actress whose first trip to Los Angeles was to meet Fincher, Coon says the last year of her life “has been completely surreal.” She was nominated for a Tony for her Broadway debut playing Honey, a drunk professor’s wife in “Virginia Woolf;” she landed her first TV series and first feature film; and she married actor and Pulitzer-winning playwright Tracy Letts, her “Virginia Woolf” co-star.

“On the one hand, it’s very workmanlike,” she said. “All I’ve really done is show up at my job and done my work, which is what I would do no matter what I was working on. But the notoriety of these projects is definitely something I’ve never encountered in my life. I still don’t know what to make of it.”

On “The Leftovers,” which is based on Tom Perrotta’s 2011 novel, Coon won viewers over with her sensitive and fearless portrayal of a tormented and tragic character. As a wife and mother who loses her entire family, Nora is known for her bizarre acts. She obsessively watches her children’s favorite TV show, she hires prostitutes to shoot her in the chest while she’s wearing a bulletproof vest, and she welcomes a dummy version of her family. In a chilling scene, she shares the dinner table with the mannequins (after a mysterious cult leaves dummy forms of all the departed in the homes of their loved ones).

“So often women of my age are playing the same role over and over again,” she said. “We’re playing the long-suffering wife that gets cheated on or the long-suffering wife with the hapless husband who spends the movie proving he’s not such a bad guy and the wife’ s such a bitch.

"I want to engage in things that are smart and are looking at women in a holistic, interesting way. The woman I know are not as reductive as the women I see on film. They’re actually complicated and compelling. Those are the parts that I would like to play and it’s great because Nora really fits that description. And so did Honey in ‘Virginia Woolf’ and Margo in ‘Gone Girl’ for that matter.”

You know, the real cool girls.