Do not read this interview with “Queens of Country” star Lizzy Caplan and picture her as moody Janis Ian from “Mean Girls.”
This year Caplan becomes a leading lady, not a sidekick. She not only delivers a knockout turn in “Country,” which opens the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival Thursday, but stars in the anticipated romantic comedies /Sundance successes “Save the Date” (with Alison Brie) and “Bachelorette,” (with Kirsten Dunst), which some expect to be this year’s “Bridesmaids.”
In the funny, strange “Queens of Country,” Caplan (who participates in a Q&A following the 7 p.m. screening at the Wicker Park Arts Center) plays Jolene, who distracts herself from an unhappy life with her fiance (Ron Livingston) through a relentless search for the owner of a lost iPod. The device contains the old country music Jolene loves, and she’s sure the owner must be the man of her dreams.
From her home in L.A., the 29-year-old actress (also known for “New Girl,” “Party Down,” “Hot Tub Time Machine” and the upcoming Showtime series “Masters of Sex”) talked about being mocked for wearing a cowboy hat, her big year ahead and when life feels like a country song.
What were your thoughts on country music growing up, and how have they changed since making the movie?
For some reason it seems to be a popular thing to say that you like all kinds of music except country. I hear that a lot. And I think I used to say that when I was a kid, not knowing what the hell I was talking about. I wasn’t raised listening to these guys or girls so it was sort of new to me. They talk about it a little bit in the movie in a very odd way—like everything else in the movie—the difference between old country and new country. I haven’t found too much new country I’m a fan of, but that old stuff, man, I can listen to it all day.
If it makes you feel any better, I think my line used to be, “Everything but country and classical.”
[Laughs.] I never said that because I played classical. So I was clearly a much more highbrow child than you were.
I know you listened to a lot of old country preparing for the movie, and you commented on the “general badassery” of those singers. How much did that influence you? When I watch too many British movies, I almost start talking with an accent.
Oh, no, you’re that guy?
I said almost!
[Laughs.] OK good. I think it’s fun to get totally [immersed] in a role, and it was very easy to do that with this because we shot it in this little town in Arizona called Cave Creek that seemed almost stuck in time. They’ve very into country music. It’s like, the population is, you’re either a cowboy or a biker; that’s the vibe I got. It’s an amazing town. There’s no chain restaurants in Cave Creek. There’s nothing but these little mom and pop shops. It’s fantastic. So it was easy for us to soak up the feel of the time—the movie takes place now, but it’s supposed to feel like a throwback to a bygone era, and that’s exactly what that town feels like. Since we were there for so long—we were there for two months—we were staying in a resort in Carefree, Ariz., which is right next to Cave Creek. It was the off-season I guess because it was over 100 degrees and the weather was miserable. Only the movie people, we were the vast majority of the population of this resort, so we just kind of scooted around on golf carts and we would drink in the bar at the resort or the nearby bar. We just got fully into the whole culture. I wore a cowboy hat every day and then wore a cowboy hat for like a month when I got home until the teasing—I thought the teasing would subside and it didn’t so I [stopped wearing it].
What was the comment that broke the camel’s back?
It was just incessant. Like I know I’m not a cowgirl or whatever. [Laughs.] It was just me loving this movie that I had just finished and people were just rolling their eyes at me. I probably would have done the same thing to a friend. Like, “We get it, you just did a movie that had line-dancing and country singers in it. We get it. Now you’re wearing a cowboy hat. It’s so adorable.”
Your Twitter fan account @welovelizzy wanted to know: In “Queens of Country,” you dance, have an accent and sing a little, so what was the most difficult part of preparing to be Jolene?
Wow. I suppose the dancing because we had to learn these routines and I did not grow up dancing and so I don’t really have that muscle memory that I could draw upon at all. It just takes me a really long time to learn dances. I don’t fancy myself a dancer. I wish that I was more than anything. And so that was the part that I was really freaking out about. I made them get me a dance double because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it, but then we practiced so much I ended up kind of being able to fake it a bit.
How much do you think a person’s musical taste says about them?
I think it says a lot, but I don’t think it says everything anymore. I think that that’s this Facebook generation—I’m not on Facebook, so this is just me kind of being a dick—but I feel like so often you have to match up musical tastes or tastes in books. And, “If two out of the three of your favorite books is the same books that this guy likes, then you’re clearly meant to be!” And now as I get a little older I realize that that’s just fully bull[bleep]. And I embrace people who like different music than I do. I like people who are into stuff that’s the op—not necessarily the opposite, but you don’t have to be exactly like me for me to want to be friends with you or hang out with you. In fact, I think that’s kind of boring; I like to see what other people bring to the table. And people get really passionate about music that has never really been my thing. I love people who are super into jazz because that’s just a world that is not something I know a lot about. And I just think it’s impressive when people march to the beat of their own drummers.
You had previously said something about how someone who watches “Party Down” might break up with their significant other after finding out they watch “Two and a Half Men.” It reminded me of “High Fidelity” when John Cusack notes that it doesn’t matter what you are like, only what you like. I used to believe that but don’t anymore.
Yeah, I think it’s something that you grow out of. I have to admit, with comedy I’m a little bit still stuck in that mindset. [Laughs.] But not fully. And I can understand people liking different types of things. Not so much [laughs] some of those very popular sitcoms. I get that people can get something out of something that I get nothing out of. But I can’t objectively say that some of these comedy shows are good.
So if you found out someone you were seeing was a “Two and a Half Men” fan, would that be a deal-breaker?
It would definitely confuse me. I’d have to do some serious soul-searching. I don’t think I’d be able to do it! ... But I’m sure I’ll grow out of that too.
You have so much coming up this year, and “Queens of Country” could be somewhat of a star-making performance. Did it feel special when you were making it, especially since you haven’t had a lot of opportunity to be a leading lady?
“Queens of Country” is such an odd piece of filmmaking I think people are either going to completely love it or be completely turned off by it. I’ve done a few movies like that in the past, and I always prefer that. I always prefer somebody to have a visceral reaction, whether it be positive or negative, than to be indifferent toward something I’ve done.
“Queens of Country,” did I think [laughs] it’s going to be a star-making thing? I don’t like to think about those things because I think it’s sort of irrelevant. The reason why I wanted to do this movie and it lived up to all of my expectations is because every part of it was completely challenging and weird. I knew it was going to be a lot of work and a lot of hard work. I was lucky enough and still am lucky enough to be in a position where if you take those shots and the movie doesn’t work, nobody really sees the movie. So you feel safe in taking these chances.
Has there been any thought, even in the back of your mind, “Wow, this could be a big year for me?”
Not really. Again, I find that thinking kind of a waste of time. Because if it happens, that’s something you’ll have to adjust to and deal with, and if it doesn’t … I’ve positioned myself mentally in that place before and it hadn’t worked out the way [laughs] that I saw it working out. And that’s difficult to deal with. Now, I think again as I mature a little bit, it’s not the result; it’s not where you end up. I still have a good time doing this and I feel creatively fulfilled, and I must say I feel more creatively fulfilled than ever. I feel like I have shots at things that maybe I didn’t have shots at a few years ago. If getting more famous means that I get to do more of the movies that I want to do, then, like, sign me up for it. As far as the other [bleep], the tabloid fame and all that, I could not be less interested in that.
A lot of people are interested in Showtime’s “Masters of Sex” coming up, in which you play renowned researcher Virginia Johnson. What do you think society would be like without the research she and William Masters (Michael Sheen) contributed?
There’s two ways of thinking about it. On the one hand, I think that it would be radically different because they created a ripple effect that we’re still seeing today. They changed the public’s view of sexuality. It was totally them doing that. People weren’t using sex to sell things really before them. All of the changes that we see now—a woman’s magazine was about cooking and cleaning, it wasn’t about like how many orgasms can you have. It just wasn’t. And while I think the culture was changing around the time that they were becoming famous, I think the trajectory would have been slightly different had they not been around. The woman’s movement was already starting to happen, but in terms of women claiming their sexuality for the first time, that was all Masters and Johnson. And so as a woman, I look back at what they did and I know every part of my life was affected by what they did. Everything we see on TV, every show I go out for, has so much to do with these two, seemingly buttoned-up Midwestern researchers that managed to do something that nobody else was willing to do. Nobody wanted to touch this kind of research.
These days somebody going for the title “Master of Sex” probably isn’t doing a lot of research.
[Laughs.] Well, that’s the title of the book that it’s based on. We’ll see if that title sticks. Because while I understand you sort of need to be very titillating to sell a book, I think our show—I don’t know if that [laughs] helps or hurts our show that it’s called “Masters of Sex.” Even though they were, in fact, masters of sex.
What aspect of your life, if any, has ever reminded you of a country song?
Oh, man. A lot of ‘em. Just like, [laughs] the aggression toward men who have done something not so great to me. I’ve been sort of fortunate to not be screwed over by lots of guys. [Laughs.] But I think I create these narratives in my mind because, especially when I was listening to that much country music, it was like wanting to go and kick the [bleep] out of a guy who wronged you and came home drunk and cheated on you with your best friend. I don’t really have a lot of those experiences in my real life, but I tried to at least create this fantasy world where I was being wronged all the time so I was like pissed at guys for no reason.
What did you imagine yourself doing in these situations?
It tends to be in these songs, the guys get beat up. I always wanted to be somebody who, in a situation, I mean, hopefully not like somebody was doing something awful to me, but maybe I saw a friend across the way, being [bleeped] with by a guy and I go and [laughs] smash a beer bottle over their head or something. I have these weird country/western violent fantasies.
On Chicago: “Well, I love Chicago. My father is from [the South Side]. I go to Chicago. This will not be my first time. My aunt and uncle have this amazing house in Old Town. I’ve only been as an adult a few times but I used to go a lot when I was a kid. It’s a very fun town to be an adult in. That’s for sure. I don’t want to sound super cheesy when I say it, but ‘there’s soul in the streets of Chicago!’ And all the neighborhood bars and stuff, I really dig it. I haven’t really done my research on [bars or restaurants to go to]. I’m sure I will get lots of recommendations. I have lots of friends from Chicago also, so I’ll make sure to study up.”
A song that makes her cry: “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today.” “Either the Bette Midler or the Joe Cocker version makes me cry my eyes out every single time.”
Guilty pleasure movie: “Oh, man, I feel like all I do is watch guilty pleasure movies. I used to see every single movie, good and bad. And I enjoyed a bad movie as much as a good one. But now I don’t really do that so much anymore ... [Laughs.] I tried to watch ‘Footloose,’ the new one, in my hotel room recently. And I wouldn’t say that’s a guilty pleasure but that’s probably the most embarrassing thing I’ve done recently. My guilty pleasures these days skew more toward television … I fell asleep [during ‘Footloose’]. That’s sort of what I do when I watch anything these days. I used to watch all those teen movies, like [laughs], ‘Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen,’ a little shout-out to my previous co-star Lindsay Lohan. I got a lot of mileage out of that one.”
An hour after the interview, her publicist emailed along Caplan’s addition to her cinematic guilty pleasures: “I can't believe I forgot NEVER SAY NEVER..the Justin Bieber movie Probably bc I feel no guilt or shame watching it. Purely pleasure.”
The most embarrassing song on her iPod: “It’s really funny ... , my friends and I, I wanted to do this thing where you had to just play your iPod on shuffle and you weren’t allowed to change any songs and people just had to listen to it. And if you got made fun of, you got made fun of. I’d actually have a lot of ’em. [Laughs.] The one that I listen to that I get made fun of the most, and I get it, but that Corinne Bailey Rae ‘Put Your Records On’ song—I’m sorry, I dig on that song. I don’t know what it is; I know it’s not cool. But I certainly listen to it. [Laughs.]”
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