*Be aware that major SPOILERS are discussed*
From co-creators Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason, the Hulu original Castle Rock is a psychological horror series set in the Stephen King multiverse, where good and evil and darkness and light are brought out in the residents of the small Maine woodland town. And in Season 2, budding psychopath and nurse from hell, Annie Wilkes (played to perfection by Lizzy Caplan), gets waylaid in Castle Rock and finds herself in the middle of the battle between the Merrill crime family and the Somali community.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Elsie Fisher (who plays Annie Wilkes’ teenage daughter, Joy) talked about what she found appealing about Season 2 of Castle Rock, being a Stephen King fan, how much she knew about the story arc ahead of time, the challenges in creating a new character alongside one of the most famous characters King has created, developing the mother-daughter dynamic with Lizzy Caplan, what’s next for Joy, and how she hopes the audience might feel about this duo. She also talked about how she approaches finding the next project, wanting to keep it fun, and the TV series that she’d love to guest on.
Collider: You’ve said previously that this role came along, right after you had finished press for Eighth Grade. At the time, what sort of work were you looking for and hoping to do next, and did Castle Rock fall in line with that, or did this come as a complete surprise for you?
ELSIE FISHER: To that, I have to say both. After Eighth Grade, I was just floating around, looking for something interesting that I felt I could do and was ready to do. When Castle Rock came around, it was just a really interesting experience because I had heard of the show and it was definitely on my radar, and it was really exciting to have them want me on board. It was fun.
Had you been a Stephen King fan?
FISHER: Yeah. It’s really funny, when I was a kid, my dad used to read me The Mist and The Langoliers to go to sleep, and I’ve been like a lifelong fan. So, this was a really exciting experience for me.
What were you told about the season and the character, before signing on? Did they give you a basic idea of what the overall arc could be, or did they wait until you were officially signed on to tell you anything about it?
FISHER: I spoke with Dusty [Thomason], the showrunner, before I was completely signed on, and he gave me, not every detail about my character, Joy, but her story arc. It was really cool to have an idea of where everything was going, beforehand. I had a clue about what was going to happen, but it was great because, throughout the show, along the way, I had so many surprises and unexpected things happen. That was really exciting.
What was it about Joy, as a character, that most appealed to you and that you were most excited about getting to explore?
FISHER: I don’t know. I think it’s wonderful because Joy has some of the most development I’ve really seen in a character, ever. She starts off in this really innocent place and, throughout the show, we watch her discover things about herself and her mother, and really come into her own and become this really different person than she starts as. I thought that was a really interesting character to tackle, and I’m really glad I had that opportunity.
Annie Wilkes is one of the most famous Stephen King characters and we’re so familiar with her later story in Misery, but you’re playing a character that’s new in her world and in the Stephen King universe. What are the challenges in creating a new character, alongside one of the most famous characters Stephen King has created?
FISHER: Yeah, it was a big thing. I don’t want to call it a hurdle to tackle, but it was definitely an object in my mind, that Annie Wilkes is this really famous and established character, and I was going to be part of her story. So, it was really interesting. I feel like Annie is definitely in a very different place than she is in Misery. She is, in a lot of ways, a very different character, in the world of Castle Rock because it’s so far back into her past. So, it was about considering how our relationship would affect the person that she’s going to become, and stuff like that.
Did it also feel very freeing, in the sense that you could make her more your own because you didn’t necessarily have to refer back to previous Stephen King material?
FISHER: Oh, yeah, of course. It was great because my character, Joy, isn’t in Misery and isn’t mentioned in anything, so I got to really put my own spin on her and her life, in my own way, which was nice. Lizzy Caplan does Annie so well that she just made it so easy to do our thing.
When did you first meet Lizzy Caplan, and what was that like?
FISHER: We first met, after I’d actually gotten the job. I flew up to Massachusetts to start pre-production, and both of us had a meeting with the director of Episode 1, Greg Yaitanes, which was so nice. She was just so warm and welcoming, from the first moment, and always so smart and on point. I feel very fortunate that she was the person I got to work with. She’s just wonderful, in every way.
Throughout the shoot, did you guys spend time rehearsing together, at all? Did you work on that relationship, or did it just come very easily?
FISHER: Surprisingly, it did come really easily. We naturally just really had a liking of each other. We definitely did a lot of rehearsals, especially towards the end of the shoot because there were some very heavy scenes. But thankfully, a lot of our relationships and what happens between Joy and Annie came pretty naturally. It felt easy to slip into it.
It seems like every Stephen King story is in a dark world and crazy wild things happen. What kind of atmosphere does that create on set? Did you have a ton of fun on this, or were there some dark and intense days, too?
FISHER: It was honestly some of the most fun I’ve had on a set, ever. I feel like we were blessed with the absolute best crew, cast and everyone. Despite it being so dark, honestly, most of the days on set were very light-hearted and really just playful and fun. And then, as soon as the cameras would roll, we got into it. But I can’t remember a day where what was happening in the scene really affected everyone’s mental health, thankfully.
What would you say are the most memorable and most stand-out moments for you with Lizzy Caplan? Are there scenes that made the biggest lasting impression on you?
FISHER: It feels like every scene. She was so in that character. I feel like she committed so hard that when we were acting on set, I forgot we were on set. It didn’t feel like it. It felt like that was reality, and the reality was that I was Joy Wilkes, the daughter of Annie Wilkes, and we were going across the country in this car, and now we are in this crazy town of Castle Rock. It felt like it was real, so it’s hard to pick a standout. There’s this one scene, in Episode 2, where she’s coming home and my character, Joy, is scared ‘cause Annie looks all banged up, and we have this little fight and argument, and she gives this speech. It gives me the chills, every time I watch it, and when I was there, it was ten times as intense.
It’s so interesting to watch the relationship between these two characters because it is very clear that they don’t have a typical mother-daughter relationship. Their bond is a little more unique. Now that your character is a teenager, that relationship just naturally becomes more strained, and then finding out that your life is not at all what you thought it was, I would imagine would create even more turmoil. Even after finding out that that Annie isn’t actually her birth mother, why do you think it is that Joy still feels that alliance with her and that bond with her, that really makes her step in and save her mother’s life?
FISHER: When someone raises you, and we see this in a lot of situations in real life, there can be a very strained relationship between a parent and a child. I’m not saying it’s what Annie and Joy have, necessarily, but abusive relationships are so toxic because, when you have this emotional connection with someone that you can’t really control, it’s hard to let go. In the case with Annie and Joy, Joy is finding out a lot of things right now and she’s having a lot of discoveries, but it doesn’t change the fact that, deep down, she still loves her mother. You can’t just flip a switch and be like, “Oh, you’re crazy!” No. She’s spent 15 years with this woman. They’re having some turmoil right now, but I think, in the end, Joy really wants to work through it and live a happy life with her mom.
At the same time, there’s a difference between doing something in the heat of the moment and taking a very deliberate action. It seems very clear that Joy came to her mother’s defense, knowing what she was doing, because she had a syringe ready to go and used it of her own free will. How is that going to affect her, going forward? Where did they go from there, after something like that happens?
FISHER: There’s maybe a moment between them where they’ve been having all of this tension lately, and then that happens. Especially when Annie steps up and takes the blame, it’s really a moment of bonding for them, despite what they’ve been through, so far. Joy still hasn’t completely made up her mind about where she’s going to go and what’s happening, but hopefully things are a little better for them, at this point in time.
What do you think it is that Joy wants for her life? What do you think she dreams of, as far as what the possibilities could be?
FISHER: I think that it’s a lot of things. I don’t know if she’d pursue a career in art, or something like that. At this point in time, she’s definitely very confused, and she just wants to figure out who she is and what she wants to do. She’s in a position right now where she can’t do that. After being controlled by her mother for most of her life and living this very odd life on the road, away from other people, I think she just wants to be with other people. She probably feels somewhat starved of connection. I think she just wants to connect and be normal for a little bit.
How do you think audiences will feel about Joy and Annie, by the end of the season?
FISHER: It’s hard to say. I’ve actually looked at a lot of people’s opinions online, about how they feel about the characters, and it’s hard to say. Some people are frustrated at Joy, and some people feel bad for her, and the same for Annie. I hope people can walk away just knowing that neither of these ladies want to be bad or want to be put in this situation. They just want to be good people, deep down. Hopefully, people feel good about them.
Now that this show has wrapped, what’s next for you? Do you know what you want to do next?
FISHER: I don’t know if anyone ever really knows what they want to do next. I really am just searching. It’s so hard looking for a project, after the one that you’ve finished because you feel such a connection to them and you feel like they can never be topped. Hopefully, if something I feel is important comes around and there’s something challenging in it, as an actor, then I would like the opportunity to jump at that.
Is there a current TV series that you watch, that you’d love to do a fun guest spot or guest arc on?
FISHER: Oh, my god! I haven’t watched all of it, but I’m obsessed with Killing Eve. And a lot of people have said that I kind of look like a young Jodie Comer, so I’d love to play her in a flashback episode.
When you look at projects, are you looking for a genre that you think you’d like, or do you want to know who you’ll be working with? How are you deciding what to do next?
FISHER: I don’t know. It’s looking from a lot of different angles. The first thing I usually approach, if it’s available, is a script, and see how I feel about that. And I try to look at the people I would be working with because directors can have such a huge impact, and so can the cast. So, I just try to learn about as many angles as possible, and then, deep down, I ask myself, do I wanna do this? Is this something that would make me happy? Thankfully, I’m in a position right now where I’m a kid, so I don’t have to rely on acting for income or anything. I’m just trying to do as many fun things as possible, and whatever feels like a challenge. I don’t think it’s worth it to not do things that are a challenge.
Castle Rock is available to stream at Hulu.