Impossible 8 Is a Sprint to Finish Line

Impossible 8 Is a Sprint to Finish Line

Lake George co-stars Carrie Coon and Shea Whigham are actors’ actors. They’re highly regarded by their peers, and they elevate every project they’re a part of, whether it’s an indie, a blockbuster or a prestigious cable series. And as soon as the audience sees them on the big or small screen, they immediately know they’re in good hands with the two reliable actors. The duo first worked together on season three of Noah Hawley’s Emmy-nominated Fargo series, and they spent six years trying to reunite until the SAG strike in the summer of 2023 presented a unique opportunity to do just that by way of an interim agreement.

The result is Jeffrey Reiner’s comedic neo-noir Lake George, which premieres tonight at New York City’s Tribeca Festival. The writer-director — who previously worked with Whigham and his daughter Giorgia on a 2018 episode of Dirty John — sent the Lake George script to the Florida native nearly a year before the July ‘23 strike accelerated the matter. And right when Whigham was about to make his frequent recommendation of Coon for the female lead role, Reiner beat him to the punch.

“When Jeffrey and I were sitting together one day, he went, ‘I want this actress that I’ve been thinking about while writing.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, who?’ And he said, ‘Carrie Coon,’” Whigham tells The Hollywood Reporter prior to Lake George’s world premiere in Tribeca’s Spotlight Narrative category.

Whigham plays Don, a white-collar criminal who’s just completed a 10-year prison sentence, and when he goes to retrieve a past debt from the mobster (Glenn Fleshler’s Armen) who had a hand in his downfall, he’s instead coerced into killing Armen’s girlfriend and criminal associate, Phyllis (Coon). But Don, being a former insurance adjuster who simply got in over his head, doesn’t have it in him to pull the trigger, and Phyllis, through her power of persuasion, offers Don a chance to get even with Armen. So the unlikely allies take their show on the California road, as they attempt to strike a balance between revenge and redemption, if there is such a thing. And as it turns out, the two outcasts are exactly what each other needed at this crossroads in their lives. 

“It’s really satisfying when you see two people serve each other in that capacity and illuminate something so that they can move forward,” Coon says. “Ultimately, it’s about people being able to move on from a place in which they’re stuck, and that’s really hard to do.”

Before they get on the same page, Don pulls his newly acquired gun on Phyllis inside a parking garage, and she quickly gives him the slip by weaponizing her purse. Whigham, as Don, then chases after Coon’s character, and the scene naturally harks back to Whigham’s famous foot pursuits with Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker in Joker (2019) and Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning (2023). However, Coon — long before she became an Emmy nominated actor for her Fargo performance as Gloria Burgle — was once a soccer and track star at University of Mount Union in Ohio. (Oddly enough, in Coon’s film Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021), there’s an emotional scene that involves a photo collage, some of which involve her real-life athletic exploits.) All of this is to say that Whigham thinks Coon could give Cruise a serious run for his money if they were to face off in a race.

“Tom [Cruise] is fast, but I don’t know that Tom could outrun Carrie, to be honest with you,” Whigham admits, at the risk of losing annual Cruise Cake privileges. 

As far as what’s next for the two in-demand actors, Coon is headed back to Thailand for the umpteenth time to complete her role on The White Lotus season three. She’ll then return to New York for the third season of her other hit HBO series, The Gilded Age. Whigham, who will soon be reuniting with Michael Shannon for the ninth go-round in Death by Lightning, recently wrapped his four-year odyssey in the Mission: Impossible franchise. He filmed the seventh and eighth installments back to back, and despite facing numerous pandemic and strike obstacles along the way, his experience concluded with a scene he asked writer-director Christopher McQuarrie for on the set of 2023’s Dead Reckoning.

“I said to Christopher McQuarrie on [Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning]: ‘I don’t want a bigger trailer. I don’t want more money. I don’t want better catering. I just want one scene between Tom and I, where you, McQ, write it like The Usual Suspects, and we get a chance to get in there.’ And he delivered,” Whigham shares.

And to top it all off, Cruise invited Whigham to dinner after their big scene, and the Mission: Impossible leading man made it known that production is far from over.

“We did this scene between Tom and myself, and then Tom said, ‘We’re going to go out to dinner.’ So we went out to dinner when I was done, and then Tom said, ‘Do you realize that we come out one year from today? And it’s going to be a sprint to finish the fucking thing,’” Whigham recalls. “What he’s doing now, people are going to be floored. He wants to make this one like an adventure film, and he and McQuarrie have an idea of what they want to do with it. So it’s going to be amazing.”

Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Coon and Whigham discuss the similarities between Lake George and Fargo’s tone, before Coon sets the record straight regarding her fictitious Red Lobster commercial that went viral recently.

Well, Lake George feels like it was specifically designed in a lab in order to appeal to my interests. It stars two of my favorite actors, it has a tone that I’ve always loved and the title involves a place I used to live. I even played organized basketball across the street from one of your locations.

Shea Whigham: Get out!

Carrie Coon: Oh my God, it’s like an algorithm! 

Was this intended to be a Fargo season three reunion between the two of you?

Coon: I think it was designed to put Shea Whigham in a leading man part.

Whigham: (Laughs.) No, it wasn’t designed. Jeffrey [Reiner] passed me this script probably 10 months before I read it, and you think nothing is ever going to come together, but this came together really quick with the strike and the interim agreement. I’m not embellishing or making this up, but every time I go to do something like this, I’m like, “We’ve got to go to Carrie Coon and see if she’ll do it.” So, when Jeffrey and I were sitting together one day, he went, “I want this actress that I’ve been thinking about while writing.” And I was like, “Okay, who?” And he said, “Carrie Coon.” And I said, “Well, it’s going to be hard to go get her. She’s busy.” But she read it, and I think she said yes hours later.

Coon: Yeah, I was sitting on another potential project, and I had to answer that one very quickly. And then Shea was like, “How do you feel about working during this strike?” And I said, “Well, if you have the interim agreement …” So he sent the script to me, I read it, and then we started talking about logistics. Of course, it’s always tricky when you have a family and all that other stuff going on. But I was so thrilled that it worked out, because Shea and I hadn’t worked together since Fargo, which is quite criminal. And Shea’s in everything!

The tone is somewhat reminiscent of Breaking Bad and Fargo, fusing dark comedy with drama and violence. Jeffrey Reiner is Fargo alum as well, having directed a season two episode, but for two people who actually worked within Fargo season three’s tone, is Lake George actually similar underneath it all?

Coon: I’m flattered by that comparison. 

Whigham: Yeah. (Whigham nods in agreement.)

Coon: Lake George is a comedic noir, and that also characterizes what Fargo is up to, somewhat. I know that the way that it’s shot is very reminiscent of those ‘90s noir films, but with a little bit more of a comic bent. So, yes, I think your comparison is not unfounded. What do you think, Shea? What do your talking points say, Shea?

Coon & Whigham: (Laugh.)

Whigham: You see how I get treated by her? 

Coon: (Laughs.)

Whigham: It’s a very personal film for Jeffrey.

Coon: Definitely. 

Whigham: I also said to Carrie: “When you come out, you’re going to experience a different California.” We are going to take it from Pasadena and Glendale — all the way through the valley — and then to Santa Barbara and all the way up to Mammoth. So that’s one of the things that I most loved about it.

Coon: I had never been to any of those places. I’ve barely been to Glendale, but they have delicious empanadas, by the way.

Going from a big movie to the stage is probably the ultimate example of this, but the two of you were both coming off of big movies in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning and Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. Is there something rejuvenating or restorative about getting back to basics on a small indie set after working within those complex machines? 

Coon: It’s the best! You work every day, and you work so hard and so fast. And you never get everything you want, which is actually its own exercise. I had never seen those parts of California. I’ve never done a road movie like this, especially in a matter of 21 days. Jeffrey gave us a couple of things to watch in particular. There’s a great movie from the ‘70s called The Late Show with Lily Tomlin. I would never compare myself to Lily Tomlin, but [Lake George] is actually about relationships. It’s couched in noir, but it’s actually a redemption story and it’s about two people finding each other at a time in their lives when they’re really going through a transition. And like Shea said, it’s really personal for Jeffrey. So these small pictures are the best. You’re working with a small crew, and you have to be really mobile. We’re changing locations all the time, and they’re just the most fun. They feel like the good old days. Am I wrong, Shea? 

Whigham: No.

Coon: Maybe you love those big blockbusters, but I find that you’re not working in the same [way]. I don’t work all the time on Ghostbusters. There’s a lot of sitting around and waiting, and there’s no waiting on an indie film. You are working every day.

Whigham: Yeah, we actually got to explore scenes and try things, but it’s hard. It’s really hard making these [small indies], but I like that. I don’t like when everything is going smoothly without obstacles. But we got to really try stuff, and I think you feel that inherently in this film. You see two people who are really connecting, and it’s not just on the road. There are different parts in the film where you see these two exchange a look or a glance, and that’s what’s magic about the piece.

Don and Phyllis both fell in with this mobster (Glenn Fleshler’s Armen), and they’ve each suffered for it to varying degrees. And when I think about their unexpected team-up as a whole, I sum it up as she needed to meet someone with inherent decency, while he needed a reminder that he is inherently decent. Do you see it similarly? 

Coon: Yeah, that’s a beautiful way to put it. 

Whigham: Yeah.

Coon: Guilt is a really powerful and, ultimately, really useless emotion that deserves to be expunged. So it’s really satisfying when you see two people serve each other in that capacity and illuminate something so that they can move forward. Ultimately, it’s about people being able to move on from a place in which they’re stuck, and that’s really hard to do.

Shea, you’ve had foot chases with the likes of Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and the Joker (Joaquin Phoenix), but could anything have prepared you for your parking garage pursuit of former collegiate soccer and track superstar Carrie Coon? 

Coon & Whigham: (Laugh.)

Whigham: Let me tell you, on that day, there was a lot of stretching prior to that.

Coon: You were also bleeding by the time we did that, because I had assaulted you so soundly.

Whigham: (Laughs.) Carrie is down for anything, and I like to keep the work visceral and real. So when she had to take her purse at me, I just remember telling her to haul off. We had the stunt person there, and I said, “Listen, back off a little bit here. She’s going to really go for this.” And Carrie did. She caught me …

Coon: With the chain on the purse.

Whigham: Yeah, the chain on the purse got me, and that’s as it should be, because, then, you’re in it. But she is fast. She’s like that little bunny that the dogs chase at the dog track. So I couldn’t catch her. She’s too fast.

Coon: I used to be a lot faster, but Shea is one of those “hit me” actors. Those guys are fun.

Whigham: Tom [Cruise] is fast, but I don’t know that Tom could outrun Carrie, to be honest with you.

Coon: I think Tom Cruise and I should have a foot race. Do you think he’d be open to that?

Whigham: I think he’s very competitive, as are you.

Coon: But he has all the money in the world for training. I don’t have that kind of support system. We’ll talk.

Whigham: You hear things like an alligator can outrun a horse within 30 yards or something like that, so after it gets past 30 with Tom, I’m not really sure.

Coon: We’d have to find an optimal distance. 

It should be a pay-per-view event for $49.95. 

Coon & Whigham: (Laugh.)

Coon: It should open the [Paris 2024] Olympics. 

An argument could be made that this movie is partially about the downside of method acting or the creation of a faux reality to achieve one’s desired objective. Is that too far of a reach? 

Coon: I’d say it goes far beyond method acting because people are doing that in real life. People are playing out their fantasies, and they go too far at … a bank. It’s not just in our work. People live with incredible delusion. So many people are living quiet desperation, and they will do almost anything to sustain the illusion that they need to survive. So much art is about what happens, and what’s left, when those delusions are taken away. And actors, in some ways, have a healthier way to ask that question than the average person.

I love finding connections on projects, and Shea, Lake George’s DP, Tod Campbell, was also your DP on Homecoming. You’ve worked with Glenn Fleshler a bunch as well. Carrie, the music supervisor, Liza Richardson, worked on our beloved The Leftovers, but are there any others I’m overlooking?

Coon: Cleta Elaine Ellington! She’s a great first AD, and she’s also a producer on Lake George. I worked with Cleta down in Texas [on The Leftovers season two]. I also accidentally walked into her mom’s house in Jackson to find some jewelry, and I found out that it was her mother. So it’s quite lovely the way this business operates. People come in and out of our lives, especially the ones you like. Shea and I did Fargo at least seven years ago, and that kind of symmetry is one of the beautiful things about this business. We had some lovely nights with everybody on [Lake George]. So often, the cast and the crew are separate on those big projects; you don’t really hang out. But, man, we were all stuck in these motels in Lone Pine, and we got to really sit around and get to know everybody. It was really charming.

Whigham: As I get older and I move through these things, I am looking more for experiences than anything else, and this was a true experiential piece, as Carrie just said. You’ll see on screen what we were feeling inherently. You have these seminal moments in your career, and one of mine was with [James] Gandolfini about a month before he died. I was having dinner with him, Tim Van Patten and my brother [Jack Whigham], and Jim said, “I just want to work with people that I love from here on out. People that will bring it, that will care as much as I do, but people that I love.” And it stuck with me. Mission: Impossible is now a family. That’s a four-year experience. So when they called cut, I was standing there [emotional], and it’s the same thing with Lake George. When they called cut on that last scene by the lake, it was as emotional a day as I’ve had, and that’s what I want. You talked about method acting, but I want to get as close to touching the void as we can. I want to travel deep into these things, and we did.

Coon: You don’t have control over how a project gets received in the world or if it gets distributed or if anybody likes it. All you can control is your life, and your life is happening when we make the thing. The rest of it happens on the Internet.

Carrie, since we’re sitting here with one of the stars of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning and Mission: Impossible 8, have you informed Shea that you’re currently making your way through that film series? 

Coon: I don’t know if Shea is a fan of [the social media platform formerly known as Twitter] where I post all of my movie watches, but it’s true. I’m actually gearing up for [Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol] this week. Perhaps Thursday. I’ll let you know. [Writer’s Note: She did indeed let us know, but she opted for Wednesday.]

To follow up on our most recent Ghostbusters chat, did you appreciate Mission: Impossible III more than Mission: Impossible 2

Coon: Well, three is kind of notorious, isn’t it?

Mission: Impossible 2 is generally considered to be the notorious one. You referred to it as “cheesy.” 

Coon: Two is pretty cheesy, yeah.

The consensus is that Mission: Impossible III was a course correction, especially because of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance. 

Coon: Phil was definitely great. You can’t really hold its feet to the fire when it comes to the science behind it, but let’s say I’m enjoying the tropes. Every franchise has its own set of rules and symbols, and so it’s like learning a new language and I always appreciate learning a new language.

Shea, just to confirm once more, you’ve now wrapped the four-year saga of shooting two Mission: Impossible movies “back to back”? 

Whigham: I wrapped [Mission: Impossible 8] ten days ago. [Writer’s Note: This conversation took place on 6/6.]

Coon: Wow! Are your knees intact? 

Whigham: Barely! It took four years. We made Lake George in 21 days, but they don’t mean any less to me, if that makes sense. I count myself as lucky with the stuff I’ve been working on lately, but yes, we’re done. Tom’s not done, and [Mission: Impossible 8] comes out next May. I said to Christopher McQuarrie on [Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning]: “I don’t want a bigger trailer. I don’t want more money. I don’t want better catering. I just want one scene between Tom and I, where you, McQ, write it like The Usual Suspects, and we get a chance to get in there.” And he delivered. We did this scene between Tom and myself, and then Tom said, “We’re going to go out to dinner.” So we went out to dinner when I was done, and then Tom said, “Do you realize that we come out one year from today? And it’s going to be a sprint to finish the fucking thing.”

Coon: Wow.

Whigham: And I was like, “What!?” Because we’re gone. The rest of the cast is all scattered, and he went, “Yeah, it’s going to be a sprint. I go all summer.” I can’t even explain how he does the stuff that he does. What he’s doing now, people are going to be floored. He wants to make this one like an adventure film, and he and McQuarrie have an idea of what they want to do with it. So it’s going to be amazing.

Carrie, you’ve gone viral for a great many things, but perhaps the strangest example occurred recently via your fictitious Red Lobster commercial in a 2017 short film, co-starring your Gilded Age husband, Morgan Spector. Was Great Choice going viral on your 2024 bingo card?

Coon: (Laughs.) I can’t say it was, but I did feel that I needed to correct the record in that I was not in a Red Lobster commercial in the ‘90s. That would put me much older than my actual age. So, as an actress, I felt responsible for making sure people knew that I’m not 70 or however old I would’ve been. They were also making fun of our styling, but they needed to understand that we were copying a commercial from the ‘90s. So I did not expect it to get picked up and disseminated by major publications, but I’m thrilled because I love exposing people to Robin Comisar, who’s a really talented filmmaker. He did all of the supportive video in Christine (2016), which is a great film with Rebecca Hall and [Coon’s husband] Tracy [Letts]. She gave a beautiful performance that should have been recognized more that year. So Robin did all of the news commercials from the 1970s, which were so brilliant. And so, if nothing else, I hope some work comes out of this for Robin Comisar. And, of course, the other thing that came out of it was my great and notorious friendship with Morgan Spector.

Instead of a chemistry read with Morgan during The Gilded Age casting, did the two of you just submit that short film instead? 

Coon: (Laughs.) “Here’s a video of me cutting out his tongue. Will that help?”

Whigham: (Unaware of the Great Choice phenomenon.) I don’t know what’s going on here. What’s happening?

Coon: Well, you should look up Great Choice on the interwebs, Shea.

Whigham: Yeah, I’m pretty behind on that one. Hey, have we talked about White Lotus yet? Can we get something out of you, Carrie?

Coon: No! I’m not allowed to talk about White Lotus, Shea.

Shea needs to be on the next season of White Lotus.

Coon: Shea is definitely a White Lotus actor. 

Mike White brings back at least one previous character each season, so Steve Zahn should return next season and Shea should play his brother. There’s always been a resemblance between you guys.

Whigham: He’s a great actor.

Coon: Look, I’ll see what I can do. [Steve Zahn] is great, and he was wonderful in season one. Shea, if you want to slip me a résumé, I can take it with me when I head back to Thailand.

Whigham: How many times have you gone back and forth to Thailand?

Coon: Oh my god, like 17 times.

Whigham: Do you have stock in that airline now?

Coon:  I’ve flown Singapore [Airlines] a few times, and it’s a marvelous airline. But stocks in airlines are falling a little bit. That turbulence is no joke. And sorry, everybody, I hate to break it to you, but climate change is going to make that a much more frequent occurrence. So buckle your safety belts.

Well, congratulations to the two of you on Lake George and its world premiere at the Tribeca Festival. I enjoyed it immensely.

Coon: Thank you. Clearly, we made it just for you, and we’re glad you enjoyed it.

Lake George is now playing the Tribeca Festival through June 13.

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