Carrie Coon Opens Up About Nora Durst’s Vulnerabilities

Motherhood, grieving, and that trampoline sequence; the actor sheds some light on Nora Durst at the beginning of Season 3.

HBO: How is Nora different in Season 3?

Carrie Coon: Season 2 Nora is very hopeful. She cobbled together a new family and moved to a new town. She has the opportunity for a new beginning, and there’s a lightness in her at the top of [Season] 2. Unfortunately, in [Season] 3 we discover very quickly she’s seemed to have lost someone again, and it’s obvious she is operating under a veneer and obscuring her feelings from Kevin. Likewise, Kevin is keeping some of his new coping mechanisms a secret from Nora. 

HBO: What does that mean for their relationship?

Carrie Coon: In a relationship founded in honesty, this is untenable. We’re not sure if they are going to be able to withstand this trial. Pushing Kevin away is what facilitates the possibility of an opportunity that she’s deeply skeptical of, but also, obsessed with discovering if it’s real — the opportunity to see her children again is too tempting to resist. 

HBO: How important is being a mother to Nora?

Carrie Coon: When Nora Durst’s family disappears, her identity as a wife and a mother does too. Suddenly she’s none of those things. What that opens is the possibility for ultimate freedom. Nora could walk away from that life and be anything she wants; but she doesn’t. Nora reclaiming motherhood again and again is her grasping for steady ground; that’s an identity she understands — and if she doesn’t hold on to “grieving woman,” “mother,” “DSD [Department of Sudden Departures] Investigator,” then she has to really consider the nature of identity itself. That’s a huge question to take on, and I don’t think she has the resources to do that right now. It’s much easier for her to cling to motherhood than to go very deep philosophically into that possibility of having no self-identity. But the tension of the possibility of walking away from her old life always exists in Nora.

HBO: In Episode 2, why is Nora so bothered by the Pillar Man’s wife claiming he departed? 

Carrie Coon: Nora is doggedly in the pursuit of truth. She’s not objective about that, and viewers can certainly pinpoint times where she’s been contradictory or dishonest — but we like to believe we’re being honest with ourselves. The human brain is really great at evasion, we avoid rational examination of our own motivations. We justify everything we do. 

Nora’s children and husband did depart; that is her territory to claim. To have someone falsely claiming is offensive to her: You do not get to claim that emotional territory because it does not belong to you, and you can’t actually understand what it feels like to have that experience. The experience of losing someone in thin air — that is an itch, to put it mildly, you can’t scratch. Nora’s fiercely protective of that experience: People who don’t understand it shouldn’t be able to talk about it.

HBO: Do you think the show presents the grieving process in a unique way?

Carrie Coon: Even though you could argue the premise of the show is somewhat supernatural, the grief in it feels very truthful to me. [Series co-creator] Damon [Lindelof] seems to understand that grief is not a linear process. We don’t move through levels of grief one by one, check them off and then go forward to the next, we actually move in and out of them suddenly, gradually, unexpectedly over time. It’s a fascinating process.

Damon is skilled at writing women as full human-beings, whenever he thrusts Nora back into sadness, anger or some kind of elation, he’s always putting [me] in that position to tell the story more fully. It’s never just an exercise in indulgence. Often times, I think women are asked to cry for the sake of crying, to move the plot along or whatever it is. Or because their circumstances are just that black and white. But Nora’s circumstances are never black and white. There is always more ambiguity in a Damon Lindelof show, and I think that’s why the picture of grief feels much more real.

HBO: How has Nora and Erika’s relationship changed since the interview scene in “Lens”?

Carrie Coon: I have always loved Regina King as an actor and I was so gratified to have the opportunity to work with her. I love that at the end of that scene [in “Lens”] it’s antagonistic, and yet there is also a grudging respect. There are very few people in the show that have been able to stand up against Nora, and Regina’s character, Erika, is one of them. That respect opens up space for a friendship to develop, because Erika demonstrates compassion, intuition and understanding. Nora always thinks she has the answer to the question, and in that scene in “Lens,” we see she doesn’t. There’s something she can learn from Erika. 

Then we have this time jump, and it was unexpected to me that the writers would choose to develop a friendship between Nora and Erika, but it made so much sense. We rarely have seen Nora take the opportunity to open up to someone, be vulnerable and ask for help. [In “Don’t Be Ridiculous”] that’s a real, genuine vulnerability we get in Nora. I think it’s really exciting to see a female friendship that developed off screen and see the fruits of it on the show. And I feel like it’s really grounded in reality. You can understand why these two smart women would gravitate to each other, especially after Erika has also lost a child. Erika dignifies Nora’s experience. 

HBO: Let’s talk about the moment on the trampoline.

Carrie Coon: I love this, because so often you see grief dealt with emotionally or intellectually. But one of the things I know from my studies as an actor is how we hold our trauma in our bodies. Depression actually hurts, physically. This is such a beautiful, graceful note about moving through grief. It’s also really great as an actor to be asked to use your body. It helps you ground a performance.

HBO: Did you have “Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)” playing while you jumped?

Carrie Coon: We did have the music playing. It was great fun. It was one of those days: “Is this really my job?”

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