Elizabeth Cappuccino, star of “Next” with John Slattery, lets SBJCT in on her process, preparation, and walking the walk that comes with having a platform. Lizzy, a fiercely loyal Scorpio, spoke with EW about the collective US and how we are all in this together. Read on below…
BY ERIN WALSH
PHOTO UNGANO + AGRIODIMAS
DRESS Cinq a Sept + Ulla Johnson
Erin Walsh Hi Lizzy! Thank you so much for joining us. Congrats on your work thus far, I would love to delve a bit into your process and what really makes you tick. To start, tell us a bit about your background and your initial days as an actor? Where did you grow up and how did you first get into the BIZ?
Elizabeth Cappuccino Well I’m the youngest of six kiddos to two doctor parents who raised us in Buffalo, NY. We actually lived way out in the boonies and would drive 45 minutes to school in and out everyday. It was a bit of a slog especially in the wintertime. I can’t tell you how many times I prayed for a snow-day. Anyway we’re a big movie-loving family, but for most of my upbringing I was on a professional ballet track. While I would be auditioning for ballet company’s summer intensives and training conservatively 30 hours a week after school and on weekends, I would picture myself being in the films we watched as a family. After classes and rehearsals, most dancers would run home and watch youtube video’s of quadruple pirouettes, and I would go home into my room and hide on the other side of my bed and quietly cry watching actresses accepts their academy awards.
So pathetically it just took a minute for my brain and my heart to synch up. Eventually I tested the acting waters out around 14 at a local adult acting class. For my first time working in front of the class I remember preparing this scene from the movie Matchstick Men. For the life of me I cannot remember anything in the scene other than that I took one of my brothers skateboards (that had Yoda on the deck) and was like really trying to “get into character.” I was probably very very lame performing it, but I felt REALLY cool at the time doing it. Needless to say I was obsessed. I quit ballet cold turkey, applied for a summer acting program in Paris, got in underaged, and got my agents in NYC about a year later. I was determined. It was kinda like that When Harry Met Sally quote “when you realize what you want, you want the rest of your life to begin as soon as possible.” I would self tape for projects before that was the norm, and if I had a callback I would skip school and travel to New York City to go in for it. My parents were shockingly chill about the skipping school part in retrospect. I booked my first job in a reoccurring role on a show while I was still a senior in high school in Buffalo. I then applied early decision to NYU Tisch to train, and got in. The rest is history.
COAT Rochas TOP Aya Muse PANT Aya Muse SHOES Miu Miu
EW Tell us about your process. What are some of the tools that you use to step into a character.
EC I’ve had many wonderful teachers and some downright detrimental…but one of the best said “No recipes, whatever works.” For me the script is gospel. So my first step is to read the script. Let first impressions wash over me. Then read it again to analyze the arcs, my role, and the world of the play. I need to know how and where my character fits in this world and how they serve the story. Next step play comes in.. I always want to bring really rich full life to any character—I love fleshing out my characters pasts—creating things that aren’t on the page. If I need to embed an emotional trigger, I create a memory and do an improv to fully experience it..I look and sound like a crazy person sometimes in my bedroom screaming and crying playing 4 different people to create the memory. But this way I can play any character, not just characters that have had my experiences in life. Other than that costuming and hair&makeup really do it for me.. I transform when I get the characters look right. Even down to the right shoes can make my posture and body language different…it’s critical for me. My friends come to me all the time to help wardrobe them for auditions.. I’ve even worn wigs in the past (convinced this is how I booked Jessica Jones.) This has lead to multiple friends comparing me to Moira from Schitt’s Creek because of my wig collection. And last but not least, I’m always always off book. I cannot act if I’m reaching for a line. I need to know it in my bones. SO, lots of prep…then let it all go and do the damn thing.
EW How did your role in “Next” come about? Can you tell us a bit about playing Abby and what we can expect from the show? How was the process of finding this character different from others?
EC Getting cast as Abby was a bit of a whirlwind week. I got the audition on Monday night, did the audition Tuesday morning in person, and then Wednesday I was getting on a flight to go to SXSW when my agents called me to warn me that I might need to cancel my trip to go to LA Friday to screen-test for the role. Luckily we worked it out so I could do my weekend in Austin and test in LA on Monday. I think I was cast the day after the screen test. You wanna book a job, book a vacation! Playing Abby was definitely emotionally draining. Finding Abby meant fleshing out the history of emotional neglect with her father, and how that shaped who she became, how she acts today, and why she didn’t go into the family business or continue a relationship with Paul. Not only does Abby have to deal with the existential threat of the A.I Next, which would be draining enough, but also she’s really being forced to reckon with her relationship with her father. For Abby it’s this painful series of giving him a chance, wanting him to show up for her finally, and ultimately being let down. How many times can she set herself up for disappointment? And that trust is what gets tested through this season.
There’s nothing harder than holding back laughter when you’re not suppose to laugh.
FULL LOOK Akris HAT Lack of Color RINGS Jenny Bird + Tai
EW What surprised you in working with John Slattery? Any interesting stories of filming together?
EC John’s lovely to work with. It’s the first time in my career I’ve worked with an actor who was on a show I was obsessed with. I don’t know if it’s surprising to anyone, but I can confirm he’s one the best and funniest storytellers I’ve ever met. Not only did he elevate the work we were doing on set, but also once cut was called he’d be very generous to indulge me in tales about his seasoned career and life. You could always count on him for a laugh. Once we were filming a quieter emotional scene after lunch and it took a few minutes to settle into it because we couldn’t get through a take without laughing. It’s one of those scenes filled with beats trying to find the right words to say to each other, and inevitably during a moment of silence his stomach would growl from the meatballs he had at lunch, and once that continued to happen in the same pause we both couldn’t get a take without laughing. There’s nothing harder than holding back laughter when you’re not suppose to laugh.
EW I have read you say that, “ You didn’t decide to be an actor. It is just something you are.” As a parent I find this so fascinating and so true, because with your children, you realize the second they are born that you have the ability to see actually who they are. Have you always been tapped into yourself in this way? I wouldn’t call it confidence, I would call it consciousness…
EC I think I have… And it’s a great distinction to make because I’m not always confident, especially in the beginning I wasn’t. I was blindly working from gut and drive jumping into this career path. Even this year as I open new doors, I learn things I didn’t know. Performing has always been in my nature, it just took a minute to discover the true vessel for that expression. And speaking on parenting… I was very fortunate to have parents that allowed that space for my siblings and me. They encouraged us to be whatever we wanted, and I think growing up in a household with that kind of nurture, always being told we could do whatever we committed ourselves to with hard work was invaluable. My parents are very brave in that way. In fairness, my mother isn’t a show mom AT ALL, but she loved seeing me onstage, so who knows, maybe she just knew too… The only person who felt fear of being an actor was me. Once you know what you are in your heart, any other path would be settling and I knew that I didn’t want to get to the end of the road and think “ if I only I hadn’t given up.”
FULL LOOK Chanel HAT Lack of Color
EW What do you think the social responsibility of being an actor and an artist is?
EC I think artists need to be true to themselves and it’s not my place to dictate to anyone how they should engage in their civic duty as an individual. You never know what people are doing behind the scenes and just because someone isn’t ranting about it on their instagram, doesn’t mean they’re not doing good work in their own private way.. I’d much rather that than virtue signaling. Having said that, if you reach a certain level of influence, I believe it’s important to acknowledge your privilege and platform, and at the most basic level commit no malpractice— do no harm. Artists work mirrors culture back to our audience and hopefully brings awareness to ideas/issues or we make projects that are medicine to the ails of the world we live in. Anything beyond that work we do in our craft then I believe is the artists’ choice to publicly engage or not. I choose to partake in these social and political dialogues and movements because I’m just that kind of person.. I’m more of an open book and I like engaging with people and learning what my blindspots are, and then trying to share what I’ve learned as well. A good dose of humility is important, and I think that it’s a fine line to walk, but when done right you can have influence as an artist and activist in a rehabilitate sense without shaming people. If you’re lucky enough that people are tuning into you outside your work then I think it’s valuable to use that privilege for good, but hey that’s me. My influences were like that so, so am I.
EW Did you have any humble lessons in your journey from NYU to going professional?
EC I think the best lesson I’ve learned since NYU is that not everyone gets to catapult to stardom- doesn’t matter how good you were in class. A majority of actors struggle and struggle for a really long time— and there’s no shame in that. When you’re ambitious you feel like you’re on some artificial deadline, especially when you and your classmates are fresh out of school, but I think many of the best in the business steadily ascended. You’re lucky if it happens any other way. Your talent isn’t reflected in the speed you climb. Most careers are made up of bit parts that get bigger and bigger. If you don’t believe me, go back and watch any long running series and you’ll see some of the biggest award winning stars doing two line roles. If I’ve learned anything is that you must settle in for the long haul-support your friends, be patient, and focus on your own journey.
EW New York has changed a great deal this year. Will you stay a New Yorker?
EC Oh yea! Most of my family is on the east coast still so that makes it very easy for me. The only reason I’d ever leave NYC voluntarily is to go to some farmland right outside the city, but I’d never be more than a quick train or car ride away. I’m addicted to NYC, I’ll always need my fix. What do you love about NYC? There are moments in NYC where it still takes my breath away. Especially when I return and I’m driving in seeing the avenues curve at sundown.. I’m such a sucker for this garbage island. Whenever I arrive here I ironically feel like I can breath (given the poor air quality, this is an insane notion). It’s a city filled to the brim with talent and personality. As an actor you’re a creative amongst many others— and you’re just a small part of this blossoming eco-system of visual artists, chefs, photographers, makeup artist, designers, writers, the list could go on and on.. and to be in community with these folks inspires me. I love the classic NYC sentimentally, I could get lost walking up and around central park wearing an Annie hall outfit in a fantasy of my own making listening to Jazz on spotify.
And then in that same day, run downtown in an insanely fun sparkly Y2K outfit and dance with my friends to Robyn in a Chinese restaurant that’s been retrofitted into a disco for the night where people are still smoking inside.. THEN round it out by getting a cup Borscht and coffee at a 24 hour polish diner. Name somewhere else in the world you can do that in the same 24 hours?! What frustrates you about it, particularly now? All my friends and the countless others who are out of work due to either the arts and or the service industry shutdowns. The arts and culinary scene drive tourism. People make pilgrimages from all over the world to this country to experience this city. It’s unconscionable and so demoralizing that there has been so little federal support for these culture making communities in the “greatest country on earth.” I’m also upset by the homelessness issue going into winter. Half the buildings in midtown are empty and there are still sick hungry people on the streets that we “can’t help” in again “the greatest country on earth.” Our priorities in this country are really out of balance and whack.
EW If being an actor is, as you say, who you are, who else are you? What are some other ways that you would describe yourself?
EC I’m a daughter, sister, lover, friend, cook, scorpio sun, virgo moon, virgo ascendent, ridiculously gullible, terribly anxious traveller, too sensitive for my own good, hard worker, cinephile, francophile, produce and farmers market obsessed, dog lover, cat lover, overall animal lover, borderline OCD and a bit of a over thinker…Can ya tell?
I really believe we’re in a crisis of empathy.
EW What are some of your favorite ways to contribute, some of your favorite causes? We would love to direct our readers as to how they can be a part of the change YOU would like to see in the world…
EC Okay the best thing we can all do right now in my very humble opinion is to get involved LOCALLY. I really believe we’re in a crisis of empathy. We don’t take care of or trust our actual neighbors anymore. Any long-lasting changes to the collective consciousness start small in your community and moves up from there. Elections don’t happen just every four years, they’re constantly happening, so stay on top of who your local officials are and what they’re doing. And find a couple causes that motivate you and I guarantee you can find opportunities in your community to do work in that area. For example I really care about climate change as a macro issue— as a micro but tangible result I volunteered this summer in Buffalo at a community garden that’s run by a food bank. The results were I went to a less fortunate community, learned about that community, and then helped grow food that was harvested by volunteers, and then distributed to those in that community and those experiencing food insecurity due to COVID-19. It also addresses the health crisis in this country by getting good foods to those that normally couldn’t afford organic produce. It helped in more ways than one. I think the best thing we can give is ourselves and our time. But if not donate- to your local womens’ shelter, to your local food bank etc. Macro give to Sierra Club, Sunrise Movement, Preemptive Love, Okra Project, find a cause and give just $5 dollars a month as a subscription so these organizations can effectively use your money.
EW What is keeping you sane these days? Both physically and emotionally?
EC Emotionally I’ve been committing to journaling more. Making my way through the Artist’s Way currently as we speak. Also using this time to get really clear and honest with myself on goals for my life and the future. I’ve been given this time to just sit at home and think, I don’t want to waste it. Cooking brings me a lot of joy — I’ve started my own starter for bread and made my own yogurt for the first time which has been a fun adventure in growing cultures and yeast. Full of panic that I’m going to accidentally poison myself, but so far so good! Physically SkyTing T.V and Deliciously Ella are two apps x browsers where I find yoga videos. That kind of movement feels so good for my body. My mood feels drastically different after I practice, even if only for 15 minutes. And baths. My parents house back home in Buffalo where I’ve divided my pandemic time has a bath that I’ll soak in with a mask and either tea or a glass of wine with Epsom salts and a candle lit. It calms my whole nervous system down right away.
EW Where do you go when you need space and quiet?
EC In the city it’s nearly impossible. When things get really desperate I usually come back home to Buffalo. My parents place is way outside the city and they have a lot of land where I can roam and think. It always takes a moment to adjust to just how quiet it is at night when there’s not an ambulance whipping by or drunkards outside your room at all hours of the night. As a very sensitive person I need to cut sound when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Favorite place in the world? Any major city or tucked away home in nature by myself in a chunky turtleneck very early in the morning when it’s quiet with a cup of coffee hot enough to warm my hands but not burn my tongue as I sip.
EW Current obsession in terms of film, TV, reading?
EC Dolly Parton. It’s taken me years to arrive here, but what the hell she’s amazing…? Her music gives me all the feels. She and Jane Fonda blow my mind. Two artists who are political in diametrically opposed ways. 9 to 5 created something pleasurable and fun, but also effectively addressed problems for women in the work place in a way that got people to listen without lecturing. That’s an inspiring way to effect change, it’s like spoon feeding a baby secret medicine. I highly recommend criterion channel for any movie lover— I was an early adopter of Filmstruck (R.I.P.) Current obsessions include Robert Altman’s Three Women, Cassavetes Opening Night, and Linklater’s Before Trilogy. In reading I’m keeping up with anti-racism work— reading Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. That book should be required reading throughout American high schools. I’m also reading Naomi Klein’s Capitalism VS the Climate. I’d also recommend Joy Harjo’s An American Sunrise, the poem “Washing My Mothers Body” moves me to tears every time. I’m not going to lie, on TV I really feel saturated by the market, but I’ll recommend two shows Great British Baking Show because it’s my emotional support show, and How to with John Wilson. How to gives me a proud friend moment because my best friend worked on this for a year, but it’s also overall a lovely funny bizarre heartwarming portrait of humanity and New Yorkers.
DRESS Mara Hoffman CAPE Vintage SHOES Staud
EW What do wish our readers to know about you that perhaps that may not have known?
EC I can’t believe I even have to say this, but NO. I did NOT choose Cappuccino as a stage name. What a ridiculous choice that would be! If I had to choose any coffee beverage to name myself it would be Elizabeth Espresso because the double E’s are good for monogramming and it’s almost like expresso for acting. Cappuccino is my given name since birth.
EW Do you keep anything in the way of a 5 or 10 year plan?
EC Ish…I have dreams for those timelines that I’m currently getting very specific on, but I also know that the universe has better plans for us than our little brains could ever concoct, so I’ll stay flexible. I’ll co-create with her and see where I land! Check back in in another 5- 10.
EW When do you find yourself feeling competitive?
EC Ugh, competition is so difficult for me..it can be a very ugly quality. I suppose I feel competitive when I feel like I’m getting left or falling behind. I understand there’s such a thing as healthy competition (or so my therapist says haha) but I feel it needs to be used to ignite your own inner fire. It should not be used for beating someone else to make yourself feel better. Competition needs to be harnessed purely. I say this fully acknowledging that I do get jealous and feel competitive.. you don’t want to see my siblings and I on family game night..But in all seriousness I try to examine any feelings of competition in my life now through the light of “well look where they are and how they got there, it shows you can get there too, it’s possible.” I try to let it motivate me. No two actors are the same and there’s plenty of room for us all.
COAT Miu Miu JUMPER Zimmerman TOP Sandy Liang JEWELRY Jenny Bird + Jennifer Fisher
EW What makes you very proud?
EC I’m a deeply loyal person. That’s the scorpio in me. I’ve had the same best friends since I was four and to have maintained these friendships through ups and downs has been one of the best gifts of my life. It’s relationships and friends like these that keep me going when it’s so hard to work and break into this industry. There weren’t industry people in my family when I started. I’ve done this relatively on my own, but it’s possible through the continued emotional support of loved ones. So having a good group of people- friends and family, some now in the business, but many whom aren’t, that’s what I’m most proud of. Those I surround myself with. I’m very fortunate to be in the company I keep.
EW What do you hope your legacy to be?
EC I want my work to speak for who I am. Some people work to live, and I wholeheartedly respect that, but my work is my life. So I want what I’ve done to speak for me. In my vocation I hope to leave behind a body of work that’s multi-dimensional and encourages future actors to continue the craft. In what I do, I hope to have left behind an earth better than the one my generation has inherited and to have fought to change the systems that have let us get this far behind. I hope to inspire empathy and caring in others. My idols taught me to lead with my heart locally and globally, and I hope to be the same way for the next generation. I want to be adored in memory, what human or especially what actor doesn’t?
We’re all in this together- sink or swim.
EW Lizzy, What’s Your SBJCT? What really drives and moves and motivates you?
EC People. I love us. Sometimes I hate us. I study us. I play us. I want to be a part of helping the collective us. We’re all in this together- sink or swim. That’s what motivates me.