Lisey's Story Star Joan Allen on Embracing Catatonia for the Stephen King Adaptation

Over the course of literally hundreds of stories, author Stephen King has given audiences countless compelling characters, whether those be pure of intention or possibly having nefarious motivations. With Lisey's Story, a key component of its success is the dynamic between the titular character and her two sisters, but the trio isn't without their complications, as Amanda suffers from a variety of mental issues that often relegate her to a catatonic state. For the Apple TV+ adaptation of the story, this forced actor Joan Allen to not only depict the more engaging sequences between the characters, but also required her to almost completely check out of reality, as audiences see her transported to a mystical realm. Lisey's Story debuts on Apple TV+ on June 4th.

Lisey's Story is a deeply personal, pensive thriller that follows Lisey Landon (played by Julianne Moore) two years after the death of her husband, famous novelist Scott Landon (played by Clive Owen). A series of unsettling events causes Lisey to face memories of her marriage to Scott that she has deliberately blocked out of her mind. Dane DeHaan, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ron Cephas Jones, and Sung Kang star alongside Moore and Owen. caught up with Allen to talk her connections to King, acting challenges, and reports of a Face/Off follow-up.

lisey's story joan allen stephen king apple tv plus
(Photo: Apple TV+) Before this opportunity to join Lisey's Story came about, what was your own connection to Stephen King and his stories?

Joan Allen: I certainly would not consider myself as well versed as many, many people are, but I think my favorite is The Shining, I have to say.

That one's definitely hard to top.

Hard to beat. My sister's favorite, all-time book, not just Stephen King book, book of all time, is The Stand. That's her favorite book of all time.

What was her reaction when she found out you would be in Lisey's Story?

She was pretty excited, pretty excited.

Speaking of favorite books, King has said he thinks Lisey's Story is his favorite book, to the point that he wrote all the scripts for this adaptation. Did you find that deep connection to the material added pressure to bringing this story to life or was it beneficial to know that King himself served as a resource?

Well, it definitely was a gift, to have him so heavily involved and to write all the episodes. It was a major gift. And it's pressure in the best sense, because I think we all became aware that it was his favorite novel that he'd written. Just like, "Well, we really got to do a good job, because it's extra special."

And so, in some ways, it's more motivating, and it's more moving. I would have some conversations with him on set occasionally, not many and not any great length, but he would watch the dailies. And if I'd be shooting a scene, [director] Pablo Larraín would say, "I just got a text from Stephen, and he's just watched the scene, and he really liked it." And I'm like, "Yay, that makes me happy." I think we all wanted to do something that he would be happy with.

Your character specifically spends time not only in the real world, but also in this more fantastical, creepy place. Did you look at this opportunity as a chance to get to play two different characters, or did it feel like you had to work twice as hard to effectively pull off two different perspectives?

I was leaving that to Pablo, to make sure that he did it, in terms of storytelling, and I followed his lead, because I was a little unclear initially. It's like, "Well, what is she like in real life? And how is she different when she's in the other world?" And Pablo really said, "She's just not that different. She's a double, so a double means she's exactly the same."

Because I was thinking, "Well, do I wear different clothes in the other world?" And he was like, "No. She's the same." So it really wasn't that different. The biggest difference was when she really was more mentally stable than when she is mentally -- which she is for a fair amount of the whole series -- in an unstable place.

Some of that instability of your character requires you to essentially be catatonic and barely react to your co-stars. What was that challenge like, having to ignore your instincts as a performer to completely deny giving your scene partners any support?

I studied some catatonic people on some YouTube videos that I found, one was from the '50s, so it was older. A psychiatrist was interacting with three gentlemen who were in various states of catatonia. That was really helpful to me, in terms of the look in the eyes and the physicality. And that was very, very helpful to be able to pull from. Then you go, "Well, that's where she is."

I've got to, as an actress, stay in that state, even with the other actors around me. And Pablo Larraín was superb, because there were also times when I'm just reacting to things, and he'd turn the camera on me and just ... basically, he'd be off-camera, and he would narrate, "Do this, do that. You're seeing this now. Now you're scared. Now you're this. Now you're better. Now you put your head down." It was very, very helpful for him to create a narrative for me to actually react to.

Since you spend so much time in this other realm, how did envisioning those more fantastical elements go? How did the final series look compared to how you envisioned it on set?

It was mainly descriptions from Pablo. I had this image of what I thought one of the monsters in the story looked like, and I would just ... when he would say, "It's coming, it's coming," I'd be like, "I'm imagining that it's there." But I've never actually seen what it looks like. So I haven't seen it yet.

Looking to the future, you starred in Face/Off and there's now a new follow-up being developed that is meant to continue the original story and the filmmakers hope to bring back Nicolas Cage and John Travolta. Could we expect you to return as Eve Archer? Had anyone reached out to you about it?

I don't know. Actually, you're informing me. I actually hadn't heard that, so I'll have to look into that.

If they do get Nic and John back for the movie, should the filmmakers give you a call?

Give me a call.


Lisey's Story premieres on Apple TV+ on June 4th.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.