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Lizzy Caplan: The restless mind of a Sundance star

January 31, 2012 |  7:00 am


As life problems go, you could find yourself in worse pickles than deciding which Sundance house to stay in while you premiere a pair of movies at the country’s preeminent film gathering.

But don't douse the comedic actress Lizzy Caplan in too much hater-ade -- not even as she describes how she was forced to choose between the Park City, Utah, condo hosting the group from the grown-sibling dramedy "Save the Date," in which she plays a commitment-phobe sister, and the crash pad for the raunchy femme romp "Bachelorette," in which she plays a coke-fried bridesmaid opposite Kirsten Dunst and Isla Fisher.

"I spent one night [with the 'Save the Date' crew] and then realized it was too much to go back and forth, so I stayed with the 'Bachelorette' [people]'" Caplan said at the festival last week, describing her temporary housing situation.

At 29, after years of promising but false starts on sputtering television shows, the occasional part in a hit such as "Cloverfield" and very small roles in critically acclaimed movies (quick, who did she play in "127 Hours"?), the Los Angeles-raised actress is again on the cusp of wider fame. Needless to say, it's a position she's found herself in before.

"I did a show called 'The Class' where they took us on a private plane, the creators of the show and Jimmy Burrows, the epic sitcom director," Caplan recalled. "They brought us to Vegas and took us to dinner and took us gambling and gave us a big speech that it's the last time we're going to be able to go out in public. And everybody was like 'Oh my God.' So I said to Jimmy, 'Well, what's your batting average?'" And he said he was right almost every time. He was wrong only one time." She paused. "I was kind of honored to be the second time."

Ebullient and unguarded, Caplan, who is perhaps best known for the cult Starz television comedy "Party Down," has no shortage of fears about fame -- and few compunctions about revealing them. In an era when most actors put on a stoic front about how lucky they feel, Caplan is surprisingly open about the drawbacks and insecurities of a life in front of the camera.

It's two days after the Sundance world premiere of "Bachelorette" and Caplan, propped on a Main Street cafe couch sipping a soft drink, spoke of the self-consciousness that comes with watching your own movie.

"It's so stressful. You're like, 'Why is no one laughing anymore?" she said, recalling scenes late in the film when the story gets a little more serious. Told that it could be because the jokes had ratcheted down at that point, she said, "I hope that that's the case, then added, "I wish I could skip that part of it [premieres] sometimes."

Watching it in a more controlled environment has its downside too, she said. "When you see a movie just with the cast, it's a totally different vibe. Everybody is so stressed about their own performance. My reaction is always: 'Everybody else is so awesome, and I'm the weirdest-looking, worst actor ever.' It's only starting to get a little better. Just a little."

Caplan's honesty offers a rare window into the humanity of even talented actors. It’s a trait that will strike some as a refreshingly self-aware and others as off-puttingly self-involved.

Shooting films, Caplan said, is what keeps her happiest. But though she ticks off the obligatory list of projects on which she's had fun, she also allows that she often feels a certain shyness. "I'm trying to get off set most of the time," she said, when asked if she's the kind to push a director for more screen time. "There's obviously more safety in an ensemble, and the less you have to do, the less you can [screw] up."

It's fitting, perhaps, that her most famous role came as part of the large acting-cum-catering crew in "Party Down"; it's also apt, for an actress perpetually on the cusp, that the show didn't really get popular until after it was off the air.

Sundance isn't likely to be a game changer -- a couple of small films will rarely vault anyone to the A-list. But it could fix Caplan's position a little firmer on the young-Hollywood map. "Bachelorette" in particular is likely to get at least a niche theatrical release, and could attract the actress notice both for her capacity for broad comedy and because the film reunites her with Adam Scott, the burgeoning television star who, as he did in "Party Down," plays her love interest.

Caplan said she's ready and even hoping for more attention -- sort of. "I like that fans feel they discovered me, as opposed to having half the people out there hate you just because you're famous," she said. 

"And it's not like getting really famous cures anything," she added. "You don't think Tom Cruise sits at home and worries that Will Smith is getting all the big parts? Of course he does."


Sundance 2012: "Bachelorette" (sort of) like "Bridesmaids"

Sundance 2012: Bawdy chicks, but don't say "Bridesmaids"

Sundance 2012: Gina Rodriguez of "Filly Brown" is the new "It" girl

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Lizzy Caplan. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

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