Nightmare nurse Annie Wilkes from the 1987 novel Misery is one of author Stephen King’s most monstrous creations – and that includes haunted hotels, killer cars and spiky toothed sewer clowns. In 1990, the chilling film version of Misery won Kathy Bates the Best Actress Oscar for her role as Annie. Plain old nobody Annie sure has a way of sneaking up on you.

“She is kind. She's kind of silly. She gets excited and acts like a little girl. There's something really disarmingly sweet about her. And then when she turns, it makes it that much more terrifying. I think she is so much scarier than just a straight-up monster, because she's so much more complicated than that,” says Lizzy Caplan, who plays Annie in Castle Rock S2.

The drug-stealing nurse Annie we meet in Castle Rock – a series based on various characters and events in Stephen King’s books, almost as a prequel – is just a handful of years away from becoming Misery’s romantic novel-obsessed Number One Fan who nurses and tortures her favourite author, eventually breaking his ankles to keep him bedridden and under her control so that she can force him to write more stories about her favourite character. But there is already something “off” about Annie.


Annie, are you okay?

“There’s a line in the book that having a conversation with Annie Wilkes is like listening to a song somewhat out of key. She’s a little off, so I wanted to incorporate that. If it couldn’t feel physically terrifying, I wanted it to feel unsettling,” says Lizzy. Even at this point, Annie is a woman with an unhinged morality. She won’t swear, using childish replacement words like “cockadoodie” instead. In Annie’s world, the worst kind of human is a “dirty birdie”. But those dirty birdies had better watch their necks around Annie, because as we saw in episode 1, she has no problem shoving an ice cream scoop down your throat if you cross her. The wicked must be punished, after all.

All Annie wants when we first meet her is enough Lithium to keep her mind in check, and to protect her only love in the world, her one obsession: her daughter, Joy. “Annie Wilkes needs to love one thing. And it's an all-consuming, obsessive love. This is who Annie is. She knows how to love one thing with everything she's got, at the expense of all other things. It helps me see the humanity in Annie, because her driving motivation is actually a pure love for her daughter. It's not some, ‘I'm a creepy monster weirdo.’ It's that she wants to protect her daughter,” says Lizzy.


Bates & switch

Lizzy both drew on and switched up Kathy Bates’ portrayal of Annie. “I wanted to have our Annie feasibly be able to become that Annie in the future,” says Lizzy. “I thought a lot about how, if I was just a viewer of the show, I wasn’t going to be particularly interested in seeing a brand-new, completely start-from-scratch version of Annie Wilkes – because what Kathy Bates did was so beloved; it certainly was for me. I wanted to have quite a few shades of her performance in my own, just so it felt like our Annie Wilkes could grow into hers.”

Kathy’s version of Annie is also a few years along, well into the results of not treating her mental illness, which in the book and well as the film leads to bouts of sullen depression, self-harm, neglect of her hygiene and binge eating, and well as bursts of violent rage. “Our Annie is still attempting to move in the world. She’s very much up against regular, day-to-day humanity, and she has the responsibility of her daughter. So she is trying to ‘keep it together’,” says Lizzy. “And so we see her in our show attempting to prescribe her own medications to mitigate some of her symptoms.”

The result, though, as Lizzy explains, is that the world of Castle Rock, which is already off kilter, becomes spectacularly out of whack whenever we see the action through Annie’s eyes. What she sees and what she reacts to isn’t necessarily what has happened or what is happening, so watch her closely.


Look out for Annie

Plot aside, studying Annie is its own reward for the sheer magnetic peculiarity of the performance. One of the most striking physical things that Lizzy has brought to Annie onscreen is her penguin waddle, which only becomes more exaggerated and absurd when she runs. “I knew I didn’t want her to walk in the way that I walk in my regular life, and for whatever reason, what came out of it was outward-turned feet and never swinging my arms. That just made me feel grounded in her shoes,” reveals Lizzy. “I wanted to at least be unsettling. I hope that it's unsettling enough to be somewhat ominous, because she walks like a weirdo,” she adds.

Castle Rock S2 airs on Saturdays on M-Net (101) at 22:00 or watch it on Catch Up

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