Lizzy Caplan Talks Fatal Attraction, Fleishman, and ‘Nice Guys’

It’s a tale as old as time: a perfectly nice, normal guy who has seemingly never done anything wrong in his life finds himself tormented by some unhinged woman who unreasonably feels that he has “scorned” her. I could be referring to any number of movies here—the classic Beyoncé/Idris Elba vehicle Obsessed, for example, or some recent girl-gets-revenge movie in the vein of Promising Young Woman and Gone Girl. But, no, I’m talking about the progenitor of “mad woman” movies: Fatal Attraction, the 1987 film that made Glenn Close a star.

In case you’re not familiar, the psychosexual thriller charts the fallout from an affair gone wrong. With his wife and daughter away for the weekend, corporate lawyer Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) gives into his demons and spends a passionate night with the mysterious and alluring Alex Forrest (Close). But when Dan has second thoughts and tries to call the whole thing off, Alex begins to stalk him, terrorize his family, and generally do everything within her power to ensure that she won’t be ignored. In the original film, Dan is clearly meant to be a sympathetic figure; little attention is paid to Dan’s own indiscretions, and none whatsoever to the question of why Alex acts the way she does. In the years since its release, scholars and psychologists have interpreted Alex’s behavior in the film as an extreme example of borderline personality disorder, and Close herself has expressed interest in seeing the story retold from Alex’s point of view.

Lizzy Caplan felt the same way. So when showrunners Alex Cunningham and Kevin J. Hynes approached her with a proposal for a TV remake that promised to do just that, suffice it to say that Caplan was listening. The result of that not-so-indecent proposal? Fatal Attraction, the 2023 streaming television series, which premieres new episodes on Sundays on Paramount+. Caplan imbues her take on Alex Forrest with compassion, hurt, and aching vulnerability.

More From ELLE

preview for Featured Videos from Elle US

This isn’t to say that Close’s Alex lacked those qualities—quite the contrary, in fact. However, unlike the original film, the new Fatal Attraction has been carefully constructed to highlight them. In turn, the series is equally committed to exploring the other side of the dynamic: Dan’s (Joshua Jackson) insistence on seeing himself as a “nice guy,” which includes his tendency to see himself as a victim when the world doesn’t bend to his will. On a recent afternoon after a gym outing, Caplan sat with us to discuss Alex, Dan, and how the new Fatal Attraction bravely goes where the original movie did not dare.

Tell me about getting involved with the show. I know that you’re a fan of the movie, and also that the specific focus on Alex’s experience is a big part of what drew you to this iteration of it.

Yes, definitely. When I first heard about it, I entered into the conversation with my agents thinking like, “Oh, really? Okay, we’re going to revisit Fatal Attraction?” Which in my mind is pretty perfect. And then I read the script, and I was surprised by how much I liked it. And then I rewatched the film, and it was so obvious to me in the rewatching of the film that this is one of the rare instances where I think the story could benefit from a deeper dive, especially into the Alex character. Because we really don’t get that in the film. I think Glenn Close, what she does in that movie is obviously so incredible for so many reasons, but then in reading about what she did to prepare for it, she did all the work about Alex’s mental state and mental illnesses, and she was attacking it very much from that perspective. But the finished product didn’t really honor that, and I know that in some of the interviews I’ve read with her, that she was a bit frustrated. There was maybe a lack of care given to Alex’s mental situation. I think there is room to dive back into that now.

lizzy caplan as alex forrest and joshua jackson as dan gallagher in fatal attraction streaming on paramount 2022 photo credit monty brintonparamount

Caplan as Alex Forrest and Joshua Jackson as Dan Gallagher in Paramount+’s Fatal Attraction series.

on the set of fatal attraction

Michael Douglas and Glenn Close in the 1987Fatal Attraction film.

Sunset Boulevard//Getty Images

The thing that really baffles me about remake culture right now not even necessarily when a remake or a reboot is bad, but when it’s completely tepid, because there are so many. The things that are getting rebooted are things that have a lot of fans and a lot of people who would probably be really excited to approach the story with a new take. And I think this is a perfect example of that.

I do think things should be grouped into different categories under the reboot umbrella. And I think some of them are maybe just capitalizing on things that worked in the past, and other things are true reexaminations. Not only was I interested in doing the deeper dive with the Alex character, but in the film, Dan’s got things to answer for as well, and he doesn’t have to answer for them outside of his relationship with Alex. The spirit of the movie was that this was a very nice, good guy who got caught up with a very horrible, terrible woman, and how dare she ruin his whole life after one simple mistake on his part. And I think that that requires a bit more of a reexamination as well. Dan deserves to be taken to task by his wife, by so many people that really just let him get away with it in the film. And there are certain moments in the film that show shared culpability and also show why things might be confusing for somebody like Alex. There’s the moment in the film—and this actually makes it into the show—where Alex goes to Dan’s office to break things off, and then she goes to shake his hand, and instead of just shaking her hand, he gives her a very deep, seemingly very meaningful hug. He couldn’t sit in the discomfort of seeing her upset, and he can’t sit in the discomfort of being not liked by somebody. And that is very confusing for somebody who’s struggling with all of Alex’s particular psychological issues.

It’s interesting to look at both this and Fleishman Is in Trouble, which you recently starred in, and see certain similarities.

What do you see?

Well, for one thing, the idea of reexamining this idea of “the nice guy”—this guy who’s more determined to not be the bad guy than he is to actually treat the women in his life well.

That’s really interesting. I hadn’t thought about that. It is a topic that I do find very interesting about men, specifically white men, specifically white men in positions of power, whether it’s Dan in our show or Toby Fleishman in Fleishman Is in Trouble. There’s a way of thinking that I don’t think women move through the world with, which is: “I’ve done everything right. I followed all the rules. So everything needs to go my way in my life.” And if it doesn’t, there’s this anger of, “I don’t understand, I held up my end of the bargain, and the universe is therefore supposed to give me everything I want for the rest of my life.” It’s something I could never personally understand, because the idea of feeling owed by the world is so specific to such a small subset of humans. But it exists.

“fleishman is in trouble” "god, what an idiot hewas" season 1, episode 4 airs december 1 pictured l r  lizzy caplan as libby epstein, jesse eisenberg as toby fleishman cr linda kallerusfx

Lizzy Caplan as Libby Epstein and Jesse Eisenberg as Toby Fleishman in FX’s Fleishman Is in Trouble.

Linda Kallerus/FX

What did you do to prepare and get into character?

I read some books about borderline personality disorder. We don’t diagnose Alex in the show, but she’s struggling with a few things, and we felt pretty confident that borderline personality disorder is one of them. I spoke to a forensic psychiatrist, Jonathan Mueller, who works with people who are managing that disorder and moving through the world with a brain that processes things in that way, which is very black-and-white thinking. You are a hero or a villain to Alex. That’s just how her brain works. It’s important to note that this is not some forensic deep dive into a specific mental disorder. This is definitely an erotic thriller that we’re trying to have some fun with. But I tried to do as much research and talk to as many people as I could, to approach it with the care that it deserves, that she deserves.

I think that the show’s ability to explore the tension between Alex’s struggles and Dan’s insistence on being a “nice guy” depends heavily on the performers, and it sounds like Josh really saw that aspect of the character and of the project.

Definitely. It was very important to Josh that he lean into Dan’s culpability in the whole thing. He didn’t want to let him off the hook. Josh is very clear-eyed about white male privilege, and it is something that he thinks about a lot, and he put a lot into it. He was definitely taking care of his side of the street in terms of a retelling. But it was also interesting because we do a lot of stuff later with Alex’s dad, and that character’s rage is right there, just constantly simmering, whereas Dan’s rage is still there but is buried far, far deeper. So it exists within Dan in a much different way than in my father’s character, but it’s still there, and they’re both white men. I loved talking about all of this stuff with Josh throughout. He was a great partner in every way. After the beginning, our characters split off and do their own thing for a bit, and I missed having Josh around.

Just like Alex missed Dan, right?

Yeah. I would just show up at his house at 2:00 in the morning just because I missed him. [Laughs]

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

Headshot of Keely Weiss

Keely Weiss is a writer and filmmaker. She has lived in Los Angeles, New York, and Virginia and has a cat named after Perry Mason.


Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar