In new Apple TV+ series Truth Be Told, Octavia Spencer plays Poppy Parnell, a reporter who has a crisis of conscience when she realises she may have helped put an innocent man (Aaron Paul) behind bars. Deciding to right her past wrongs, Poppy starts a true crime podcast that brings her face-to-face with the twin daughters of the murder victim, Lainey and Josie — both of whom have plenty of secrets to hide.
Played by Lizzy Caplan, the twin sisters have been at odds for decades. Their mysterious rift is so severe that Josie left home and started a brand-new life for herself — now, her husband has no idea she even has a twin, let alone such a troubled past. When these twins finally do reunite the depths of their trauma is revealed, and the answer about who really killed their father finally starts to surface.
Caplan’s portrayal of two sisters at odds is an acting feat — some of the most emotionally-charged scenes of Truth Be Told occur between Caplan and herself. She even gets to play around with Josie’s fake English accent — though she’s from the Bay Area, Josie’s created a past so different from her own it involves time spent far away, across the pond.
Caplan’s dual roles in Truth Be Told are just another interesting addition to her resume, which includes diverse projects ranging from teen classic Mean Girls to the short-lived but beloved Party Down to Hulu’s Castle Rock, where she portrays Stephen King’s stalker nurse Annie Wilkes. Sitting down with Refinery29 to discuss her new Apple+ series, Caplan breaks down her complicated relationship with true crime and how Truth Be Told is asking the big questions.
Refinery29: What was it like playing identical twins for Truth Be Told?
Lizzy Caplan: I’ve played twins once before in a film that has never been released called Queens of Country. It was a completely different tone to it. I thought coming into this project I knew how to play twins [most efficiently], but I was wrong.
In Queens of Country, I had a little speaker in my ear, and do one side [of the conversation between twins], and then we would record it. I would hear my own voice in my head, and so I could just put into those spaces the other character’s dialogue. That film had a much more frenetic pace to it, so it was easy to time it out that way. Truth Be Told is much more emotional, and I wanted to give each character as much time as I needed to breathe within that thing.
For this show, I had two stand-ins, a Lanie stand-in and Josie stand-in, and I would decide the day before which character I wanted to start as. That would change every day, depending on who was driving the scene. I would go over with my stand-in how I thought I was going to play the other part, and the stand-ins did a great job performing that. The camera was behind their heads when it was on me. It was complicated and took a long time. I put a lot of trust in the directors that came in, because it’s impossible to know what’s working when you’re doing two roles at once.
What was your experiencing watching yourself as two people?
I haven’t watched it. I have yet to watch it, which is shameful. I haven’t had much luck watching things for the first time with an audience of people. I hate watching myself. Usually I have to watch it alone in a dark room before I watch it with anybody else. I may not have a choice this time, and I may just suck it up.
Why don’t you like watching yourself?
It’s twofold: One, the normal "Oh, I hate the way my mouth moves, I’m disgusting, I’m the worst at acting," which is kind of what almost every actor feels. I know now I can talk myself down by saying, "If other people saw what I am seeing right now, I don’t think I’d be allowed to continue doing this for a living." The harder part about it is that you work so hard, you put so much into something, and it feels so grand while shooting, and then you watch it, and you have this thought like, "Oh, it’s a TV show. We worked so hard and now it’s a TV show." It just doesn’t feel big enough for when we were doing it. But my thing is, I really only like acting on set. I don’t like any of the other stuff. I wish nothing ever came out. I wish no one ever got to see it, and I just got to hang out on set all day.
Are you a fan of true crime podcasts?
I recently listened to To Live and Die in L.A., which is a crazy one. I loved Dirty John, which I listened to before I watched the show. The questions that we’re posing in Truth Be Told is, "consider the human element." [The subjects of true crime stories] are people — they have lives, they have families. It’s irresponsible to see them just as entertainment. I feel like Dirty John is one of the few that you can just eat up and enjoy, because [John Meehan] was such an asshole.
What attracted you to this story?
The scripts were so strong and so good. We’re touching on a lot of issues, including what prison and incarceration does to a person. Who are you forced to become when you have to spend your life in prison? We’re exploring how screwed up the prison system is and how badly we need criminal justice reform. People are forced to become these monsters behind the [walls of a prison], whether or not they’re even supposed to be there. It’s super troubling.
This is a mystery series — how much did know about the ending going into shooting?
I told [creator Nichelle Tramble Spellman] that I don’t want to know anything that my characters don’t know, but I want to know everything they do know, because it’s so mysterious. I believed it was important to know what they believed to be true.
In Truth Be Told, Josie is inspired to stand up and sing in the middle of a church, by herself. What was that moment like to film? Was it intimidating?
I only sing on TV. I like to say yes to things and then figure out how I’ll pull it off later. Dancing really fucks me up. That stresses me out a thousand times more than singing. I do think it would be fun to do a real singing job, and get to take all the time.
You recently went to see the Mean Girls musical — what was that experience like?
It was really special. I did not anticipate having the reaction that I had, which was this overwhelming feeling of gratitude and nostalgia. It was really sweet. It was a wonderful experience to go backstage and see all these kids who grew up watching this movie, and see how it meant something to them, it was pretty overwhelming. It was great. The movie gets brought up all the time, it’s really nuts. I don’t think you can [predict that.] The script was brilliant, and I busted my ass getting that job. It was all I wanted to do. It was so fun to make. The fact that it still means something to some people, it’s surprising but also kind of not, because people liked it as much as I did when I read the script.
You and your Party Down co-stars had a reunion at Vulture Fest. What was it like to reunite with everyone?
It was so cool. We haven’t been in the same room together in maybe 10 years? I have to assume we’ve been in the same room since we finished filming, but maybe not. Everybody goes off and lives their lives and moves away. That is a very, very special job for all of us. I think all of us said [at the Vulture Festival] that was our favourite job ever. Of course I’d love to make more Party Down, of course, of course. It would be a great one to make and have no one ever see it. If we don’t get to revisit [the show] in some way, I would like to see [Casey] accomplish her dreams. If we do get to make more Party Down, though — and I have no idea what that would be or how it would look — I hope that things didn’t work out because that would be more fun to play.
In the final episode, your character Casey learned she was cut out of Judd Apatow movie. Did something like that ever happen to you?
Judd Apatow has definitely cut me out of things before. Scenes of things, for sure. I think I was cut out of Undeclared. I was in it for an episode or a scene, and then I wasn’t. No hard feelings! It happens!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The first three episodes of Truth Be Told are available on Apple TV+ now. Check out the trailer below.