Elizabeth Cappuccino’s star is rising – fast. The 26-year-old actress (and former ballerina) from Buffalo, NY came on the scene as a young Jessica Jones in the Netflix series of the same name before appearing in Broad City and Orange Is the New Black. She also starred in the 2017 indie thriller Super Dark Times, for which she earned critical acclaim. Her big break, though, came when she took the part of Abby in the sci-fi crime drama Next, where she co-stars alongside Mad Men‘s John Slattery, about a homeland cybersecurity team trying to wrangle AI technology that keeps outpacing their efforts. Ahead of the series finale on December 22, Cappuccino tells Sharp about the show, working with John Slattery and her unique path to finding her calling.
Before Next, you had roles in Jessica Jones, Broad City, Super Dark Times and Orange is the New Black. When did you catch the acting bug?
I started acting like any little kid, at a local summer theater program when I was in elementary school, but I didn’t pursue it realistically and professionally until I was about 15. I was on a professional ballet track for a long time, but I realized what I loved most about ballet was the performance aspect. I loved the adrenaline of being on stage and sharing that connection with the audience. I come from a big movie-loving family, and while I would be auditioning for ballet company’s summer intensives, I would picture myself being in the films we watched, even though I had ZERO experience acting.
So, it was just one of those things you know in your heart before your brain catches up. Eventually I thought “maybe I should try acting lessons” to test the waters out around 14, and needless to say, I was hooked. Quit ballet cold turkey, applied for a summer acting program in Paris, got in underaged, and got my agents in NYC about a year later. I was very very hungry and determined once I woke up to my dream. I booked my first job in a reoccurring role on a show while I was still a senior in high school in Buffalo, NY. I would self tape for projects before that was the norm, and if I had a callback I would skip school and travel all the way to New York City to go in for it. My parents were shockingly chill about in retrospect. I applied early decision to NYU to train at Tisch, got in, and the rest is history.
How did the role for Next come your way?
Next came my way traditionally through my agents in a preliminary audition with casting. It felt different than most Network Pilots I had read in the past. I also loved that the audition itself was one seemingly simple scene between Abby and her father, but underneath there was a lot of emotional subtext. Family dramas are my favorite, and the audition scene was rich in in family history, pain, hope and disappointment. The characters are performing for each other in a way too.. there was a lot to play with. But of course that week I had booked a trip, something I never do, taking three days off, and of course I found out on the way to the airport to get on my flight for my trip, that I shouldn’t get on the flight because the production wanted me to screen test in LA now. They always say, want to book a job, book a vacation..luckily we worked it out so I got to do both still!
What’s it like working with John Slattery?
Horrible. Dreadful. The worst. Just kidding! The best. It’s the first time in my career I got to work with someone I truly admired and was a fan of before we started working together. He’s a tried and true veteran. He’s a seasoned actor who doesn’t take himself too seriously, but still elevates and mines the most out of the material and story. He keeps the energy light on set too though, he’s always got some amazing anecdote or a joke in-between scenes and setups. He never failed to make me laugh. I loved picking his brain about things and he was very generous to indulge my questions and share stories with me.
How has the show made you reexamine your relationship to technology or the role it plays in our lives?
For my personal relationship to tech, not all that much. I already didn’t have an Alexa or many “smart items.” Just not my style. I want to go back to having a flip phone.. there’s something so playful and sassy in clamping it shut to end a phone call. It feels like a natural exclamation point! Technology isn’t something that I’m all that into. Every phone update is painful for me. For the role tech plays in our lives on a larger scale, Next did force me to think more critically on the future of A.I. and cyber security. Clearly pandora’s out of the box, so let’s work with AI to our advantage scientifically and environmentally. I’d love to see the intersection of technology/ AI positively being used in the climate crisis and medical research.
What are you hoping audiences will take away from the show?
As an actor I’m here to entertain you and make you feel something. I just hope people have something they can tune into that’s thrilling and makes them experience something new which hopefully changes their world view, even the slightest bit. I hope people will critically think about their technology consumption and dependence… It’s as if we’ve lost the ability to communicate with each other person to person, and maybe this show will inspire some to turn off their phones more and have a good old fashioned in person conversation without the interruption of a buzz or a ding. We’re so programmed to pick up and respond right away…be available to everyone at the expense of the loved ones and company we’re with at the time. If I’m with you in person, I want to be WITH YOU. I will not have my phone out. My mom hates this about me because she can never get a hold of me right away, and I’m proud of that.