Lauren Cohan discusses her new role and why she embraces being ‘complicated’

Take heart, fans of The Walking Dead! You don’t have to wait until Feb. 14 to get your fix — Lauren Cohan, who memorably plays Maggie on the apocalyptic drama, has a new movie hitting theaters tonight. And like the AMC series Cohan literally slays on each week, The Boy will grip you from start to finish.

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In the film, Cohan plays an American woman named Greta who takes a job at an enormous (and enormously creepy) Gothic mansion in a pastoral area of England. But no sooner has Greta arrived than she learns the little boy she’s been tasked to care for is actually a porcelain doll.

No joke.

But as bizarre as Greta finds the situation and her eccentric new employers, it is a job — and one which affords her the freedom to flee the darker corners of her own life for a little while. So she stays, and it’s every bit as brooding and suspenseful as it sounds.

Did I mention creepy? Brahms, the porcelain doll, has an eerily lifelike quality that translates hauntingly well onscreen.

“A lot of the time, I’m in the moment and she’s not aware of him being a baddie, so that was good,” Cohan told SheKnows when we caught up via Skype. “But the other side of that is that he really did start to take on a life of his own insofar as there’s a lot of energy going in his direction. It’s like kids playing with dolls — if you believe the doll’s real, then the doll sort of starts to become real. So that was very scary to me.”

Still, like Greta in the film, Cohan confesses the doll wasn’t without his charms. “He sort of has this lovable face, and he’s just this lost boy,” she said, “and he just wants you to love him and look after him. So he bewitched us now and again.”

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Adding to the authenticity her character emotes is the fact that Cohan can relate to Greta, in more ways than one. In addition to a lifetime of babysitting (she has “a lot of siblings and 12 younger cousins”), Cohan similarly made the sojourn across the pond.

“It felt pretty funny for me to do this and also to follow the trajectory of she goes from America to England to this new start. When I was 13, I moved to America from England to this new start and we lived in this green, lush area… so, yeah, Greta goes through this and I enjoyed going through that again,” Cohan shared.

Clearly, Cohan isn’t afraid to inhabit some macabre headspace. Or is she? In case you missed her appearance on Ellen this week, the star owns up to being “the biggest scaredy-cat ever.” So how does she keep her wits about her when she’s on sets like The Walking Dead and The Boy?

“I think darting out, to be completely honest — shaking it off, so to speak,” Cohan said, laughing. “It’s almost the deeper you go in and the more unfettered my approach is, the easier it is to come back out the other side. Because in a lot of instances, it’s this out of body experience.”

That mentality serves Cohan well in her real life, too. “It’s like if I’m upset and I just let myself have a good cry about something or communicate about something, it just kind of courses through me and then it’s over.”

Which isn’t to say she emerges unscathed every time. Cohan is the first to admit she isn’t impervious to psychological slings and arrows, saying, “It’s not that there’s no residue, but it’s been much healthier for me than how my approach used to be with a lot of this stuff.”

It’s the same sort of dichotomy of strength and vulnerability that has been the watermark of so many of Cohan’s characters — Greta, Maggie, Supernatural‘s Bela, The Vampire Diaries‘ Rose — and that’s no coincidence. Cohan is unabashedly drawn to characters who represent the duality of women.

“A hundred percent. A hundred percent,” she emphatically agreed. “I mean, I find myself to be an extremely rational person and sometimes I’m really not. I don’t think that anybody is uncomplicated.”

In fact, that’s essentially one of the highest compliments you could pay Cohan. “I love when people say this is a complicated character — I’m like, ‘People are complicated!’ That’s how we are and sometimes we do things for really strange reasons.”

This Cohan knows from personal experience, and it never ceases to amaze her.

“I’ve done a lot of meditation over my life, and there’s sometimes that I will remember, something that happened when I was 7, 8, 9, 10, 15, 17, 23 and it has informed why I have a resistance to something or why I get agitated or angry or upset or in love with something,” she said, adding, “and that is so fascinating to me because I still, as I think we all are, am a complete mystery to myself.”

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So while Cohan might be a bit jumpy in real life, she certainly isn’t afraid to play characters like Greta who embody the juxtaposition of soft and hard, flinty yet malleable inherent in all women.

“I want to explore characters who make bad choices sometimes and who find themselves during the course of a story,” she told us. “And with her, I think from the beginning of the story to the end of the story, she’s changed… and that’s the best you can hope for.”