On Season 2 of the HBO drama series The Leftovers, the Garveys have moved to Jarden, Texas, a small town where no one left in the Departure of 2% of the world’s population, in an effort to feel safe again. Upon moving to this special miracle place, Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) and Nora Durst (Carrie Coon) meet a local family, the Murphys (headed by Regina King and Kevin Carroll), who may be hiding secrets of their own. Created by Damon Lindelof and novelist Tom Perrotta, this season also stars Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston, Janel Moloney, Liv Tyler, Ann Dowd, Margaret Qualley, Chris Zylka and Jovan Adepo.
At the show’s press day, Collider got some time to sit down with actress Carrie Coon to talk about why The Leftovers appealed to her, why the story isn’t really about the reason that 2% of the population disappeared, what she’s most enjoyed exploring in Season 2, what Nora thinks of this new town that she’s in, how everything is affecting the relationship between Nora and Kevin, and what she hopes viewers take from watching the show. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: When you initially heard about this show and read the script, what was your impression of it?
CARRIE COON: I first read Tom Perrotta’s novel, after it came out. I’m a big reader, so I tend to already know the books when they’re adapted into something. So, I had connected with Nora when I read the book. I was really intrigued by her and I wanted more of her. I thought she had an interesting sense of humor, and an interesting toughness and strength. And so, when the project came around and I got to audition for it, I just immediately knew that was the part that I wanted to play, though I auditioned for a couple of parts with (casting director) Ellen Lewis. And then, a couple weeks later, I had my meeting with Damon [Lindelof]. He was so clear about what he was looking for, and we had a really great, very personal conversation. And then, I got the call a few weeks later that I got the part. So, I expected the first season to hue very closely to the book, but it went off the track a little bit. Fortunately for me, it went off in a way that was really challenging and satisfying. Episode 6 was like a little film. I had never done that much television in a row, in my life. I had never worked that many days and that many hours on a TV show ‘cause it’s all very new to me still, but I was totally game. I’ve always been obsessed with the apocalypse. I was so excited to do something that was that dark, but also hopeful. Oftentimes, as an actress, I’m asked to do the same things, over and over again, like play the nagging girlfriend or the long-suffering wife, or to be a prop for the story without really much to sink my teeth into. So, it’s so wondert he was looking for, and we had a really great, very personal conversation. And then, I ful when someone actually asks something from you, and this does, always.
Especially knowing, going into this, that there would never be an explanation for where 2% of the population went, do you find that more freeing?
COON: It was never what the story was about for me. It was about the circumstances of what Nora is dealing with. Certainly, they resemble situations that people have actually been in. One of the ways that I prepared was to read Sonali Deraniyagala, who lost her entire family in the tsunami. That was the closest equivalent that I could find. She lost her parents, her husband, and her two children, and they disappeared right before her eyes. Suddenly, who are you? A plane disappears or there’s a shooting at a movie theater, and suddenly this community is dealing with grief, collectively. The circumstances actually feel very real to me. Even though there’s a supernatural element, the actual emotional stakes are the same as reality, and I find the show very real. I deal with ambiguity in my life, all the time, so it doesn’t feel unfamiliar to me to not know why something happened or what will happen next.
Nora had that moment where the guy from M.I.T. suggests that maybe her family disappeared and she didn’t because of something as simple as geography. Does that change her perspective, at all, or will she also put that out of her head?
COON: Some people I’ve talked to thought she was disdainful, in that moment, while other people thought she latched onto that explanation. The spectrum of the way that’s been interpreted is really interesting, so I hesitate to say much about it. It’s really revealing about the people watched it. The nice thing about that explanation for her is that it’s not her fault, she couldn’t have controlled it, and she didn’t do something wrong because it’s not spiritual or a question of character, which would be a much more complicated thing to deal with. It’s just a fact. And I think there is a part of Nora that is very practical and very rational. She certainly has eschewed some of the spiritual life that her brother has embraced. Even though they were raised in the church, she’s clearly gone the other way, whether it was because of that event or before. It would be better for her, if the explanation were that concrete, and there’s a part of her that would love to believe it, but I don’t think she can, fully. As much as she pretends, I don’t think she can really lean into that. There’s always a sense of, could I have done something to change these circumstances, for anyone who has lost someone.
What’s it like for Nora to end up in a town that no one departed from, but that there are new questions about? Does she find it intriguing, or does she find it unsettling?
COON: I think she is looking for safety and for solid ground, and she’s been told that she will find it here, but of course, that’s not true. Just like anyone, Nora has a very strong instinct for survival and self-preservation. And the instability that Kevin is bringing into the world, in addition to the external circumstances, is destabilizing and threatening to her. As much as she is trying, in earnest, to embrace this new relationship and we see that energy going in, with this hopefulness and lightness about them, eventually they have to deal with who they are. They’re going to have to confront some of these things. That authenticity that they have set up has to be real, and if two people aren’t playing by the rules, it’s going to fall apart. That’s in addition to anything that’s happening outside of them, which is a whole other story.
What is most personally satisfying for you, from the journey with Season 1, and what have you enjoyed exploring, with the shift in Season 2?
COON: In Season 1, I love that Nora got to have that moment with Holy Wayne because I got to work with Paterson Joseph and because that was a moment I had not anticipated, after reading the book. She got to experience some release, which the audience needed to see. If they were invested, at all, in her story, I think it was important that we see her open and have some hope. That also makes the ending a lot more devastating and effective, with what the GR accomplishes at the end of Season 1. It was just good storytelling by our creators, but it was also great to live through that moment. Having played her so bound up, all season, to get to open into that release was very satisfying. I think acting is satisfying because we are actually fully expressed. We get to have a catharsis where we’re torturing the audience, but we’re actually very healthy, at the end of the day. It’s like having a good cry. So, I’ve always felt that actors are quite healthy, but I know some people don’t agree with that assessment. With Season 2, it’s been wonderful to see a completely different energy in her, at least in the beginning. In my experience, women and people are complicated. They do sometimes seem like very different people, at different phases of their lives. My husband has just written a play about this idea that you’re almost a different person before these paradigm shifts. I love exploring her earnestly embracing this new beginning, of motherhood and of being a sort of wife again. But underlying that, of course, is this tension of not only having lost her family, but also her obligations. In some ways, she had a moment to be entirely free. How many people ever have that moment, or would embrace it if it was given them? She was about to leave town, and then this baby sucked her back into this life, and she made a choice to reinvest in being a wife and a mother again. But, that seed of leaving and being somebody else is still in her. That’s the fundamental tension in Nora this year, and that’s been really fun. What a great question for anyone to ask themselves, and who would have the balls to do it. She didn’t do it, but it’s interesting.
It’s interesting to see Nora and Kevin interact with the Murphys, who seem like a nice family.
COON: It’s not like Kevin and Nora are being entirely forthcoming about their backstory, so it’s funny to see them painting the Murphys with that brush. They seem outwardly very put together, this family, and they’re very outwardly welcoming, but Nora’s little voice of panic has been alerted, all through Season 1, so we know it’s in there and she feels that going off. She doesn’t want to believe that there’s something sinister in this new place, but she can feel it. She can feel something is off with these people, but she wants desperately for that not to be the case. She really wants to be safe. I think she hangs onto that image as long as she can, until it gets completely undermined. She’s trying, and they’re compelling, interesting people.
What’s it like to have Regina King this season?
COON: She’s so extraordinary. I’ve admired her for so long, and I did get to work with her, which was one of my favorite moments. If you think about it, I don’t actually work with the women on the show very often. I love working with Chris [Eccleston] and I love working with Justin [Theroux], but very rarely have I had scenes with Amy Brenneman, Ann Dowd or Liv Tyler. We’ve encountered each other very little. So, to be able to be in the room with a powerhouse like Regina is really great. We had a really good time working together. I think I can speak for her when I say that.
How does being in this new town and having this new baby affect the relationship between Kevin and Nora?
COON: Well, they don’t know each other very well. That happens a lot, in real life. People have this connection and jump in feet first, only then to backpedal. Some of that stuff is the mundane, day-to-day stuff that are the little triggers that are going to go off. That’s before you even get to the deeper psychological issues that Kevin is having, or the external circumstances in the town. This relationship, which was forged in a crucible, is just moving to another crucible where it will either be galvanized or burned to a crisp.
What do you hope viewers take from watching this show?
COON: At its heart, the show is about how the world gets torn down, but the world also gets built back up again. We make that choice, and we’re very resilient. To me, the message of the show is not bleak. In fact, it’s very hopeful. It’s really about the capacity human beings have for compassion and forgiveness. To me, that’s a very important and very large idea, and I don’t know anyone who couldn’t relate to it. Damon is not cynical. Damon actually believes in the goodness of people, and I think that’s actually the message of the show. I hear it described as bleak, but I really don’t feel that way about it, at all. I think it’s very hopeful. It’s a big undertaking, but I think they’ve executed it really beautifully. It’s certainly been satisfying, as an actor, to work on.
The Leftovers airs on Sunday nights on HBO.