From showrunner Damon Lindelof and acclaimed novelist Tom Perrotta, the HBO drama series The Leftovers tells the story of what happens after 2% of the world’s population abruptly disappears without explanation. As the world struggles to come to terms with what happened, viewers will get to watch how the residents of Mapleton, New York deal with living and being left behind. With a pilot directed by Peter Berg, the show stars Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman, Chris Eccleston, Liv Tyler, Ann Dowd, Amanda Warren, Chris Zylka, Margaret Qualley, Carrie Coon, Emily Meade, Michael Gaston, Max and Charlie Carver, and Annie Q.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Amanda Warren (who plays whip-smart Mayor Lucy Warburton) talked about how she came to be a part of the show, what she was told about her character ahead of time, why she loves living in the moment and learning what’s next with each script, being the law and order of the situation, thinking about the enormity of something like this really happening, how she’d react in such a situation, that the pieces of the puzzle will start to fit together, and the hope for Season 2. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
AMANDA WARREN: I met (casting director) Ellen Lewis through auditioning for a film that she was casting. Shortly after I came back from L.A. for pilot season, I went to Ellen’s office for The Leftovers. It’s funny, the first thing that she said to me was, “I think you might be too young for this, but I had to have you come in and read.” I said, “Okay.” I tend to get that a lot. I tend to play a lot of characters that are 10 or 15 years older than me. I don’t know if you’ve seen Seven Psychopaths, but I played well into my 50s, as Maggie, opposite Tom Waits. And I’ve been playing mothers since I was in high school. So, I’m used to it, but I know that there’s a look and energy that goes into that. But, I did the read.
There were two or three scenes that I read. And then, a few days later, I heard that Peter [Berg] and Damon [Lindelof] responded really well to my read. So, I met Damon a few weeks later and we just talked about the process and where we were from. He’s from Jersey, and I was born and raised in Manhattan. We really connected and got to feel each other out, as to how we work and how we approach storytelling and television. It was just really insightful, him coming off of Lost, which I hadn’t seen before auditioning for this. I hadn’t seen Lost or Friday Night Lights until last fall and the holiday season of last year because I was away at university in New Haven, trying to make a career for myself. So, that’s how things really came about. It was very organic. And after meeting with Damon, I got the offer for the part. We just figured a few things out, and I was on set a few weeks later.
Were you told much about the show and the character, prior to your audition, and even after you were cast?
WARREN: I really was just given the script for the pilot episode, and I read that. In my own actor research, I knew that it was an adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel. Going in to meet with Damon, after he saw my read, I was very hesitant to read the book. You can’t unread something once you’ve read it, so I decided not to read the book. Damon was actually glad that I didn’t read it and said that he would prefer that I not read it because my character doesn’t exist in the novel. She was created for the adaptation. So, there was a comfort level that I could really own it and fly. There’s an ownership that we’re trying to take, collectively, for this adaptation of the novel. Not having read it helped me.
And I remember when I watched the pilot, I was just so moved by everything, but I didn’t necessarily know what I was feeling, if that makes any sense. I was very, very eager and excited to read the second episode. Luckily, you won’t have to wait as long as I did to see Episode 2. You only have to wait until the following Sunday. It takes some time to digest, so it’s ideal viewing for weekly programming because you have those six days of time and perspective to really digest what’s going on and the humanity in each character. Hopefully, that will help you understand where each of us are coming from with the characters that we play. It’s very new and it’s refreshing, in that way, but it’s a lot. So, I think those six days will be helpful for something like this, which in my opinion, has never really been done before. I’ve never seen anything like this before, and that’s what makes it so exciting.
Do you find it challenging to never know what’s coming next, or are you finding that you’re enjoying learning with each script?
WARREN: This is my first series regular role that’s been picked up, straight to series. It’s nice to read it and be exposed to the situations that are happening in the episode for the very first time, while I’m reading it. I tend to over-think a lot, so it’s easy for me. Then, I get to live in the world that Damon is trying to create. If there’s a question that I have or something that I’m really feeling challenged by, I can ask Damon or Peter or Tom or Mimi [Leder], who’s our producing director. So, I have the support system that I need, and my scene partners are extraordinary. People know how to listen to one another, and it is just a treat. They’re some of the kindest people I’ve ever worked with, in my six years of acting professionally, since I graduated from Yale. There’s a support system there and there’s a wall to lean on, if you have to, but the writing really speaks for itself. If you just stay with it and take it scene by scene, episode by episode, all of the questions that I have, as an actor, tend to answer themselves. As the season has progressed, it’s been a really comfortable, thrilling ride, working with everyone.
WARREN: She is the law and the order of the situation. Justin Theroux’s character, Kevin, is trying desperately to keep order in this town, as is Lucy. She’s struggling a lot, and she’s very guarded. We don’t know why, in the beginning of the season, but she’s very guarded and she definitely has a wall up, in order to get through each day, after this sudden departure. There’s not much I can tell you, but there’s a lot of delicious stuff that comes very shortly after the pilot, that might help you understand where Lucy is coming from. It’s very difficult to say because I don’t want to give anything away, but there are some yummy things that are going on in her life. Things that are yummy for the viewer, but not necessarily for her because she’s really struggling. She’s also whip-smart. When she and Kevin do not agree on something, they really don’t agree and they’re in contention. The way they work together isn’t very productive when they’re not agreeing. It gets interesting. Unfortunately, that’s all I can really tell you. I feel like, if I tell you anything else, I’ll give too much away.
The premise of this show is that 2% of the world’s population has disappeared with no explanation or reason. Were you curious to know the reason, yourself, or has it been fun to just go along for the ride and not worry about having those answers?
WARREN: It has been fun to just go along for the ride and not think about what could have happened and where are these folks that have departed. It’s been that way, for me to just think about what’s going on presently, in the moment of the script. I think it’s more delicious and more powerful that way.
When you hear the statistic that 140 million people have vanished, that’s too big of a number for most people to wrap their head around. But when you hear things like that’s more than the population of the world’s 10 largest cities or that it’s 15 times the population of New York City, does that really make you start to think about the enormity of something like this happening?
WARREN: Yes, and when I saw the promo I was like, “That’s a lot of people.” I think I took it for granted that there are so many people on Earth that I was like, “What’s 2%?” But when you put it in terms like that, about the 10 largest cities, it definitely changes your perspective of the situation. And then, honing in on our town of Mapleton, New York, the fact that 100 people in this small town have vanished, that’s going to hit a small town in a big way. Things can really shift when those people are not present anymore. So, once it was put like that, it really did help. It made things more powerful. When you’re dealing with a small community, every person counts. I get why Tom and Damon were very interested in telling this story.
Have you thought about how, if something like this were to happen and you were left behind, whether you could compartmentalize and go on, or if you would join the Guilty Remnant? How do you think you’d react in a situation like this?
WARREN: I’ve had to think of it, every time I read the script, and I read each episode several times. I even go back to the pilot episode now and re-read it, as we approach the shooting for our 10th episode. I don’t know what I would do. I really admire each and every character on the show because they’re getting through it, and that takes a lot of courage. I don’t know what I would do. I think I understand all of the characters because they’re just trying to get through each day. If I had to think of something to do, it would be to just get from moment to moment, like these people are. A lot of people will understand at least one or two characters because of that. Everybody is coping in a different way, but I think the main thing is just to get through the day, for each person.
When I think about it, I’m like, “That’s a good idea.” There’s no safe place to go. You can’t run from Earth, but you can try to get through the day. All of these characters are just trying to get through the moments in the day. For some people, that’s really sad. For other people, they’re really taking action. But they find it in the moment and it’s very spontaneous, how we react and respond to the day’s events. People have a different perspective now, and that’s what you’ll see and observe in the stories that we’re telling in Season 1.
How was it to have someone like Peter Berg direct the pilot and help establish the tone and look for the series?
WARREN: It was amazing because what he’s asking you to do is fly with the words that you’ve been given. To be granted that kind of freedom from the executive producer, and to have Damon and Tom, who are showrunners and co-creators, just give the nod and say, “What he said,” there’s a creative freedom in that, that’s like no other. Peter is just amazing, and it’s always fun. You do the work at home, and then you play on the day. And when you play with someone like Peter Berg, there’s improvising. We just played and told the story, and we made sure that the story was in our skin when we came to set. That’s really important. He just made it very familial and fun and freeing. I don’t think you can really go wrong, as an ensemble, when you have that kind of leadership, and we had that with him for two episodes. He’s one of the executive producer for Season 1, so he stops by. It’s amazing to be in this fantastic company. We laugh a lot on set and have a really great time. We talk about our characters and the story. We’re just really playful. When you’re dealing with a heavy subject like this, it’s imperative to keep it light and bright. We’re just so happy to have the opportunity to tell this kind of story. If you tune in, the first season should help get you comfortable for what we hope is Season 2, to follow. We’re not there yet, but we’re hoping.
Will the pieces of the puzzle start to fit together, at some point?
WARREN: I think the pieces will start to fit together. I really do. Even though I said this is ideal for weekly programming, it’s also ideal for binge-watching. If you binge-watch, it will be a lot for you to take it, but that can also be a great thing.
The Leftovers airs on Sunday nights on HBO.