Created by Damon Lindelof and acclaimed novelist Tom Perrotta, the HBO series The Leftovers, about what happens after 140 million people vanished from the face of the earth, is back for its final season. And with the seventh anniversary of the Sudden Departure approaching, Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) still questions whether an ordinary life is possible while also struggling with what his own purpose really is.
Having seen seven of the eight episodes of Season 3 (they were understandably withholding the last episode of the series), I was excited to sit down with Justin Theroux for this 1-on-1 interview to discuss all things The Leftovers, and the show’s big themes and questions. During this interview with Collider, he talked about what it was that originally interested him in the series, how he never could have imagined the journey he’d take, being okay with not having all of the answers, being satisfied with the ending of the series, how the quality of this work has spoiled him for future projects, and the similarities between Damon Lindelof and David Lynch, who he worked with on Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: Could you ever have imagined, when you started on this show, that you would die as many times as you have and still be on the show?
JUSTIN THEROUX: No! It’s basically like a soap opera. The only time it really worried me was in that one episode where I drink poison and die. In the script, it was like, “And he is dead. Really dead. Dead, dead, dead.” So, I called Damon [Lindelof] and was like, “Am I really dead?” And he was like, “No. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” And I was like, “How?!” And then, I just got used to dying, knowing I would come back.
What was it that originally interested you in The Leftovers and this character? And now that you’ve finished telling the story, could you ever have imagined that it would end up where it did?
THEROUX: No, I could never have imagined it. I don’t think Damon had imagined it. He had the source material for the first season, and then obviously he got to go off book. But what I did know, from the initial read and from conversations with Damon before we did the pilot, was that he was going to be taking big swings, asking big questions, and really eating around the edges of the meaning of life type of things. The only comparison that I can think of, and it’s totally different, is Chekhov, who did the same thing, where he did these family dramas, whether it was The Cherry Orchard or The Three Sisters or whatever, and even though it was pedestrian, what would happen with these families, somehow it elicited these massive thematic questions, like what’s the point? Why should we do this? Should we be hopeful? Does life go on? Should we all kill ourselves now? It’s those very difficult questions that we all ask ourselves, internally and occasionally externally in conversation. That was the thing that drew me to it. I was like, “Wow, this is going to be an interesting show.” Obviously, we’re not going to answer any of those questions, but to roll that marble around was pretty cool.
Damon Lindelof has been very upfront, from the beginning, that he’s never going to give the answer to the question about The Departure, and where those people went and why.
THEROUX: Well, he’s definitely never going to give the answer to that question, nor could he give the answer to the question about the meaning of life. I think he takes pleasure in giving these people very specific problems that force them to look in the mirror and ask themselves these questions. But the overall question, he’ll never answer. I don’t think he was being cagey and coy. He was just like, “That’s not what interests me. That’s just the motivating factor that gets us to these other questions, in this very heightened way.”
Did you ever need a moment to get passed not getting that answer for yourself?
THEROUX: When I read the pilot, I think I had the same reaction that viewers did when they saw it, which was, “Okay, so where’d they go?” And he gave me the same answer. He was like, “We’re never going to find out.” I was like, “Well then, how’s that satisfying?” He was like, “No, it’s a point of departure and the springboard for everything else.” Once he explained that, I understood, and I think viewers had the same experience. It’s frustrating, if you just get hung up on where they went. Eventually, the themes of the show become more interesting than that.
Now that you know how it all ends and where your character ends up, looking back on the series as a whole, does it change your perception of things, at all?
THEROUX: No. I could never have anticipated where it was going to go, or what the character was going to go through, or what kind of catharses he was going to go through, but what I did like about it, and on reflection what I still love about it, is that he was a character who, the minute he would find any kind of comfort, he would be pushed out of that zone. I really liked that ‘cause, if you charted his path on a graph, it would just be all spikes, and peaks and valleys. I like the arc of the character because he evolved in a real way. It wasn’t The Brady Bunch, where the father would come back and there would be small problems in the household, but everything would be wrapped up at the end. There was nothing pedestrian about the way that he moved through life.
What were the biggest challenges for you, on this?