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 currently in its final season. With the seventh anniversary of the Sudden Departure approaching, Kevin Garvey, Sr. (Scott Glenn), the former Mapleton Chief of Police who heard voices in his head, is now in the outback of Australia.
After seeing seven of the eight episodes of Season 3 (they were understandably withholding the final episode of the series), Collider sat down with actor Scott Glenn to talk about what originally attracted him to The Leftovers, how he got involved with Damon Lindelof this time around, after he turned down a role in Lost (and why he feels that was ultimately the right decision), what he’s enjoyed about working with Justin Theroux (who plays his son, Kevin Garvey, Jr.), and needing a bit of nudging to read the Daredevil script and sign on for that and The Defenders.
Collider: What was it that originally drew you to The Leftovers and this character, and could you ever have imagined that things would end up where they’ve ended up?
SCOTT GLENN: Damon [Lindelof] Skyped me, and it was the first time I’d ever talked to anyone like that. I was in Idaho, and I’m the most computer illiterate human being that ever lived. My grandkids do everything for me, and then they say, “I won’t even explain it to you, grandpa, ‘cause you won’t get it.” So, he Skyped me and talked to me about the character and the show. He began by saying, “I understand that you hate television.” And I went, “No, I don’t hate television.” It was because J.J. [Abrams] wanted me to do a part in Lost and we probably had three meetings, and I finally turned it down, but it wasn’t because I didn’t like television or Lost, although I think I said to J.J., “I don’t want to be in Hawaii and have an insurance person tell me I’m not allowed to go free dive and spear fishing.” That would be the worst kind of torture in the world. But there was a play that was written by who I think is America’s greatest playwright, and he wrote a small part in it for me. It was going to open in Chicago, and then go to New York. But then, he died. It was Arthur Miller. That was the reason I turned Lost down.
Did you end up watching Lost, at all, when it was on the air?
GLENN: I did. I watched some of it. And I realized that the character they wanted me to play didn’t really come in for a long time. It would have just been the wrong thing for me to do. But I instantly just loved Damon, talking to him. He’s such an engaging, unpredictable and smart guy. I said, “What do you want me to play?” And he said, “Well, I don’t want you to play a stereotypical prophet. Essentially, this show is about answering two questions. The first question is, what does it mean when you say family? Not just biological, but what does that mean? And what is the origin of religion?” I said, “Woah, you’re asking little questions!” He said, “There are three kinds of prophets – crazy people, like the Guilty Remnant, false prophets, who just want money, sexy and power and use that to get it, and real prophets – and you’re a real prophet. The voices that speak to you never tell you a lie.” And I said, “Name me some real prophets.” He said, “Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad.” I said, “Which one am I?” And he said, “None of them. You’re probably closer to Moses than anyone.” That got me interested. And then, my original deal with Damon was to work without a contract for the first season, which made HBO nuts because it meant that I could have just walked off the set, gone to the airport, and gone home to Idaho, and they wouldn’t have had any leverage on me, at all.
He said, “See how you like it. If you suck, I won’t use you anymore. If you love it and I love it, then stick around.” And I just loved it. I love the way Damon writes. It’s almost like he was channeling me and he had my voice, even though the territory that those lines cover is unpredictable, and goes from raw emotion to laugh out loud funny but always true. So, the first season was great, but then the second season came up and he said, “You’re not going to be working much in the second season. You’re a relief pitcher.” I did two episodes in the second season. And then, the third season came along and he sent me the script to Episode 3, and I called him up and thanked him for one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given. I had that script for almost two months, in the mountains in Idaho, before I even got on a plane and flew to Australia and went to the outback. Very rarely do actors, even with features, get to live with a part for that long and really dig into it. He also told me to learn about the indigenous people in Australia and learn how to play a didgeridoo. It was just great. It was probably, in many ways, the best acting experience I’ve ever had.
You’ve been in this business a long time and played a wide variety of roles. Are you surprised that you’re still finding such great material, like with The Leftovers, Daredevil and The Defenders?
GLENN: I’m lucky, beyond belief! Knock on wood, it’s true. When I got the part in Daredevil, my wife, Carol, said, “You just got a call from the agent. They want you to do a television thing.” There was a note that they wanted me to play the mentor to Daredevil, and I got so pissed off that I ran out of the house, hiked up a mountain and almost blew my legs out. I was like, “No, I’m not going to play the boring fucking old man, who sits behind a desk and sends the young actors out to have fun! I’m not doing it! I don’t need the money! I like it here in the mountains better!” And then, when I read it, I was like, “Woah, wait a minute! A blind assassin?! How much fun is this?!” At my age, to still be able to do parts that are super physical, I’m lucky. I’m doing more fun stuff now than I ever have in my life. I’m just really fortunate.
Now that you know how it all ends and where your character ends up, when you think back to where it all started, does it change your perception of it?
GLENN: Yeah, it does, in a way. I find Damon even more awesome because I realize that he’s had the general thrust of this thing in his head, all along. We were talking about television one time, and he said he felt that, if Hemingway was writing for media, he would write feature films, and Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky would write television series because there are some stories you just can’t tell in two hours. But what I didn’t realize was that’s true of acting, as well. You have that space of time to develop who you are, and you can use more and more of yourself. The lines between that character that I’m playing and myself become more and more blurred and, after awhile, they just disappear, altogether.
How has being a part of this show and playing this character changed you, as an actor and as a person?
GLENN: The other side of things, for me, especially with Episode 3, which was daunting because it’s essentially all me, except for at the very end, is Mimi Leder. That one long scene I have with David Gulpilil was seven pages long. When we finished it, Mimi said, “I thought you were gonna do this in bits and pieces. You just did the whole thing.” And I literally couldn’t remember the scene. It wasn’t that I was in a trance. The minute they said, “Cut!,” I was in the present. So, we did take 2, 3 and 4, one after another, after another. Mimi said, “What’s happening to you right now is pretty amazing, but you’re telling me that you can’t direct yourself because you’re not outside of the scene enough to watch what you’re doing. And if you can’t direct yourself, then no one else can. What if there’s something I want? How do I get into the scene? How do you suggest we do this?” I said, “Just keep shooting takes until you see what you want.” In 48 years of acting, which is also how long I’ve been married, that had never happened to me.
We get to see a level of the relationship between this guy and his son, that we haven’t really seen before this season. What was it like to have Justin Theroux to play that with?
GLENN: I love Justin. He does feel like a son to me, and he’s also an unbelievably generous actor, so the stuff that goes on between us is real. Very often, when you’re playing people who love each other, or who hate each other, you manufacture those feelings. You have to do that a lot. But, there is so much that was just good fortune with this show that I didn’t have to manufacture any of that stuff. I always looked forward to seeing Justin in the morning. He’s a really good guy. He’s super bright and funny.
It’s always been clear that we’re never going to get the answers for what happened to these people and why, and where they went. Were you okay with not knowing those answers, or did you ever try to come up with your own answers?
GLENN: No. In my life, all of the best things that have happened to me have almost invariably been accidents or fate. I’ve got ideas about where Kevin Sr. would be and what he’d be doing, but I don’t want to talk about that. It’s kind of like when everybody was fascinated by that airline that went down. With those kinds of profound questions, sooner or later, it always forces you to confront your own mortality, and I don’t mean that in a morbid way.
The Leftovers airs on Sunday nights on HBO.