[Editor’s note: Spoilers for The Leftovers finale are included in the video and article below.]
While Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen seems poised to dominate at the Emmy awards in a couple of weeks, the former Lost showrunner was also responsible for creating a very different kind of HBO series that still feels criminally underrated: The Leftovers. Based on the Tom Perrotta book of the same name, the three-season drama took place in the aftermath of a mysterious event in which 2% of the world’s population suddenly vanished. The series never promised to explain where these people went, and instead put its focus on how this vast “sudden departure” impacted those who were left behind – both physically and emotionally.
The Leftovers finale is one of the most beautiful pieces of television made in the last decade, and leaves the series on a somewhat ambiguous note that’s been much debated. It’s set many years after the main events of the show, and after we saw Nora (Carrie Coon) decide to go into a theoretical machine that may or may not send people to where their departures have gone.
In the show’s final scene, Nora sits down with Kevin (Justin Theroux) and tells him about her experience going to the other side, where the departures were left roaming a world in which 98% of the population had vanished. Except it’s up to the viewer to decide whether Nora is telling the truth, or if she’s telling a gentle lie.
So when Collider’s own Perri Nemiroff sat down with Coon for an extended interview about her career and her upcoming film The Nest as part of Collider’s Ladies Night, she asked Coon if the actress ever asked Damon if he thought Nora was lying or telling the truth. As it turns out, Coon never discussed it with her showrunner:
“I didn’t ask a lot of questions. Mimi Leder tells this story, which I don’t tell to flatter myself but just to illustrate how things were operating, I think she went to ask Damon how they were gonna direct [that finale scene] and then she said, ‘Oh nevermind, Carrie will know what to do.’ They just left it in my hands and I didn’t ask, and now I think maybe I should have (laughs).”
Coon said that given her theater background, she simply wasn’t used to asking too many questions about the script:
“I came to find out later that a lot of the other actors were asking other questions, but I think because I come from the theater I don’t question the writing generally. If I’m confused about something or something doesn’t feel character-driven to me I will always raise that, but I had so few moments of that on the scripts for The Leftovers that it didn’t occur to me that I could go to them and be like, ‘So what’s this now?’ And I didn’t know that’s how it was gonna end until I got the speech! So I just worked on it and did it knowing what I felt and what I believed, and knowing that it wouldn’t really matter – the performance wouldn’t necessarily be different if one or the other thing was true because of the objective. So no I didn’t ask.”
But Coon refuses to reveal how she played the scene, saying that what the audience feels is far more important than what she, the actress playing the character, thought:
“I made my decision when I did it, but I’ve always maintained that I’ll never say what my decision was because it will rob people of their experience of it. Because of course the show reveals more about you than it does about it. So what Carrie the actor thinks really doesn’t matter.”
I certainly respect that, but boy am I curious to know how Coon interpreted that script without having a conversation with Lindelof or the writers.
The Ladies Night interview also touched on the tonal shift of The Leftovers, which played out in pretty dire dramatic fashion in Season 1 before adding some levity and humor in Seasons 2 and 3, which also both felt very different from one another. As it turns out, Coon had clocked the lack of humor during the making of Season 1, and was happy to lighten things up a bit as the show progressed:
“I had a very specific idea about Season 1 because I’m a big Tom Perrotta fan, and I think of Tom as a satirist. Tom is very funny and very dry, and that’s very present in The Leftovers the book. I did feel that Season 1 of The Leftovers tended toward the humorless in a way that Tom’s writing doesn’t, so you could see that Tom’s material was sort of losing out against a bigger aim.”
But Coon added that the tone of Season 1 set up the show’s eventual evolution perfectly, and has nothing but admiration for the bold swings that Lindelof and the writers took with that series with each episode:
“I do think Season 1 really sets us up to make those pivots for Seasons 2 and 3, and in some ways makes them even more special for how they evolved. In some ways maybe 2 and 3 are more closer to my personality, I’m actually quite light, but I’ve never seen a show quite do what we did there… I felt like that show was gutsy. You might not agree with all the choices we made, but you couldn’t deny that they were some really bold choices.”
Man I miss The Leftovers. If for some reason you’ve made it this far into the article and haven’t seen it, all three seasons are on HBO Max right now.
Check out our full interview with Coon right here.