The first two episodes of HBO’s post-Rapture drama “The Leftovers” follow the spirit, if not the letter, of Tom Perrotta’s novel, as the bewilderment and sense of loss that descends on the world after that mass disappearance is seen through the eyes of the Garvey family. But in its third episode, the first major departure from the book was made, as the entire episode centered not on Mapleton police chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux), but instead on Reverend Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston) as he tries desperately to save his church in the face of declining membership and financial default.
It was easily the most focused and emotionally resonant episode of the first three that have aired so far. Rev. Jamison was a minor character in the novel, but the presence of Eccelston (the first modern-era Doctor of “Doctor Who,” remember) pretty much guaranteed that the TV version would make an impact, as Perrotta mentions in the interview segment below, which was part of a larger talk about adapting the novel to TV Indiewire published last week.
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Below, Perrotta talks about co-creator Damon Lindelof’s influence on the choice of doing character-centric episodes like this, some of the changes that needed to be made to beef up Eccelston’s character and if he thinks there was a risk in doing this so soon.
A lot of the book revolves around the Heroes’ Day celebration and that pretty much culminates the first episode in the series. Did you decide, “Hey, we’re going to immediately expand past Kevin and his family into the greater world of Mapleton?”
Well, the Heroes’ Day is the first main chapter of the book. And I was actually really pleased when Damon said, “You know, let’s start the show with that,” because we had been pondering, or I had been pondering, other ways to start the show. Just from the novelist’s perspective, that seemed like a real vote of confidence to start there. It paralleled the book in that way, you’re right.
We do then quickly jump past that episode into other stories. And I think the really bold move, and this is… I give credit to Damon for with his decision to turn Episode 3 into a stand-alone, almost like another pilot, you know? It’s a story about Reverend Jamison [Eccleston], who’s a somewhat minor character in the book.
What were your concerns when Damon suggested that?
I guess the only concern you might have is that viewers are just getting familiarized with the world and with these characters, and so you can understand their desire to live with them a little bit more before you jump off to tell another story. But I was actually intrigued by the boldness of it, and he was the showrunner and he was the captain of the ship and sometimes he just said, “Look, this is what we’re doing.”
I think we’ll get a variety of reactions. But I think it’s another way of signaling the viewers like, “This isn’t going to be a familiar experience. This show is going to be a little bit hard to get your arms around, but if you’re patient, it will yield up some interesting rewards.”
What made you choose to expand the Reverend’s character? Because he’s a major part of the show, obviously — Christopher Eccleston being the third-billed star.
I actually think that this is a case where, obviously, Eccleston was really interested in that character. Then, when we decided to cast him because he’s such a great actor, you can’t get a guy like that — once we have him, we want to use him.
Damon has said that you guys are going to try to do more of the single character episodes as you go along, but try to balance them a little bit. How much of that are you going to do?
I think we still feel like we’re kind of having a dialogue with the show and with material and one of the things we noticed… I mean, I won’t say which one, but there’s one more stand-alone, single-character episode in the show. And looking at it from our vantage point now, I think [those episodes are] definitely two of the strongest in the season.
Was that something that you felt needed to do so you don’t have people going, “This is from the book, this is not from the book?”
As soon as we said, “We’re going to turn this 350 page book into a ten-episode season,” it obviously is not going to be a straight-forward adaptation of the book. I think we agreed on that early. It was just a matter of breaking the stories and, as I said, some of those decisions were Damon’s.
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Then I think, by that point, once you’ve been working on something for quite a while, it was almost like the show just became this new thing we were making. Obviously it was using the characters and scenarios from the book, but I started feeling in the end like the show was almost like this chain of islands, and we were in this boat and sometimes we would visit one of them, you know?
Then other times, there’d be whole episodes that might have a couple of details from the book in them. There’s certain things that [show that] the book never disappears from the show, but it definitely is almost like the show is in dialogue with the book, rather than having a kind of one-to-one correspondence with it.