[Editor’s Note: If you have not seen Season 2, Episode 3 of “The Leftovers,” be warned: Spoilers lie ahead for the pivotal episode.]
In Sunday night’s episode of “The Leftovers,” it was Laurie’s turn to come out and play. And boy, did she make the most of it. In a revealing episode that found the former GR member out of the cult and actively trying to save other members, Amy Brenneman brought impressive depth, range and emotion to a character who’s been building up to a breaking point since Season 1. Yet the biggest twist was reserved until the very end, when her son Tommy (Chris Zylka) revealed his newly-acquired powers to a group in need of a savior.
Is he telling the truth, or did he and Laurie concoct the whole story? Even if it happened just as he said it did — with Holy Wayne bestowing his gift unto Tommy before dying — do the mother and son actually believe in healing hugs? It’s a far cry from last year’s Laurie, and Indiewire got to speak with her about the events of the episode, as well as the new structuring of “The Leftovers'” compelling new season.
I don’t suppose you’ll tell us whether or not Tommy’s newfound power is something he and Laurie actually believe in, or if it’s just something to give the former GR members to hold onto.
Well, there you go! [laughs] I’m not being coy. Literally, you’re at the heart of it and the heart of belief and heart of spiritual healing versus psychological healing. That’s really the thing that we run with. Listen, I think– Laurie’s a shrink, right? And she’s really smart about how neurology works. And I think what’s really fun for me, and what’s really relieving and fun — in sort of an answer to last year, when she was so enigmatic — is that she uses her training. She tried one thing last year, and it was a false prophet. It was bullshit. So, she’s now kind of reconnecting with the training and the real belief in psychology and all of it. And also, what’s the difference between going to a shrink and going to confession? Not much sometimes, you know? It’s the same neurobiological impulse of relief, and connection and healing. So as in everything with “The Leftovers,” there’s sort of a million different ways to parse it, and they’re all true.
The whole episode seemed geared toward her fighting the GR and doing it in a very professional way, kind of using her training, like you were talking about. Now, though, she seems to have hit a breaking point. Is this kind of her fighting dirty? Or sinking down to the GR’s level?
I mean the crux of it is, it’s a little bit of both. And I’m not being coy. I, myself, feel that way! I think it boils down to that moment: the truth that Tom lays on her. Listen, a true alcoholic, you can’t take alcohol away from them and provide them with nothing. That was the brilliant thing about AA, right? You have to provide that same impulse that is craving connection and something to make sense. I mean listen, I majored in Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhism is a non-theistic tradition, so then I end up in Tibetan land where there’s, like, God every five fucking seconds. [laughs] So, it’s like how do you make sense of that? Well, from a Tibetan-Buddhist point of view, those are props. They’re props because human beings need connection. Their hearts need to connected. Their bodies need to be connected. So, they are props, but you should always have a healthy detachment and sort of know, “Okay, I’m using this as a sort of meditational tool.” Right? “This God does not actually have power.” So, similarly, when Tom hugs people, does he have the power to heal them? Sure he does, because they’ve endowed him with that. Is he divine? I don’t know. I don’t know what that means.
I could not have imagined better answers to that question. [both laugh]
It’s kind of cool, you know? My comparative religion major is really coming into play!
Last week, when we were with Kevin and Nora, they were working very hard to get back to normal; to get back to who they wanted to be even if it wasn’t quite working out. Is that the same thing Laurie’s trying to do in this episode? Is she trying to find her true self, and is who we saw in Episode 3 more of Laurie’s true self?
Yeah! Definitely. I mean, I think this experiment with expelling her children didn’t get her very far. And she has Tom, and a very strong through-line for me is trying to make contact with Jill. So I think that’s recognizable to the audience: a mother who’s yearning to be with her kids, and I think that in the flashback from last year, she was a pretty functional and engaged mom. I do think that there have been really awesome moments of… like, I said to Damon [Lindelof], it’s so rare you get to do this in these space of two seasons — which is everything that was sort of confusing to me and to the audience about the GR, about Laurie’s participation in the GR — she speaks to very explicitly. Very explicitly! You know, like you saw in this episode, she lays it all out, like, “This is how I got there.” So I think that is her, similarly to Nora and Kevin, trying to find her pre-departure self. But I think with all of them, it can only take them so far because the departure did happen, it was a game-changer and none of them can escape that.
Well, I’m glad you brought up her identity as a mother because I liked the power of that scene — when Jill was in the diner with Tommy and your character’s just sitting out in the car. You just wanted to drive him, you just wanted to be close! And obviously Laurie feels a little bit of guilt or responsibility towards Jill, especially after what happened at the end of last season, so I guess my question is: Why put Tommy at risk by letting him into the GR, by letting him infiltrate people? Why let another one of her children get into a risky situation?
You know, I think there’s a selfish — not selfish — but non-mother piece of Laurie and then the mother piece of Laurie, which I’ve always really liked. I, myself, am a very complex mother. So, I think that the goal-oriented part of Laurie sees that everyone has always been drawn to Tom. And this is something that I think [Laurie and Tom] came up with together. I mean, I may have suggested it, but I think Tom said yes to it. And I don’t think that Laurie’s totally full of shit. She’s disturbing him a couple of times in the episode, I think. You know, all day she says, “If this is too much, I’m going to pull you out.” And something about it works for Tom in terms of expressing his love and connection to me.
And he’s an extreme person, you know? Tom is not a moderate person. So, I think putting himself in harm’s way and having this extreme thing… You know, it’s funny. Very, very early on — and I think this is really true — Damon said to me, I think families often sort of, not in a divisive way or even in an antagonistic way, but personality types line up and he said, “I think that Kevin and Jill like the status quo, and I think that Laurie and Tom are seekers.” I think they were seekers before the departure, you know? And some of that is the energy off me and Jill, and some of it is part of the flashback; Laurie is willing to push deeper and Kevin is very shut down, obviously, but he’s also like “status-quo/keep it together,” and I think that Tom and Laurie have always been seekers. So that extremity and really wanting to push the limits, that’s always been in place. And kind of dissimilarly, Kevin and Jill just want a happy home. They just want things to settle down. [laughs]
How have you as an actor changed since now your character is obviously talking, and you’re getting out there in a much different way? And yet, at the same time, she feels very much like her old self — especially when she has that confrontation with the book publisher, where she has to just lay it out there in a very raw manner. What have the challenges been like this season?
Well, as an actor, I’m more comfortable for all of those reasons above. Last year was a real challenge in a million different ways, and I was so happy to have that challenge and go on that ride. I said to Damon pretty early on that there was something very enigmatic, very stoic and menacing about [Laurie], almost like when Laurie would appear in the script, you know, everybody else was afraid of her; nobody knew what she was thinking. And I would joke with Damon, saying, “I gotta know what she’s thinking, right?! I’m inside of it!” And I said to him, “You cast a pretty responsive, emotive [actor]. I mean, even despite myself, my face moves around. I’m not stoic or menacing in that way.
So I think the story of Laurie in the GR is she’s trying to be a good GR, but she’s not doing a very good job, right? So similarly, I think that this year, the similarities, there’s all sorts of things boiling under the surface that she’s trying to keep a lid on and last year, she’s like, “I’m trying to be a good GR. and I’m not sure what I’m feeling, especially this empathy.” This year I’m trying to be a person in society who walks and talks like a human being even though I’m fucking sterile underneath. And because I think Laurie is so smart — all of the characters are so smart and very self-aware — it’s an exquisite kind of hell because she’s not unconscious. I mean, that moment with the book publisher, she knows it’s coming and she can’t stop it.
In regard to how the new season has been broken up — by highlighting characters on an episode by episode basis — what’s that like for you in terms of a workload, in terms of your scheduling? And then, how satisfying is that for you, as an actor?
I think, honestly, it’s pretty similar to all of us, even Justin [Theroux] this year. I think on a practical level, I have kids in Los Angeles so it just made my life easier and not be marginal. You knew if you were going to fly into Austin, you were going to be used, and it was going to be pretty interesting. It’s cool. At the premiere, I was sitting next to Margaret Qualley [who plays Jill] when the first episode came up, and we were laughing because we got to be fans. You get to feel connected to it, but also appreciative of it because you weren’t there. I mean, I always joke that “The Leftovers” is a cast that adores one another and we’re never, ever, ever in the same room. [laughs] So, it’s frustrating in that way, because I would love to dive deep with all of them, but you’re sort of off in your own little corner. You know, listen. If everyone else was together, the whole time and I was off [alone], that would be one thing. But we were all in our own private Idaho to some degree.