[Editor’s Note: The following interview has spoilers for “The Leftovers” Season 3 Episode 6 “Certified.”]
Like everyone else, the first thing Amy Brenneman wanted to know after reading the script for Episode 6, “Certified,” was, “Did Laurie kill herself?”
So she asked Damon Lindelof.
“I needed to get from Damon what Laurie’s intention was at that moment,” Brenneman said in a recent interview. “And he clarified, ‘She does intend to kill herself.'”
That moment capped an emotionally devastating episode of “The Leftovers,” and even though every hour of the HBO drama carries soul-shattering power to one degree or another, the latest Laurie-centric hour started with a suicide attempt — set before the events of Season 1 — and ended with another. In between, Nora (Carrie Coon) made a choice that could be seen as suicidal, and the opening credits song was “1-800 Suicide” by Gravediggaz.
So, it was an especially tough hour.
But even with the recurring theme floating through the episode, all the way up to Laurie’s fateful scuba-diving decision, Brenneman said suicide wasn’t always on her character’s mind.
“I don’t think she’s a suicidal person,” Brenneman said. “I don’t think that was in the back of her mind for the whole episode. […] Listen, I think she’s been skeptical and judgmental about this whole apocalyptic belief system centered around the seven-year anniversary. We’ve been here before, right? Every time it’s the anniversary of the Sudden Departure, everybody loses their shit. But she’s not a big believer, so I think she thinks it’s all bogus.”
“But checking in with all these people works on her,” she said. “[Laurie] basically has a series of conversations with people, where they dominate the conversation and they sort of tell her their truths. They tell her their plans. […] It’s almost like she’s saying goodbye to people in hospice. Somehow it works on her to the point where if all her beloveds really are moving on, then maybe she should, too.”
When it’s pointed out that this kind of behavior is similar to what she used to do as a therapist — which led to her first suicide attempt — Brenneman agreed, with one important exception.
“I think the difference is that in the past she would have tried to fix it,” she said. “You look at her in Episode 5 and it’s clear to her that Kevin’s having a psychotic break, that Matt is taking advantage of it, and that she knows just what to do. I think that is how people know Laurie to be, so for her to say, ‘I’m not going to try to fix you, and you may be right.’ It’s quite a turnaround, and it stops everyone in their tracks.”
Brenneman also thinks there’s a few different ways to interpret when Laurie decided to go through with her suicide, but, for her, it happened right before she tipped off the back of the boat; when she got a phone call from her kids.
“One [thought], when you hear that, would be, ‘Oh my God, I can’t leave. The world is so beautiful,'” Brenneman said. “But another part, genuinely, would be, ‘I’ve done what I’m supposed to do. I’ve launched these people and there’s nothing left undone’ — which I think is where Laurie goes.”
“Not to make Laurie a super-involved martyr, but because Laurie is in the helping profession, she’s very aware of when she’s not helping, or when she feels like she has nothing to contribute,” she said. “She was in a pretty fragile state at the end of this episode, so it might be best to get out while she can. The kids are OK, and that’s all you need to know.”
The moment marks only the second time in the series when both of Laurie’s children, Jill (Margaret Qualley) and Tommy (Chris Zylka), are happy together. The first came near the end of Season 1 during a flashback to just before the Sudden Departure, but what Brenneman loved about the connection was that neither scene reduced her character to just a mom.
“Damon always cautioned me — which I loved — about making Laurie too maternal-centric,” Brenneman said. “He always said that both she and Tom are both seekers, and Kevin and Jill are both status quo-y, ‘let’s keep it together’ people. Tom and Laurie have always been seekers. I love that. That kept me out of defining her solely as a mother.”
Laurie, overall, has changed significantly over the course of the series, but that opening scene — where Laurie took a bunch of pills, laid down to die, then changed her mind and joined the Guilty Remnant instead — was something Brenneman and Lindelof had established as Laurie’s backstory long ago.
“The flashback scene was not a surprise to me because that’s a story that Damon and I constructed at the very beginning of this process,” Brenneman said, remembering when she and Lindelof took a three-hour walk through Central Park to hash out Laurie’s character. “I don’t know if we ever talked about the suicide, exactly. […] We just made her up. It was one of the joys of my life.”
“The Leftovers” airs new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO. The Season 3 — and series — finale is set for June 4.