A boat orgy, simulated sex with a lion, and a conversation with an ex-Olympian who thinks he’s God: That’s how Matt Jamison found peace.
So it should come as no surprise that the actor who played our not-so-good reverend thinks the person who wrote his story is a little bit mad.
“Matt is Damon Lindelof,” Christopher Eccleston said in an interview with IndieWire. “The showrunner leaves his family and goes on a mad quest to prove something. [So] I think the secret to Matt, for everybody watching, is always to think of him as a showrunner in American television.”
“That’s a joke!” he said, after a brief pause. “Well, it’s only half a joke.”
Eccleston has been put through a lot on “The Leftovers,” as Matt’s ongoing journey has required the former “Doctor Who” lead to carry three episodes on his own, get completely naked on screen, and — in the latest episode — act next to a real lion on a cold boat in the middle of a giant orgy.
“Fortunately, I’m not prudish,” Eccleston said. “I’m wide open. I get to explore prudery and repression through Matt. You couldn’t possibly work on ‘The Leftovers’ if you have any of those things for real.”
But what you do need is ego. Episode 5, “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World,” forces Matt to reexamine his sense of self-importance and what it’s driven him to do, but Eccleston notes an ego is crucial to accomplishing lofty goals.
“You need it, don’t you? You need it to do what you do,” Eccleston said, referencing writers and storytellers, “And I need it to do what I do. We’d be lost without it. But when you’ve got such a quest, there’s always going to be collateral damage.”
And Matt suffered quite a bit of collateral damage over three seasons. When the Sudden Departure happened in 2011, Matt’s wife, Mary (Janel Moloney), was rendered catatonic, and Matt had to take care of her for years. Even when she woke up, it was only briefly, and once she recovered for good, she left Matt and took their son with her.
And yet, as seen in Episode 5, Matt went looking for Kevin, not his wife and child. He commandeered a plane to Australia, bribed a pilot from his parish, and flew around the world to bring a man he believes to be a prophet back to Jarden.
“Matt always felt that the quest for God — or his quest, Matt’s quest — was more important than anything else,” Eccleston said about the choice. “Nora and Mary and Matt’s child have all been collateral damage during Matt’s pursuit [to prove] ‘I was right!’” Eccleston said. “There’s so much ego in that. […] [And] the ego was always there. There’s a line in Series 1, where somebody says of Matt, ‘Who’s that?’ And a cop says, ‘Oh, just some other asshole who thinks he’s God.’ It’s a great, great line about Matt.”
That’s an ego to rival anyone’s — even God’s. And it took a conversation with the Lord Himself, or at least a man claiming to be God, for Matt to finally realize the error of his ways. During an intense interrogation, the two came to an understanding; a spiritual breakthrough Eccleston refers to as Matt’s “Road to Damascus moment.”
“As written in the script, there’s a pivotal moment that happens internally, intellectually, for Matt,” Eccleston said of the scene. “As to whether that’s Matt saying, ‘Wow, this guy is God,’ or ‘I finally have the answer,’ is questionable. Does Matt actually believe he’s God at that moment? It’s very difficult to say, but there is a parting of the clouds moment for Matt, in his life and on his spiritual quest. And those two things are mixed.”
But fans know Matt has found temporary solace in spiritual moments before. The first episode dedicated to Matt was a tragedy where he had to come to grips with losing his church, even after “fate” guided him to its salvation. In Season 2, he disrobed entirely and put himself in the stocks outside of town, happily accepting the burden of mankind for the betterment of his people.
So was this moment a permanent revelation for the reverend?
“Absolutely, yes,” Eccleston said. “It was the key moment in Matt’s television life; the life that we see as a viewer. I didn’t believe there’d be any turning back. He had reached the moment his entire life had been driving toward — other than death. Suddenly, it made sense in that it didn’t make sense, and he accepted that. He realizes you cannot make sense of this life. You can just live it, as fully as you possibly can. But there is nothing after, there is nothing before, there’s just now. He arrives at that, and it’s electrifying for him. It’s a huge climb down from the man who has forever been pursuing certainty.”
In the end, Eccleston hopes fans appreciate the change his character went through.
“What’s interesting about Matt, the closed, splintered, religious zealot [is that] ultimately, he has an open mind,” Eccleston said. “If Matt was asked to leave one sentence to his son, Noah, he would write on a piece of paper, ‘Keep an open mind.’ I don’t think the Matt of Season 1 would ever say that. That note would have been, ‘Love God.’ Full-stop.”
But when asked to choose a favorite episode from the past three seasons, Eccleston can’t do it.
“For the first one, I can’t tell you how exciting it was for me as an actor to carry an episode of television on HBO,” he said. “There’s a lot of actors in Britain who would cut their own arm off to do that. But then to be among all those naked people in Season 3 — and then to be naked myself on American national television in Season 2 — it doesn’t get any better than that, really.”
Spoken like a man with an open mind — and an appropriately sized ego.
“The Leftovers” airs new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO. The Season 3 — and series — finale is set for June 4.